Most voters see the Assembly District 33 race as a battle between two Democrats and two Republicans, but after a candidates’ forum last Friday, it looked more like a contest between two generations: Boomers and Millennials.
And — before Lindsay Mayor Hipolito Cerros stepped back from the race — a Gen Z candidate was in the mix, too. Cerros announced before the forum started that he was withdrawing from the race to focus on challenges currently facing Lindsay.
The forum was held by the League of Women Voters on January 12 at the Tulare County Office of Education building on Mooney Boulevard.
The seat opened up after Devon Mathis announced he was retiring after his term ends in 2025.
Vying for his seat are Xavier Avila (R-Tulare), Ruben Macareno (D-Farmerville), Alexandra Macedo (R-Tulare), and Angel Ruiz (D-Tulare).
On one end of the table sat the more seasoned duo of Avila and perennial candidate Macareno. Avila referred to the both of them during the forum as Valleycrats — a term Millennials would have a hard time defining.
On the other side sat Macedo and Ruiz, the comparatively less politically-experience but wise Millennials, who both have faced down financial, societal, and technological challenges Boomers never saw coming and may still not understand.
Where the candidates stand
The candidates answered 13 questions from the audience and panel that spanned across hot-button and prescient issues such as the economy, housing affordability, homelessness, undocumented workers and California’s High Speed Rail project.
Their answers gave clear insight on how they would vote in Sacramento.
Cultural issues also popped up when candidates were asked about abortion and an audience-submitted question: “What is a woman?”
Ruiz said, “I’m not a doctor” and admitted he wasn’t expecting that question.
Macareno said he identifies people how they want to be identified.
Macedo said she was happy to use whatever pronouns the person prefers and was very supportive of the LGBTQ community.
“An adult human female – that’s not my opinion. That’s science,” Avila said — providing a straightforward answer. He said he “can accept [transgender individuals] for who they are,” but that he was concerned by transgender women participating in women’s sports.
The forum opened up with a question regarding California’s deficit: “Do you know what precipitated California’s $37.9 billion deficit and as an Assembly member what do you propose to do about it?”
Macedo said that the state couldn’t even agree on what exactly the deficit was – $68 billion or $38 billion. She said that Californians are fleeing to other states and that Sacramento should repeal the gas tax.
Ruiz listed off the programs that should not be cut and said he felt Californians should probably be “taxed a little bit more.”
Macareno said we are all in this together and need to do something to keep the 1% from fleeing California while not further hurting the underprivileged.
All the candidates recognized the economic contributions of undocumented workers when asked about the benefits they bring to the assembly district — and whether they should receive healthcare benefits — but they disagreed on how those workers should be treated.
Macareno, who worked in the fields himself in his youth, said undocumented workers are putting food on our table and not only need health care but a livable wage.
Ruiz said that undocumented workers don’t take days off, don’t take holidays, and work in 116 degree heat and 29 degree cold, “So of course I support healthecare for them. I will do anything I can to help them if elected to the assembly.”
Avila said that he believed everyone was created in the image of God — but that he was also an American and believed in the rule of law and in legal immigration. He said he was against extending health benefits to undocumented workers, and that government should take care of citizens first.
Macedo expressed her gratitude for “these men and women with their boots on ready and willing to work,” but that the region already lacked doctors and healthcare resources — the area has only 30 doctors per 100,000 residents, a ratio which should be higher at 60 to 80 doctors, she said — so the state wouldn’t have the resources to extend undocumented workers healthcare even if lawmakers wanted to.
The next question asked: “The California Assembly is passing bills and writing new bills in 2024 to make California a ‘safe haven’ for residents from states where abortion is illegal. These safe haven bills do not pay for abortions but provide privacy protections for doctors and their patients against the enforcement of other states’ laws that criminalize abortion. How will you vote on such bills?”
Macedo said that while she believes that all life is precious, she “want[s] females to have the support they need and have a choice in their life and their health care.”
Regarding any potential safe haven laws, Macedo said Californians should come first.
Avila said he would vote no on any bills concerning abortion because he is pro-life.
Ruiz said that he would sign anything that supported women’s healthcare and right to choose.
Macareno didn’t personally agree with abortion, but he didn’t want to impose his beliefs on others. He said that he would vote yes on Safe Haven laws because “we can’t go backwards.”
When asked how they would “remedy the climate crisis in terms of mitigation, CO2 emissions reductions, and greenhouse gases,” Avila said that renewable are not the answer and that he believed in nuclear power.
“I believe that fossil fuel use is going to go up exponentially,” he said.
Macedo said that the “fart tax” is ridiculous, referring to the methane a cow emits when it passes gas, and that climate change is going to happen whether we are here or not.
Ruiz said that the Valley needs to use fallowed farm land for solar.
A question from the panel touched on uncertainty around the electoral process — asking the candidates what they tell their constituents when they say they “don’t trust the electoral process.”
Avila said that the mail-in ballots causes mistrust along with ballot harvesting, and said that he supports voter ID.
“If you can’t get an ID, what are you doing voting?” he asked.
Macareno countered the question at hand.
“What do you trust? What would you suggest we do? The system we have has worked for many, many years. There is a winner and there is a loser in every election and we need to take that to heart. We need to trust our democracy,” he said.
An audience question asked whether it was time to end California’s high speed rail project.
Macedo lamented the fact that family farms were taken by imminent domain to build the high Speed Rail — but said that the land has been taken, funds have been spent, and we have to make “lemonade out of limes.”
Ruiz and Macareno offered similar evaluations — Ruiz saying that since the project is half-way through, it’s worth finishing, and Macareno saying to “keep it, but downsize it.”
Avila said it was time to pull the plug.
“I call it our modern day Stonehenge,” he said.
The candidates were also asked how they’d “address homelessness and affordable housing.”
Macedo said she applauded Adrianne Hillman, the founder of Salt and Light for finding sustainable solutions for the homeless. She said what works in the cities is not going to work here, and that community leaders needed to be consulted.
Avila proposed a tough-on-crime approach.
“I guarantee you it would take people off the street,” he said. “Would they be incarcerated? Yes.”
Ruiz believes a part of the solutions would be tiny houses.
“If they are human beings, then lets treat them like human beings,” he said.
The League of Women Voters is holding a forum for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 1 and 2 candidates on Wednesday, January 31 at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building, 324 N. Kaweah Ave, Exeter.
Doors open at 6:00pm, and the forum starts at 6:30pm.
All candidates have confirmed except Supervisor Pete Vander Poel of District 2 whose confirmation is pending as of press time.