Common Ground: 25th District hopefuls voice priorities

Six Republican candidates vying for an Assembly seat in the June 8 primary staked out common ground on guns, taxes and environmental policies at a forum Thursday night, distinguishing themselves in tone and priorities.

They're competing to succeed Assemblyman Tom Berryhill in the 25th Assembly District, which connects Modesto to Madera by way of four foothill counties.

All six candidates favor rolling back environmental regulations to encourage business growth, want to cut state spending instead of raising taxes, and oppose measures that would restrict gun rights.

Here's a look at how they presented themselves to an audience of about 100:

Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison avoided red-meat language, acknowledging that Democrats often are "well-meaning" in advocating for environmental protections.

She stressed that she wants to bring local government to the table in negotiating state regulations so communities can protect their own economies and values. Murrison struck a theme of wanting to restore opportunities to the Golden State by rethinking regulations and taxes she says drive away jobs.

"We have to stop this headlong rush to fiscal insanity," she said.

Former Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating declared herself a fighter who would go to Sacramento to "undo" regulation she says strangles private industry and local governments.

Her top target is AB 32, the state's landmark global warming law. It requires companies and local governments to slash carbon emissions, and it's a favored policy of Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders.

"AB 32 has become a household name. It is killing California businesses; it is killing California pocketbooks," she said.

Former Turlock City Councilman Kurt Vander Weide described himself as a defender of constitutional rights who intends to roll back the reach of government in everyday life. He used the strongest language of the night, blaming the "rapacious left" for diminished freedom.

"California is one of the most heavily socialist states in the nation," he said. "The state is falling apart, and it's not because you're not being taxed enough."

Former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad said he wants to eliminate the state's income tax over time, and he stressed that his priority in Sacramento would be to spur private industry.

Conrad tended to put his remarks in a global context. He recently returned from two tours of duty with the Army in Afghanistan.

"Debt is a killer and we've got to stop it. If we lose California, we could lose the nation. The Soviet Union fell to debt and I think about that a lot," he said.

Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White had some of the night's best quips. The 21-year-old played up his experience saying "no" to sewer rate hikes on the council, and hewed to the GOP platform.

"My name is Jesse James White and I'll stick to my guns so you can keep yours," he said, answering a question about a bill that would limit purchases of ammunition.

Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen characterized herself as a "true conservative" who would work across the aisle for results that reflect her values. She was the only candidate who said she opposes civil unions for gay couples; all six oppose same-sex marriage.

She said she wants to cut redundant programs and focus Sacramento on what she called the core government services of public safety, education and infrastructure.

"The state of California needs to learn to live within its means and get its hands out of our pocketbooks," she said.