By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
TORRANCE — But for a brief exchange, the debate between 66th Assembly District candidates Al Muratsuchi and David Hadley on Wednesday night bore little resemblance to the bitter general election rematch that has clogged mailboxes of South Bay residents in recent months.
A capacity crowd filled the Toyota Hall at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, with many standing in the back. The event was sponsored by local chapters of the League of Women Voters.
Muratsuchi. a Democrat, is seeking to reclaim the seat he lost to Hadley, a Republican, in 2014. The Sansei was the top vote-getter in the June primary. Both candidates signed agreements that the hour-long debate would focus on their personal qualifications rather than attacks.
The 66th district covers much of the South Bay, including Gardena, Palos Verdes, Torrance, Rolling Hills, Redondo Beach and Lomita.
Hadley said a vote for him would keep the Democratic Party from gaining a two-thirds super majority in the Assembly. He cast himself as business-minded and pro-environment; he said he supported fracking for areas like Bakersfield but was opposed to offshore oil drilling in Hermosa Beach. On transit issues, Hadley said he opposes Measure M, a half-cent sales tax hike that would fund transportation improvements in Los Angeles County.
Muratsuchi touted his legislative accomplishments during his term in office as examples of how he would improve the local economy. As examples, he cited a bill he authored to streamline regulations on the permitting of solar panels and legislation to bring aerospace jobs to the South Bay, including Northrop Grumman and SpaceEx in Hawthorne. He said he is opposed to fracking and offshore oil drilling in Hermosa Beach. On Measure M, Muratsuchi said he supported the measure, citing the need for light rail in the South Bay.
Asked about his main legislative priority, Hadley said he would seek to create locally controlled school districts for areas such as Gardena, San Pedro and Lomita, which are currently covered by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Muratsuchi, asked the same question, said dealing with the ongoing problems at the former Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance would be his main priority.
Moderator Barbara Arlow kept the candidates and audience largely in check during the debate, warning on multiple occasions that the forum would be ended if there were partisan outbursts.
But a question on negative campaigning and its impact on future voters brought the simmering tensions to the forefront.
Hadley responded first: “There is a big difference between negative campaigning and dishonest campaigning and obviously I am under the rules of League of Women Voters in fully answering this question, but I can tell you that every word of every flier I have put out is true, it is in context, it is relevant.
“The only things I have ever criticized about my opponent are the votes he’s taken, the bills he’s authored, where he gets his campaign finance and the misstatements, deceptions, distortions, and lies he’s told about my campaign.”
Muratsuchi, in response, briefly held up a Hadley campaign flier, eliciting a warning from Arlow.
“I have been on the receiving end of some of the most vile, despicable and outright Trump-like lies waged against me in this campaign,” Muratsuchi said.
Some members of the audience booed and were given a warning by Arlow.
Muratsuchi continued: “I’ve been on the receiving end of multiple commercials that we should embarrassed to have, not just our students, I don’t want my seven-year-old daughter to see the mailers and commercials that are attacking me in this campaign.
“As an example, (he) accuses me of allowing pedophiles in classrooms. I ask all of you to pull out your phones and Google AB 375 … you will see the California PTA supported this bill that streamlines the process to fire the worst teachers.”
Assembly Bill 375, authored in 2013 by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) and co-authored by Muratsuchi and State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), sought to amend the process for teacher dismissal. According to votesmart.org, AB 375 required a mandatory leave of absence for school employees charged with a sex offense. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown who called it an “imperfect solution” to the teacher discipline process.
For its part, the Hadley campaign has charged that “Trump Hadley” campaign signs created by the Muratsuchi campaign are misleading and has demanded that they be removed. Hadley has stated that he would not vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. His campaign has accused Muratsuchi of seeking to run against Trump.
There was a brief moment of levity at the end of the debate when the candidates were asked to name a quality that they admired about their opponent.
Hadley said he admired Muratsuchi for continuing to run for office, saying it showed that a passion for the future of the state.
Muratsuchi said he greatly admires Hadley’s family, including his son, who is a West Point cadet.
The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8.