On the surface Tom Benigno and Bob Elliott don’t appear to be all that different.
Both are registered Republicans and both have a vision of the future for South San Joaquin County.
With an emphasis on protecting the region’s biggest industry, agriculture, and the need to promote job growth and expansion in the region, the two San Joaquin County Supervisorial hopefuls vying for the seat of the termed-out Leroy Ornellas agree on a variety of topics.
But the similarities end there – especially when it comes to California’s divisive water politics and how best to proceed with the drought-like conditions that plague farmers in the desert-like Southern San Joaquin Valley.
As part of a forum for Republican candidates hosted by the Manteca Republican Women Federated and the Manteca Tea Party Patriots at Chez Shari Wednesday night, the two candidates – hoping to represent San Joaquin County’s District 5 which encompasses part of Manteca, and all of Tracy and Mountain House – got the chance to lay out their platform side-by-side.
The other candidate for the seat, Tracyite Rhodesia Ransom, was not in attendance at the event.
For the two that were there, it was water – a longtime source of contention in Northern California politics – that served as the splitting maul.
Benigno – a Tracy farmer with roots in the area that go back 55 years – said that he champions the peripheral canal concept that would take fresh water from the Sacramento River, divert it from the Delta and deposit it into the aqueducts that channel water to points in the Bay Area and Southern California.
After 8,500 people in the region lost their homes, he said, adding $10 billion worth of work to the area and 10,000 new jobs for at least seven years would provide the economic stimulus that San Joaquin County needs.
Elliott, a West Point graduate and Special Forces soldier that retired from the Army as a Colonel, doesn’t believe that doing so would be fair to Delta-area farmers that have relied on that water to service their crops.
Diverting the water from the Sacramento River, he said, would cause the Delta to build up tremendous amounts of silt and salt until it was no longer able to support agriculture It is something Elliott said that could be devastating to local growers.
They did, however, agree that even with a stop somewhere in the South County, California’s proposed high speed rail system is still far too expensive and far too conceptual to warrant any faith.
Elliott said that secondary “feeder” lines that would take passengers to the hub sections where they could travel might actually make the system more user friendly, but the funding required to constructing makes it unsupportable.
Benigno echoed his sentiments.
Other topics discussed included:
• How to deal with the Stockton Metropolitan Airport. Elliott said that economic development could serve as a way to improve the ridership while Benigno said that actually expanding the airport itself could generate space for more air traffic – citing the costs for planes to land and take off from the facility.
• The best way to fight San Joaquin County’s high unemployment rate and how to create new jobs. Elliott championed private-public organizations like the San Joaquin Partnership to help put people to work while Benigno said he wanted to take advantage of companies looking to relocate – noting that Silicon Valley powerhouse Oracle had expressed interest in building a 1.2 million square-foot facility in Stockton in 2000 but the city passed because they didn’t another American Savings that severely impacted the city’s economy when they moved operations