With incumbent Hannah-Beth Jackson ineligible to run due to term limits, the race for the 35th District California State Assembly seat promises to be a close competition between Democratic candidate Pedro Nava and Republican Bob Pohl.
The 35th District spans portions of Santa Barbara County and Ventura County and includes UCSB and Isla Vista. Pohl, an education consultant, and Nava, a member of the California Coastal Commission, have each made several visits to UCSB and to campus organizations to rally student support for the Nov. 2 election.
In 2002, Nava said he began campaigning under the assumption that incumbent Hannah-Beth Jackson would run for state Senate, but he canceled his bid when Jackson ran for the state Legislature instead. Pohl campaigned during the 2002 election as well, but withdrew mid-race in September when he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Nava said he has made a direct effort to include more students in the campaign for the 35th District seat, citing the approximately 25 student interns who act as volunteers for his campaign.
“They understand the college mindset and they know about campus life and I.V. issues,” Nava said. “They can reinforce the importance of voting.”
Pohl said he and his campaign team have also placed an emphasis on paying attention to Isla Vista.
“I come to you not as a Republican, but as an independent Republican who won’t take you for granted,” Pohl said. “I’m asking students not to vote simply the way they typically vote, but to actually take a look at the candidate and see what he brings to the table.”
In their struggle over the local student vote, Nava and Pohl have attempted to bring large, statewide issues to the local level, such as education funding and environmental protection.
Both candidates said they are strong supporters of public education programs and decreased student fees, with Pohl citing his four years of experience on the Santa Barbara Board of Education, and Nava drawing upon his own personal experience as a product of the state’s public education system.
By closing corporate tax loopholes and collecting taxes from large corporations, Nava said he would try to lower student fees, allowing more students to attend college.
“I don’t think its fair that incoming freshmen are concerned about their college funding and fee increases,” Nava said. “Students deserve stability and predictability.”
Pohl said he agrees that student fee increases are unacceptable, but attributed the problem to Democratic mismanagement of state funds in past years.
“Until you stop that you’ll constantly go back to other sources of income, and students are one of those sources,” he said.
Both candidates cited their plans to work with UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science to develop a “green” economy within the local community as a source of new jobs and as a solution to local environmental concerns.
The candidates have also addressed problems specific to the Isla Vista community and have pledged to effect change within the local community from the state level.
Nava said that, as an assemblyman, he would work to gather state funding to underwrite the I.V. parking plan, which would allow the county to lower parking permit costs. He also said he would work with the California Dept. of Housing and Community Development to review the standards by which Isla Vista has been kept.
“Maybe what we ought to be doing is help the University with student housing,” Nava said. “That’s a way that I, as a state legislator, can have some influence.”
Pohl said his strong relationship with Brooks Firestone, 3rd District County Supervisor, would allow him to address issues such as substandard housing and overcrowding.
“The money is already here in the general plan and in the redevelopment agency,” Pohl said. “Nobody is using it well … Why aren’t political leaders embarrassed by the way this place has been neglected?”
The campaign between Nava and Pohl over such issues has not been without controversy. Recent television ads sponsored by Nava question Pohl’s history on the Santa Barbara Board of Education, alleging that Pohl’s claim to having balanced the school board budget while board president is false.
“I’m a lawyer, and I’m used to working with evidence,” Nava said. “I’m still waiting to see evidence which proves that what I’m saying is incorrect.”
Pohl said Nava’s claims are unsubstantiated, and said the board would have been put on a state watch list were such claims valid. The board, Pohl said, was never put on such a list.
“We always maintained three to five percent money in reserve,” Pohl said. “He’s absolutely incorrect, and that’s been told to him in black and white.”
Nava also said campaign finance records show that Pohl has been receiving support from JOBS PAC, an independent group that supports pro-business candidates in California. Nava said JOBS PAC receives funding from developers and oil companies, such as Chevron and Sempra Energy.
“These people are coming after me because, on the coastal commission, I fought big oil and I fought land developers,” Nava said. “I think students have a right to know why these people are sending my opponent so much money.”
Pohl said he has no control over independent groups that support him, and that he has refused to take campaign donations from such groups on numerous occasions.
“I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I do not support offshore drilling,” Pohl said. “I will not be taking direct funding from oil companies. I’ve gotten calls asking if I would, and I’ve said no.”
If an independent expenditure group ran inflammatory ads about Nava, Pohl said he would request the ads be removed.
JOB PAC’s support for Pohl should be enough to tell voters whom they should support on Nov. 2, Nava said.
“I’m a person who stands up for what he believes,” Nava said. “That’s why JOBS PAC is coming after me, because they know I will fight for families, education and the environment.”
Pohl said his commitment to change makes him the worthier candidate, and also said he wishes to challenge Nava to a debate in I.V. on local issues.
“Nothing changes,” Pohl said. “But everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been able to promote that change. I will take great pride in changing what’s happening in I.V.”