17th State Senate District Debate
George Runner, Republican Nominee
Jonathan Kraut, Democratic Nominee
(Election Nov. 2, 2004)

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, October 24, 2004
(Television interview conducted October 13, 2004)

George Runner
Jonathan Kraut
    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are George Runner and Jonathan Kraut, the Republican and Democratic nominees, respectively, for the 17th Senate seat most recently held by the late Pete Knight, R-Palmdale.
    The debate was conducted Oct. 13. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: What's your educational background and work history?

Kraut: First of all thank you for inviting us, and we're glad to be here. The more people who have a choice and hear the differences between us, I think, the better for the voters.
    I was born in Los Angeles — in Hollywood — went to UCLA, graduated (with a) degree in political science-international relations, served my country as an infantry officer, was on active duty for about five years, made the rank of captain, led troops in battle. I went from there into the aerospace industry, worked in security and investigations, later formed my own investigations firm, and it was largest security academy in California. We trained over 50,000 people in seven years. After that I went into teaching.
    Finally, after several years of working on justice and learning systems, I became a dean at the American Institute in Phoenix and full-time professor. Later, UCLA asked me to come back and work on a learning system, and now I'm a private investigator. My firm specializes in behavioral assessment and criminal investigations.

Runner: I came here as a child to the area of the 17th District, up in the high desert area, grew up there and went to the local schools. I then was a part of founding Desert Christian Schools as a young adult, and that school now is one of the largest private preschool-through-high school programs in the state of California. It's a private nonprofit. I currently serve as chairman of the board.
    Also, I was involved in local politics up there. I was elected to the local government and served as city council member and then mayor for the city of Lancaster. Then, when the opportunity came — actually, when Sen. Knight first ran for the Senate and opened up the Assembly seat — I ran for the state Assembly. I was elected then to that seat, and at that time the seat included the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley. So I represented the good citizens of Santa Clarita during my time there for six years. Then I was termed out, ... and for the last two years I've been doing some consulting work for local governments, a hospital, some charter schools in the process.

Signal: The late Pete Knight was the last office holder in the 17th Senate District. What do you feel are your biggest similarities to Knight, and what are your biggest differences?

Runner: Well, for all of us who knew Pete Knight, those are shoes that are hard to fill — because he had such a diverse background and certainly was a true American hero in his aerospace experiences. So, in that sense, it's hard to say how you fill that void in that way. You can't.
    I guess the best way to answer that would probably be in terms of policy issues. I think Pete and I would be very much the same. He was certainly a conservative; I would certainly see myself as a conservative on many issues, whether we're talking about tax issues, whether we're talking about social issues, I would certainly find myself in that same area.
    Probably where I would differ would be how we go about doing our business. My experience in the Legislature was put into being one of the negotiators on many issues. I served as vice chair of (the) Budget (Committee) for four of my six years up there in Sacramento, in the Assembly. That in itself meant that you had to try to work it out. It's one thing to have hard-core issues that you're committed to, but the bottom line is, at times you have to come to a decision, and I was very much a part of those decisions. So I think that's probably — how we handled business would be a little bit different.

Kraut: First of all, we both worked in aerospace. He was a test pilot and was not afraid to put his life on the line. I feel (with) my military service and combat experience, I've done the same. Also, he was very open and very accessible. He could be reached by phone. You could call him and he would answer. He would make meetings and talk to people and go wherever he needed to go. So I'm very appreciative that even though politically we are very different, he was open to ideas and was listening to different viewpoints.
    Where I think we're different, I believe that military service and leadership — in the one case, when you put your life on the line, it's one thing, but government is there to protect people, to take care of everybody. I felt that some of his issues were denying the right to choose, or denying people to live the way that they felt to live.
    I do agree with civil unions. I think that is a just and rational example of how I'm different than Pete. But I regret that he has passed away, and it's too bad that he can't see this election through.

Signal: About 6.3 million non-elderly Californians lacked sufficient medical insurance as of 2001. Proposition 72 would require most employers to cover 80 percent of their workers' health care costs. What is your position?

Kraut: I'm in favor of Proposition 72 for several reasons. First of all, it asks employers that have over 50 employees to pay or contribute in some means to a medical benefit. The more people in the system, the cheaper the price is for everybody.
    And we do have a universal health care system in California, although it's inadvertent. If you have an emergency and you go to the county hospital, they'll take care of you — and they should. So we need to expect that there are emergencies. We need to expect that people will be injured. Instead of acting like it's a big surprise when we can't afford to keep our emergency rooms open, the more people who contribute to the system, the more employers that share the costs, the better for all Californians, the more emergency rooms can stay open, the better the health care for everybody.

Runner: I oppose the proposition. I think that we can provide, and need to provide, a growing amount of health care coverage. I think we can do that through creating incentives for employers to be able to give that benefit, along with the idea of being able to group individuals into group policies and make it affordable in that way for them to get into it.
    The problem, when you have this one-size-fits-all (measure), forcing all employers to do it, is that it's another issue to chase businesses out of California. The fact is that if we want to continue to be able to pay for the social net that we have in California, we've got to do it by creating jobs and by keeping employers in California. And this just becomes another one of those issues that makes it easier for employers to go to Nevada or to go to Arizona or lots of other places where ... they can be free of many of the regulatory issues that chase them away, and hence, Californians have less jobs.

Signal: Pete Knight created enterprise zones in the Antelope Valley. What would you do to help businesses and spur economic development in the 17th District?
    Runner: Again, one of the problems we have in California is we create these one-size-fits-all views of life. One of the examples, for instance, is affordable housing. We have required cities to set aside certain amounts of affordable housing. We require the redevelopment agencies to be able to set aside certain amounts of affordable housing. And what you have in many of the areas such as in the Antelope Valley and Victor Valley, up and down the San Joaquin Valley, is you have homes that are reasonably affordable. So what you really need to do is not figure out how to make them more affordable; what you have to do is create jobs where those houses are already affordable.
    So, one of the things that I would want to do is to be able to transfer that money away from the idea of making houses affordable in those areas and be able to use it for economic development. Job creation. Now, that does two things. It not only creates jobs where people live, but that in turn takes them off the freeway. And we all know coming down the 14 or the 5 is a huge problem for us. So the (fewer) people we have on those roads, working closer to home, the better off we are for transportation, for family life. It just makes a lot of sense. That's one of the issues that I'd like to see us do for economic development.

Kraut: The success of California is based on the hard work and education that we provide to our children. As an educator and a teacher, I understand that the better equipped and prepared our students are, the better and more successful they become as adults. I would like to see some infrastructure developed in education. I'd like to focus on aerospace, biotechnology, medicine, the entertainment industry, and work with the movie industry. By having a better trained and better prepared work force, not only can they earn more money. But you can't outsource talent. You can't take that away from us.
    So, I'd like to not only make sure that we have the kind of income and the kind of support that we need for our children by preparing them with education, but also allow them to be in a situation where they're not subject to this rating of a differentiation of costs between economies.

Signal: Proposition 98 of 1988 guaranteed schools a base amount of funding. If Proposition 1A passes on Nov. 2, cities and counties will be guaranteed funding. If your back is against the wall in Sacramento and you can't afford to keep both schools and local governments whole, what taxes would you raise, or what major state programs would you cut?

Kraut: First of all, I like 1A because it allows local government to have access and control of its own money, and I think that's a good thing. Second of all, we collect $75 billion a year in taxes, and we have plenty of money if it's used in the right place. We can improve education in our classrooms without spending more money.
    I developed programs at different schools and universities, including UCLA, that worked on how to bring out the best in teachers, an inspired teaching program called Optimal Teaching, which helps teachers and students do better. So we can perform better without spending money. It's not always a dollar-to-an-A equivalency. Second of all, if you have local control, who better to decide what to do with that money than the local schools themselves?

Runner: You don't need to raise taxes in the state of California. The fact is that California has enough revenue. What you need to do is help reprioritize spending issues. Let me give you an example. In education, many of the dollars do not make it to the classroom as a result of just a huge bureaucracy that takes place. I think one of the things we've got to do is be able to let those dollars flow. We have to empower local school districts to be able to make decisions for themselves as opposed to mandating things from Sacramento, forcing them into molds, and basically, oftentimes, making them leave money on the table because it doesn't fit exactly the right kind of thing that some social engineer up in Sacramento wanted them to do.
    So I think there's plenty of money around for us to do that. The issue is that we need to be able to set those priorities to be able to do that. There are many places we can do that, whether it's in contracting out issues, whether it's in eliminating many of the boards that we have in the state of California. I think the CPR (California Performance Review) program that the governor has put together is a good way for us to reevaluate the government from top to bottom in California.

Signal: George Runner, in your last Assembly term you introduced the Amber Alert system. How well would you say it's working?

Runner: It has worked out great. And it's one of those few programs that you can do, and we could put in place in California, which didn't cost anything. It used existing systems. As a result of the Amber Alert, over 75 children have been rescued once the Amber Alert had gone into place. And actually since the Amber Alert, not one child abduction has ended in a death of one of those children. So, it's an extremely successful program which has saved many lives. And it's just great knowing that California had the vision to implement it as it did, and as you well know, not only is it a California program, but it's a nationwide program.

Signal: Jonathan Kraut, you recently wrote an opinion piece saying more needs to be done to crack down on sexual predators. Like what?

Kraut: Well, first of all, getting to Amber Alert: In 2000 there were 51 abductions, by strangers, of children. In 2002, 54. By family abductions, 1,938 in 2000 and over 2,400 in 2002. So there are a few lives that we do save. Forty-nine states have Amber Alert. It's a good thing. It's not that expensive. But why are these children being at risk? My question is, if we know a sexual predator is going to commit crime again, and over 50 percent do, why are we letting them out of prison in the first place?

Signal: One issue of concern locally is the contaminated Whittaker-Bermite property in central Santa Clarita. Five municipal water wells have been shut for perchlorate contamination. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is in charge of overseeing the cleanup, and the Castaic Lake Water Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working on solutions. What do you think you could do to make the cleanup go faster?

Kraut: The most important thing a government official can do is take care of its people. And regarding safety or children or education or the future, our top priority has to be the health and welfare of our people.
    When there's toxic waste found in the groundwater as in this case, we need to hurry up and take care of it right away. Maybe we can get some Superfund money into the situation. Maybe we can get some donations. But we've got to eliminate the contaminants from traveling through the aquifer, and we need to (be made) aware, through monitoring stations, where the problem is. But we can't let it go. We can't be waiting around. It's not really a time of convenience for us. We need to hurry. That would be one of my top priorities.

Runner: I think the steps are in place to do it, and do it right. I think one of the key issues that you've got to do is, the state has got to keep the original landowner on the hook. That's very important. Because they are responsible. There (have) been efforts at times for them to try to pass the buck and to get away from it. I think one of the things that we must do, and that we need to keep the state agency involved with, is keeping them on the hook for that cleanup.
    The other issue is trying to find some kind of an agreement as fast as possible. It's about a $60 million cleanup bill there, and getting them on board, and how it is that can be financed, is a very key issue in doing that. The other issue is, I know that we need to continue to go ahead — and the federal government has already come through with some dollars — we need to continue to get the federal government as a partner, as they've done in other communities, in helping to both clean up and be able to produce that water. Because basically, you've got a very important piece of property that is useless right now. We need to go ahead and make it useful for the citizens of Santa Clarita.

Signal: Another environmental question, this time submitted by the Democratic Club of Santa Clarita: "Diesel exhaust has been proven to cause cancer and air pollution in metropolitan areas and has been shown to significantly increase incidents of asthma and diminished lung capacity in children. What steps have you taken/would you take to reduce air pollution and the exhaust we breathe?"

Runner: We're already on schedule to deal with some diesel emissions over the next number of years, and I think that in itself will take care of a great deal of the challenge and the problem when it comes to the issue of air quality, particularly with diesel.
    One of the issues that I have been involved with, that we're working on — we have really a basin problem. The problem is that the air in Santa Clarita doesn't just come from here; it's a basin problem. One of the issues that we've been looking at, in talking with people, is the ability to use L&G trains out of the port of Long Beach in order to take material out of the L.A. basin into the high desert, and then offload it to trucks over in that area. That does two things. No. 1, it uses trains, using a much better resource, using L&G; the other thing that it does is it keeps those diesel trucks out of the basin, that contribute much to the problem. So those would be a couple of the issues I think would help solve that problem.

Kraut: One of my subtler accomplishments is, I hold an engineering patent in a positive crankcase ventilation system, which reduces particulate matter, especially carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, as much as 50 percent. That includes diesel. So I'd like to see more interest in products like that — not necessarily my development, but others — and have the state be active in incorporating these things in pollution control. Second is, we travel quite a bit. A lot of pollution is because we travel from up here down into the valley or into L.A. About 100,000 people travel, and if each one is traveling 100 (miles) a day, that's 10 million miles a day.
    Third is, I'm very socially conscious and environmentally conscious. My opponent, unfortunately, had 97 attempts — votes — on fixing the environment and voted no 89 times in his history, and I don't think that's too good. So at least I would like to take an open mind and look at these issues more from a technical background and solving the problem quickly, and not drag it on forever.

Signal: Jonathan Kraut, what question do you have for your opponent?

Kraut: One concern that I have is regarding ethics and integrity. I believe that you should not be able to hold office as a lobbyist or a consultant with taxpayer money right after you serve. In fact I'd like to see a four- or five-year moratorium so that insiders, or the people in government, cannot take care of each other. It's taxpayer money, not government money. What do you feel about a moratorium on serving as a lobbyist after serving in office?

Runner: Current law in the state of California requires that you have a one-year cooling off period, that you cannot go ahead and lobby the Legislature. So current law actually takes care of that issue. I'm not sure why you would need any more than that; that seems to me to be a pretty adequate response to that.

Signal: George Runner, what question do you have for your opponent?

Runner: I'd like to know a little bit more about what your involvement, particularly in the community of Santa Clarita, has been, because I just don't know.

Kraut: I'm a volunteer (with) the Human Relations Forum, which is responsible for, hopefully, helping change attitudes regarding race and cultural differentiation. I do speak Spanish and am very close to the Latino community. I spend a lot of time as a private investigator, donating my time with organizations like the public counsel for legal defense, which takes care of children and families, especially from other countries, who are unable to support or defend themselves, so I work as an investigator for them, pro bono.
    I also am very active with students. I have worked with College of the Canyons; I actually am a dance instructor, among other things, and hopefully bring a way to share our various cultural backgrounds and our diversity between people.

Signal: What are your top priorities? What do you hope to accomplish in the next four years in the California Senate?

Runner: I think certainly one of the challenges we have in the state of California is bringing economic reality back. We've been off-balance in the last number of years, and I really believe we're timed just right for a California comeback.
    Being able to help Californians grow their businesses in order for jobs to be created — California is a wonderful place. We're all here because we love it. Unfortunately we've created a climate that has made it so that many employers find themselves finding other places. And as a result of that, we have many more people who are dependent on the taxpayer than we have taxpayers at times. I think we need to bring that balance back, and I'm looking to bring that back and be a part of that.
    The other thing that I would want to once again do is represent the area of Santa Clarita as I did once before, and I think I have a very well established record in providing the needs and the issues within Santa Clarita. One of our great accomplishments was the transfer of title and getting local ownership, a partnership, with Whitney Canyon, being able to set aside that huge open space area in order to protect and provide those in Santa Clarita something that they much appreciate in their community here. We want to continue to do those kinds of things for Santa Clarita and represent the citizens.

Kraut: I look forward to continuing my work on education, especially improving the ability of our teachers to teach, by supporting excellent teachers. I also believe that we can balance our budget. There is no reason to borrow money. There is no reason to keep this endless cycle of debt. We have enough bond issues as it is. And we need to start being prudent and responsible.
    Thirdly, I'd like to make sure that we have the safest and most protected neighborhoods in the nation. We can lock up sexual predators who are incurable. We usually can tell who they are, and we should work on that. We also need to give sentencing options to judges, and we need to have affordable and safe drugs available from other countries.
    Finally, I just want to let everybody know that I am here for you, that my door is always open. My intention is to listen to you and to be your servant.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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