The race for California’s 23rd Congressional District is not as heated as in years past, but two candidates are still vying for the ribbon-shaped district’s votes.

Republican Victor Tognazzini, a farmer from Santa Maria, is hoping to replace Democratic incumbent Lois Capps, who has represented the district since 1998. If elected, Tognazzini said he will side with his constituents and not his party. Meanwhile, Capps has promised to continue to fight for the environment, education and a clear end to the war in Iraq.

Capps will finish her fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives this year while Tognazzini is running in his first congressional race. Tognazzini said he has experience as a leader, citing his service as the president and director of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and as the president of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Board in 2005.

Tognazzini said that while he lacks political experience, he is skilled in bringing opposing groups together.

“There are things on which we will never agree, and on those things, let’s talk,” Tognazzini said.

According to the Congressional Quarterly website,, Capps has raised approximately $822,000 for the race, while Tognazzini’s has raised $40,000. Tognazzini said his funds are low because he only collects donations from individuals.

One hot button issue facing both candidates is the war in Iraq. Capps said she is pushing for a clear exit strategy and a reduction of troops.

Tognazzini, a Vietnam veteran, said he supports the war on terrorism and agrees with military commanders in Iraq who say more troops are needed. He said he supports reducing the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as the Iraqi military grows.

“I am closer to the president’s position than to those who would adopt a ‘cut and run’ strategy, but I am not a blind follower,” Tognazzini said in a statement on his website.

Another important issue for Capps is education, she said. Capps said she is a proponent of lowering costs and increasing diversity in universities, and suggested making tuition tax deductible.

“Higher education has always been the heart and soul of our country, particularly in California because we have so many immigrants – it’s been that American dream,” Capps said.

Capps said she supports giving illegal immigrants rights and benefits and has worked to do so since she took office. Tognazzini, on the other hand, said he wants to close the borders and supports creating an immigrant worker program – which he said should not be a path to citizenship.

The candidates have known each other for over 10 years, and both said there is no bad blood between them. Tognazzini’s issue with the congresswoman, whom he calls a “nice lady,” is her “ineffectiveness” in the house.

“[Is it that] she can’t get any bills passed because it’s a Republican-controlled congress?” Tognazzini said, “Well there are other Democrats getting bills passed, it’s just that she doesn’t have the clout.”

Capps, who won the majority of Isla Vista’s votes in the last election, said she does not appreciate Tognazzini’s backhanded reference that she is a “nice lady,” and defended her work in Congress.

“I can be tough; I’ve taken on a lot of giants, congressionally speaking,” Capps said. “Although I don’t know if they hold up in I.V.”

Both candidates have vowed to protect the environment in the 23rd District, which includes almost 200 miles of the Pacific coast and the Channel Islands. Both have also expressed their discontent with the current proposal to allow the hunting of nonnative deer and elk on Santa Rosa Island to continue.

Tognazzini said he blames Capps for allowing the proposal to pass. He said Capps was ineffective and that another congressional member could and would have blocked the legislation.

Capps said she fought adamantly against the hunting proposal, but the issue was amended onto a defense bill – and not voted on individually – that passed. She blamed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but said the first thing she will do when congress reconvenes – whether the House is controlled by Republicans or Democrats – is to fight to block the legislation.

“This is what I do, and frankly, there are not a lot of huge bills with my name on them,” she said. “I have to fight tooth and nail and scrap.”

Tognazzini said he thinks the congresswoman has spent enough time in office, which he said is in need of a new face. He said he only plans to spend three to four terms in the House and believes there should be a higher turnover rate in Congress.

He said he also plans to make friends with Democrats in Congress and not to be controlled by his party, like he said his opponent is.

“First thing that’s going to happen when I get to Washington, I’m going to walk across the aisle, shake hands with every Democrat and say ‘I’m here to work with you,'” Tognazzini said.