With the Santa Barbara County elections only months away, the Santa Barbara Progressive Coalition is hosting a free forum tonight to give some of the electoral candidates a chance to tell the public why they deserve to be labeled ‘progressive’ politicians.

The 7 p.m. event will feature a panel of candidates participating in the June elections, including Brett Wagner and Mary Pallant, who are vying for a position as the 24th Congressional District Representative, and 2nd District County Supervisor hopefuls Joe Guzzardi, Janet Wolf and Das Williams. Like the group’s other events, tonight’s forum will be held at the Franklin Neighborhood Community Center. Event Organizer Jon Williams, a founding member of the Santa Barbara Progressive Coalition, said the event will mostly consist of questions from the audience and he expects between 35 and 100 Santa Barbara residents to attend.

Mike Hackett, assistant to Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and an active member of the coalition, said the discussion will focus on subjects such as equal access to quality health care and education, employment, and protection of the environment. He said the politicians will have to answer questions from the crowd about local issues and defend their positions on the topics that are important to Santa Barbara residents.

“I think a lot of people are suffering in this world,” Williams said. “There are kids who need better education and people who need better health care. We cannot content ourselves with little change.”

Guzzardi, an emergency services planner for the Santa Barbara Fire Department, said he plans to explain why he defines himself as a ‘progressive Democrat.’ He said he feels he is progressive because he supports things like protecting Santa Barbara’s natural environment and fighting discrimination based on gender, race or sexual preference.

“In reading the definition of a progressive Democrat, I think I do fit the definition,” Guzzardi said.

The Santa Barbara Progressive Coalition is a local organization comprised of people who consider themselves liberal that meets regularly to discuss local and national political issues, Hackett said. The coalition, which Hackett said was founded in 2004 to support presidential candidate Howard Dean, also coordinates events to educate local residents about various political matters.

“It is an opportunity for politically like-minded people to share their ideas,” Hackett said.

UCSB’s Campus Democrats was closely involved with the Santa Barbara Progressive Coalition before the 2004 election and some students still attend the group’s meetings, Williams said. He said he encourages students to attend tonight’s forum because it is an opportunity for students to learn about the candidates in the upcoming election.

“This is a chance for any UCSB student to not only hear the candidates speak but offer their own thoughts on county issues that affect all students living in the county – things like housing, public transportation, open space and the environment,” he said. “We certainly hope students will attend.”

The Franklin Neighborhood Community Center is located at 1136 East Montecito St. in Santa Barbara.