Incumbency may have its advantages come election time, but not with this crowd.
Members of the Pasadena Patriots, a local Tea Party organizing group, dominated the audience Monday at a 44th Assembly District candidates' debate in Pasadena, turning up the heat on state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge).
On the other hand, dark horse Republican challenger Alvaro Day — a recent UCLA graduate and co-founder of the Pasadena City College Republican Club who traces his political career back to a 2009 Tea Party rally — enjoyed a number of audience questions that allowed him to spell out a platform that includes across-the-board tax cuts, rollback of environmental regulations and smaller government.
For once, even a Libertarian candidate enjoyed more local applause than an incumbent Democrat, with Pasadena novelist Eytan Kollin's arguments opposing government economic intervention and echoing skepticism about global warming also stirring the crowd — even if support for marriage equality and infrastructure spending fell on deaf ears.
Even for Kollin, the crowd leaned a little too far to the right.
"Portantino walked into a trap," Kollin said following the afternoon event at the Pasadena Senior Center. "A lot of them were clapping reluctantly for me, like 'I agree with that, but he's not the guy we're supposed to be clapping for.'"
Elected to the Assembly in 2006 after serving nearly eight years on the La Cañada Flintridge City Council, Portantino said he has proven himself a fiscally responsible legislator, citing voluntary salary cuts, calls for statewide salary and bonus freezes, and support for a constitutional amendment that would prevent the state government from spending more than it takes in.
"You can't spend what you don't have. Pay-as-you-go forces discipline and priorities into the system. I proposed it last session, and it's something I would propose again right out of the gate," Portantino said.
Campaign disclosures filed with the state show Portantino has spent approximately $250,000 on his 2010 campaign, with more than $680,000 left in his war chest. Neither of his opponents has reported any contributions.
Day, 21, a resident of Arcadia, said that his priorities include support for a voucher system to help parents move their children from public to private schools, one of the top political goals of Tea PAC, a political-action committee.
Portantino, however, touted his efforts to protect education spending.
"The economy is my biggest concern right now," said Day, who would privatize the state prison system as a cost-saving measure. "I will fight for policies that fight the tax burden and the regulation burden on companies, and across the board we should be passing tax cuts for everyone so that people can do better for themselves."
Though Portantino and Day both voiced support for preserving Proposition 13 property tax prohibitions, only Day received applause.
Marvin Schachter, who sits on the state board of the AARP and helped organize the debate as a member of the Pasadena Senior Advocacy Council, said debate-goers' single-minded focus on shrinking government was a missed opportunity.
"I'm very disappointed that at a meeting at a senior center nobody discussed senior issues," he said.