AD16: Baker, Bauer-Kahan engage in lively debate on guns, teachers, and environment

In a lively debate Sunday night in Pleasanton, Republican 16th District Assemblymember Catharine Baker and Democratic challenger Rebecca Bauer-Kahan traded barbs and rebutted each others claims covering topics such as gun control, teachers unions, and the environment.

Baker, who is seeking re-election for a third term in the perennially moderate Tri-Valley and Contra Costa County assembly district, burnished her record over the past four years in Sacramento. But the same record provided cudgel for Bauer-Kahan, a Orinda attorney, to poke holes in Baker’s voting history, particularly on gun control.

Baker told the audience at Pleasanton’s Congregation Beth Emek synagogue that during her time in office she has often urged Republican colleagues to join her belief that some restrictions must be placed on firearms. “I believe in common sense gun control and that’s something you won’t see Republicans always support,” she said.

I don’t want people carrying guns on school campuses under any condition and that’s how I feel, said Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.

But Bauer-Kahan pointed to a loophole that Baker refused to close allowing school superintendents to approve concealed carry for some employees. Regardless of the circumstances, Bauer-Kahan said all guns should be banned from schools.

“I think there’s no excuse for it,” she said of Baker’s vote, and added,  the presence of unsecured guns is a reason why mass shootings have occurred in the state and across the nation. “I don’t want people carrying guns on school campuses under any condition and that’s how I feel. I don’t want someone pulling a gun out on a schoolyard no matter who they are.”

In a back-and-forth that lasted through several rounds of rebuttals, Baker highlighted her support for more than four dozen “common sense gun control bills” since being elected in 2014. “I have an ‘F’ from the NRA,” she added, building her gun control credentials, along with support for expanding prohibitions on guns on school and university campuses.

But when it came to the bill referenced by Bauer-Kahan, Baker said the gun control advocacy group, Brady Campaign, also did not support the legislation. “There are victims of domestic violence who work in our schools,” said Baker, “and you are basically telling them at community college campuses and universities, here’s where you can find her and you cannot protect yourself and there are children in the line of fire.”

Baker, for the most part, batted away some of Bauer-Kahan’s rhetoric by employing a tactic she used in 2016 to defeat Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio–the existence of “secret” union questionnaires filled out by Democrats, including Bauer-Kahan.

After acknowledging some of Baker’s votes in favor of environmental protections, Bauer-Kahan slammed her for not doing more. “Forty percent of the time on the environment isn’t good enough.” We need people on these core issues that are going to be with us 100 percent of the time.”

Baker laid out her environment record that includes, halting off-shore oil drilling, protecting the state’s national parks from de-listing by federal government, and supporting renewable energy. Baker then made the first of three attempts Sunday night to tie Bauer-Kahan’s platform to special interests, namely for her participation with internal candidate questionnaires sometime used by unions and other group to determine election endorsements.

“Many groups require that you fill out written surveys and questionnaires in exchange for support, endorsements and volunteers. I don’t fill them out,” said Baker. “The Sierra Club will never endorse me and one of the reason why is I don’t fill out their questionnaire. They won’t even interview me.” Baker then instructed the audience “to be wary of candidates who fill them out.”

The scope of the pension problem in California is beginning to squeeze out every local budget, every school budget and U.C. You can’t cut you’re way out of it, and you can’t raise taxes to make up for the unfunded pension liability, said Catharine Baker.

Baker later used the same line of attack to tie Bauer-Kahan to the California Teachers Association over reform of teachers tenure. When Bauer-Kahan offered a process currently exists for removing substandard teachers and principals, Baker seized on the opportunity. “A process exists but it costs about a half million dollars,” said Baker. “It is a broken process.” Baker said legislation she authored to provide additional factors to be considered during teacher layoffs other than simply seniority was unsuccessful. She blamed the California Teachers Association for repeatedly killing her reform bills before noting the union supports Bauer-Kahan.

“I’m not shy that I’m supported by workers,” Bauer-Kahan responded. “I’m not going to Sacramento to support the special interests. I’m going to vote for you and all of us and make sure we’re all represented.”

Bauer-Kahan, though, had her own tweak for Baker. “If you want to talk about who supports me, I’m happy to talk about it because I’m not supported by Big Oil and lot of the other special interests and my opponent is.” Baker, who was seated, crinkled her nose at the swipe, but the audience largely ignored Baker’s ties to the oil industry. One reason might the fact that Chevron, one of the largest companies in the world, is headquartered in nearby San Ramon, which is part of the 16th Assembly District.

Baker reiterated her support for Proposition 6, the state repeal of the gas tax, saying the state should be a better steward of the tax revenues it already receives. Bauer-Kahan opposes Prop. 6.

Baker also opposes Assembly Bill 2923, legislation currently sitting on the Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, that would give BART the ability to develop property it owns near its stations for housing. Baker said communities with BART stations in her district–Lafayette, Dublin-Pleasanton, Walnut Creek–are already doing a good job building housing. “BART has enough problems as it is right now,” she added. Bauer-Kahan also opposes AB 2923, saying control of planning belong at the local level.

Earlier this year, a bill coauthored by Baker and East Bay State Sen. Steve Glazer that would give state employees the option to switch from a dedicated pension plan to a 401k died in committee. On Sunday night, Baker said unfunded pension liabilities is the state’s biggest problem.

“The scope of the pension problem in California is beginning to squeeze out every local budget, every school budget and U.C.,” said Baker. “You can’t cut you’re way out of it, and you can’t raise taxes to make up for the unfunded pension liability.” Bauer-Kahan acknowledged the ongoing problem and urged for municipalities to pay more into lowering its share of unfunded liabilities, but also called on CalPERS to be more conservative in their pension outlook.

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