Oct. 16, 2012
By Misty Volaski, email@example.com
The Rotary Club of Ojai gave Ventura County supervisorial candidates Bob Roper and Steve Bennett a chance to have their messages heard in a debate format Friday.
With Marty Babayco moderating, incumbent Bennett and challenger Roper answered questions submitted from Rotary members on topics including pension reform, fostering cooperation between government agencies, labeling genetically-modified foods and protecting open spaces.
Roper, a retired Ventura County fire chief, spoke of what he said is the importance of stimulating a strong local economy centered on business. He added that he would seek to remove obstacles for business owners and enable business growth.
Bennett, meanwhile, focused on the fiscal discipline he said he has brought to the county government and on the initiatives he’s promoted to preserve undeveloped land including the Save Open-space and Agriculture Resources (S.O.A.R.) initiative he cosponsored. He also touched on pension reforms he worked for in the past, saying, “I’ve been a good steward of the taxpayer dollars.”
Both Bennett and Roper spoke against “urban sprawl,” and said keeping open spaces open and using agricultural lands wisely is important to them.
“I strongly support S.O.A.R.,” Bennett said. “Nobody wants to make it more successful than me.”
Roper said he “didn’t want the county to look like the San Fernando Valley,” and advocated for regional land-use votes for places like the Ojai Valley, as opposed to county-wide votes. He also said he wants to see a “a collaborative approach” with several governing bodies working together through an acknowledgment that they share the same air, watersheds, etc.
Bennett highlighted his record of “developing relationships” as the key to reaching mutually-beneficial solutions and avoiding fights he said were all too common among bureaucracies.
In addition to showing support for wise land usage, both candidates said they supported pension reform.
Big differences came in discussions of the propositions on the November ballot. Bennett, a former teacher, came out in support of Prop. 30. He said although imperfect, the temporary tax increase to maintain education funding is “absolutely essential.” Its failure, he added, would mean “a greater burden on all of us.”
Roper, however, opposed Prop. 30. Instead, he called for a local initiative that would hold politicians “highly accountable,” something he said the current system in Sacramento lacks. “Schools just keep losing money,” he explained. “Anything local would mean accountability.”
Both agreed that the public deserves to know what’s in their food through the labeling of foods which are genetically modified, but Roper said he didn’t feel Prop. 37, was the right way to go. “The current initiative has so many exemptions,” he told the audience. Bennett said while he had not read “every sentence” of Prop. 37, he felt “generally inclined to support it.”
Roper responded by saying candidates “should be prepared to give responses” to all questions.
Both candidates, as well as many Rotary members, felt the debate went well. “I thought it was pretty even,” said Rotary Club president-elect Jane McCarthy. “It impressed me that Steve could just stand and talk like he did; it was obvious that he’d done it a lot. And I thought that for a first time out, Roper did a good job too. He had to read from notes sometimes, but seemed better prepared on some initiatives than Bennett.”
Peter Bowen, chairman for the Rotary’s Taste of Ojai event, said he was also very pleased with the debate, adding that he appreciated Babayco’s moderating skills. “He had this ability to bring all parties involved onto even keel,” Bowen said.
When it came to picking a debate winner, Bowen said it was Bennett “hands-down. … I come away from it with the mindset that Steve Bennett knows what’s at stake, knows what’s involved and is experienced. But at the same time I could easily argue that Bob Roper could have a different voice … at the end of the debate, I’m more likely to vote for Steve Bennett, but that doesn’t mean that I’m satisfied with everything that’s there.”
McCarthy said she thinks she’s chosen a candidate, but, like Bowen, is still not completely sure. “Roper has worked with a lot of different types of people. You have to be able to see and work with all the different sides. I think that’s really valuable. … But then, Steve’s had to do the same thing, too.”
McCarthy and Bowen both agreed that the candidates offered perspectives that changed their minds on more than one topic. McCarthy was pleased with Roper’s perspective on Prop 37. “That was interesting, what he said, that we shouldn’t get into it until it’s the proper bill. I happen to be a dietician, so that was very interesting. I’m very pro-labeling (foods), and what he said made me think.”
Bowen said he’s “a steadfast Republican,” but said he’s kept an open mind because “I’m really looking for details, for someone that has the ability to make a change locally.”
Visit www.ovnblog.com/?p=6882 for more information on the candidates.