Candidates for state senate speak in campus political science lecture Wednesday

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California state Senate candidates Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson spoke to a campus political science class in Wheeler Hall on Wednesday.

Skinner and Swanson are two candidates vying for the District 9 state Senate seat, which represents parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including the campus and surrounding areas.

Political Science 179 is taught by campus professor Alan Ross, who hopes to expose students to diverse perspectives by featuring guest speakers each week. The class began with an 10-minute opening statement by each candidate, with the rest of the time allocated to a question-and-answer session.

Both Skinner and Swanson are Democrats and self-described “progressives,” and both have served in the California State Assembly and held other government offices.

Ross selected the two “frontrunners” in the race to speak to his class and said he hoped to use the debate as an opportunity to show students how to make political decisions between seemingly similar candidates.

“It’s very hard in Berkeley where clearly a democrat is going to win,” Ross said. “But there can still be differences, even if it’s personality and authenticity, things like that can come out in a debate.”

Skinner is committed to expanding gun control and investment in a clean energy economy. Swanson has been active in cracking down on human trafficking and helping at-risk youth from underrepresented minorities. Both candidates are passionate about prison reform and investment in early-childhood education.

The candidates fielded questions from students on various issues such as minimum wage, the institution of free public higher education and job creation.

Campus junior Elisabeth Larson asked the candidates what made each of them specifically more qualified than the other.

“(The candidates) were saying a lot of the same stuff,” Larson said. “I wanted to find out who to vote for and why them, specifically.”

Swanson touted himself as the candidate willing to sacrifice in order to make the best decisions for his constituents, referencing the 2009 loss of his chairmanship of the Oakland Assembly Labor and Employment Committee over his refusal to vote for a bill in favor of a spending cap.

“Most Democrats agree 90 percent of the time,” Swanson said at the debate. “The question comes when you have to take a principled or difficult position or oppose leadership.”

Skinner responded by emphasizing the importance of being willing to compromise, as refusal to compromise has in the past made it necessary to bargain with Republicans for votes, which “they did not give for free.”

“Yes, we must take principled stances,” Skinner said during the event. “It is right to say no, but it is essential to govern.”

Katherine Welch and Rich Kinney, two other candidates vying for the District 9 seat, both said they wish they’d been invited to the event.

Welch, a Democrat and first-time political candidate, is also running on a progressive platform prioritizing education reform. Kinney, the lone Republican in the race, is putting forth a platform focused on supporting the middle class while balancing a conservative budget.

“Nothing beats actually getting to see the candidates live, to see if their questions were really answered,” Ross said. “I always want students to challenge the speakers.”

Contact Amelia Baum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ameliabaum_dc