By Jocelyn Dong
Democrat Rich Gordon and Republican Greg Conlon, rivals for the California State Assembly District 21, agree upon one thing -- that they disagree on most everything, except perhaps high-speed rail.
Gordon, a three-term San Mateo County supervisor, and Conlon, a former president of the California Public Utilities Commission, are vying for the seat currently held by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin in the left-leaning district. Libertarian Ray M. Bell, Jr. is also running.
The district encompasses all or part of 13 cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, including San Carlos, Redwood City, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and the Almaden Valley of San Jose.
Conlon, a resident of Atherton, paints himself as a fiscally minded conservative with diverse life experience who is interested in job growth, a balanced budget, reform of the state pension system, improving schools, and a high-speed rail system that is done well or not done at all.
A 30-year resident of the area, he ran for state treasurer in 2002 and won the Republican primary but lost in the statewide election to Phil Angelides. He also ran for U.S. Congress in a special election in 2008 after Rep. Tom Lantos died. Conlon lost to Jackie Speier.
Gordon, a resident of Menlo Park, describes himself as an innovative public servant, working both in the nonprofit and public sectors, including two terms on the San Mateo County Board of Education and most recently chairing the statewide City, County, Schools Partnership. He advocates government reform, economic growth through government incentives and regulation, increased school funding and environmental vigilance, among other issues.
Conlon said he's ready for office. "I've spent my whole lifetime getting ready," he said.
After a career specializing in utilities at Arthur Anderson, he retired in 1991. He was appointed to the California Transportation Commission in addition to the Public Utilities Commission. He served on the board of the nonprofit Self-Help for the Elderly for 12 years and has an active CPA license and license to practice law in Washington, D.C.
Among the policies Conlon favors is creating job growth with tax incentives for capital expenditures by businesses, such as building new facilities.
"Corporations in California are sitting on $200 billion in cash. Each $1 billion spent would create 20,000 jobs," he said.
He cites the Federal Solar Tax Credit program as one that is working well. He would like to see a state housing tax credit, which he said would jumpstart the construction industry.
Gordon also favors incentives and tax policies to help people launching new businesses, along with policies to help keep jobs from leaving California.
"The key here is finding the right balance between the free market and overregulation. We have seen the devastating effects on our financial industry when deregulation was the mode. We have also seen industries strangled from overregulation," he states on his website.
Both men are pledging to fix a state budget they call dysfunctional.
"The budget is not in balance because of increasingly unrealistic income projections," Gordon said. He favors changing the state government budgeting process to a two-year cycle with performance measurements and outcomes attached to expenditures.
In an interview during the primary with the Almanac, Gordon cited his role 10 years ago in helping to put an outcome-based budgeting process in place for San Mateo County, whereby results and benefits of programs could be measured for their efficiency and effectiveness.
He also proposed an oil-extraction tax as a new source of revenue, noting that California is the only oil-producing state in the country that doesn't charge oil companies a fee for extracting oil. That tax is as high as 25 percent in at least one state: Alaska.
Gordon also favors a simple majority vote to adopt a state budget; Conlon opposes it.
Conlon's ideas for balancing the state budget entail reducing the size of state government, salaries and pensions. He cites the size of the state workforce before Gov. Gray Davis increased it, saying that if the California government had held spending increases to the level of inflation plus population growth the state would have had a $15 billion surplus in 2009 rather than a $42 billion deficit.
"It's all got to be reversed," Conlon said.
Where the two men's views align more closely is on the issue of the planned state high-speed rail system.
Conlon particularly objects to surface or elevated tracks.
"It's like a four-to-six lane highway through residential community. I'm against it, 100 percent," said Conlon, who would prefer that trains run in covered trenches through residential areas on the Peninsula.
He supports the new Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
The authority is "not listening at all," he said, noting he's voiced his opinion to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on a regular basis for the past three years.
"I've given them hell, eyeball to eyeball," Conlon said.
Gordon reiterated his lack of confidence in the rail authority, a point he also made in the June primary campaign.
"The authority board needs to be replaced," he said, adding that representatives with expertise and understanding of how to work with local communities are needed. "They can't come in here and impose something on us."
He supports working with the state's congressional delegation to delay the deadlines for federal funding applications for high-speed-rail projects, which he said are driving the authority to approve incomplete plans.
"We can't lift a shovel of dirt until there's a business plan that doesn't look like it's been cooked," Gordon said. High-speed rail "is going to be around for 100 years. We can't rush this."
When it comes to the state propositions, both oppose Proposition 19, the marijuana proposition. Gordon said he dislikes that it would be enforced jurisdiction by jurisdiction while Conlon said he believes youth have enough temptations without marijuana being legalized.
Gordon opposes Proposition 22, which would prohibit the state from taking local revenues, because, he said, "I grow weary of ballot-box budgeting." Conlon favors 22.
Both oppose Proposition 23, which would repeal the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, formerly known as AB 32.
Conlon opposes Proposition 25, which reduces to a simple majority the vote needed to pass a state budget. He said he doubts revenue would balance if the budget were passed by a Democratic majority. Gordon favors 25, saying it would bring new and positive nuances to the budgeting process.
Among those supporting Gordon are Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier. Those supporting Conlon include former Secretary of State George Shulz and former Congressmen Tom Campbell.
Gordon's campaign has raised $423,613 since January; Conlon's $53,630, though he said he hoped to raise another $40,000 in the coming two weeks.
Video of local election debates and forums are viewable at www.communitymediacenter.net.