Two conservative Republican candidates are what voters have to choose from in the 67th State Assembly District race, and Thursday night offered a chance to learn more about the contenders’ differences and similarities.
Melissa Melendez and Phil Paule participated in a candidates’ forum at Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Wildomar. The event, which drew about 50 people, was co-hosted by the Lake Elsinore Valley, Wildomar, Canyon Lake and Murrieta chambers of commerce. The forum was moderated by Gene Wunderlich, Government Affairs director for the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors.
During the 90-minute event, the two candidates provided very similar answers to many of the 27 questions put to them. Both say they support a “more business friendly” environment in California, reduced taxes, job creation, fewer environmental regulations, and support for smaller government that emphasizes local control.
Despite the parallels, the candidates sometimes diverged Thursday night. Melendez, who currently serves on the Lake Elsinore City Council, presented a more measured approach than Paule when asked how she would work to get things done in a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
If elected, Melendez said she wouldn’t be a “fire breather” or “rock thrower” in Sacramento, but instead would gain the trust of fellow lawmakers through a “sincere, genuine” approach.
Paule, who serves as a top aide to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), said he too believes it’s possible to reach across the aisle and he used bipartisan legislation examples to illustrate how government can work together. But he also had harsh words for Democratic lawmakers, saying he wants to “stop the war on Inland Southern California” that he believes is being waged by the left.
For example, Paule said if elected he would draft legislation to impose a fire tax on urban residents.
“I know it wouldn’t pass, but I want to make a point. We aren’t going to let urban liberals do this to us,” he said of the fire tax that recently went into effect for many of Southwest Riverside County’s rural residents.
Both candidates said they support a repeal of the tax.
Paule also claimed the state’s political climate has created a culture in which small business owners are “vilified,” and said he would stand up against those in Sacramento who don’t support them.
He also railed against the state’s decision to keep low-level offenders in county jails to relieve overcrowding in the California prison system. Paule pointed to controversial Arizona/Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has touted housing inmates in tents.
On the question of how many state employees should be cut to trim California's budget, Melendez punched harder at Sacramento, saying “I could take a chainsaw to every department there.”
Paule said he would look to outside groups for recommendations on cuts.
The two also poked at each other on a few occasions Thursday night. Paule, who supports local control of Ontario International Airport, challenged Melendez’s record on the issue. I Ontario city officials have said the airport’s survival is dependent on local control.
Thursday night, Melendez was adamant: “I do support local control of the airport.” She explained her February voting record by saying she would jump on board if she knew Ontario could provide a level of assurance that it could financially support the airport. Until that point comes, Melendez said, “I’m not going to do it.”
In campaign ads, Paule has also claimed Melendez is soft on illegal immigration. In response Thursday, the councilwoman reminded voters of her support in 2010 for E-Verify in Lake Elsinore.
Thursday night Melendez was quiet on the issue of Paule’s past DUI conviction. The councilwoman had put out a press release and distributed email blasts earlier this year that highlighted Paule’s 2003 conviction in Orange County.