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The second official Baja California gubernatorial debate saw candidate Francisco "Kiko" Vega's National Action Party come under fierce attack from minor party candidate Felipe Ruanova, and under some attack from Institutional Revolutionary Party nominee Fernando Castro Trenti.
Analysts on Tijuana's Televisa Channel 12, where the debate was held, said afterward that the double-barreled attack actually could help Vega, as voters might sympathize with his being ganged up on, particularly since Ruanova's charges were so exaggerated. The Citizens Movement candidate, who is a lifelong member of the PRI, even attacked former PAN governor, and now senator, Ernesto Ruffo for his business practices in the 1980s, as if that were relevant to the July 7 election. Ruffo became the first opposition governor in modern Mexican history when he was elected in 1989, and the PAN has held the Baja California governorship since.
Enrique Sánchez Díaz, editor of El Sol de Tijuana, and Enrique Luengas, the news director for Televisa Mexicali, said in an uninterrupted 24-minute analysis program after the debate that Vega helped himself by staying calm, cool and collected in the face of Ruanova's blistering attacks.
Luengas said that although he thought Castro Trenti had the best proposals in the debate, he thought Vega's language slipups possibly made him more endearing to public. Vega put in a much better performance than many experts expected, although he did frequently look down at his notes rather than talking directly to viewers.
Vega said he would continue with the mini-grant (becas) program that has provided monetary support to students attending Baja California schools. He said 523,000 such grants have been provided to date. He said he had heard from many parents that their budget can't stretch to buy uniforms and school supplies when school starts in August and promised that his government would pay for uniforms and supplies to those who can't afford them. Vega said he would start transportation grants for students whose families cannot afford to pay the 10 pesos each way for their bus trips to and from school. (Castro said the grant program is masking structural flaws in the education system.)
Vega said he would also cancel all residential debt to the state water agency and would increase the electricity subsidy for the poorest in Mexicali, which traditionally has greater electricity costs to run air-conditioners in the sweltering desert heat.
Vega said he would form a state panel for migrant policy, just as he formed one when he was mayor of Tijuana from 1998-2001. He also said his government would help Mexican indigenous groups who have come to populate the state, be they in Tijuana neighborhoods or in San Quintín or El Rosario in the south of the state.
Castro Trenti, who Sánchez Díaz said has had a remarkable record as a legislator, promised more help to single mothers, including free day care for those working night shifts at factories. He said there would be 4,500 day-care spots. Castro Trenti promised state university branches in Tecate and Rosarito, and to resolve Ensenada's water-supply issues. He also noted that his legislation expanded local telephone calling areas in the state, saving consumers long-distance charges.
Vega cautioned voters not to the return to the bad old days of the PRI, telling young people to ask their parents and grandparents what the seven-decade national rule of the PRI was like. "We we don't want all of Mexico painted red (the color the PRI has been using)," he said. He pointed out that he was the only one of the three candidates who was elected through the vote of his party; the other two candidates were selected from on high by their parties.
Sánchez Díaz said Castro Trenti is likely to benefit from the ascension of the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency and from the PRI's plurality in Congress; the editor said the 2006-12 presidency of the PAN's Felipe Calderón has badly hurt the PAN in local and state elections in recent years.
Vega said Castro Trenti, for all he says about saving the government money, saw his salary triple after he entered Tijuana's government in 2004, from 44,000 pesos month to 142,000 pesos a month (roughly $3,500 to 12,000). Vega also called Castro Trenti "tomato soup."
Castro Trenti said Vega, when mayor, did not accomplish what he set out to do, and said that even when he did, what he built did not work. He said Vega's administration spent 9 million pesos (around $800,000) for light rail for Tijuana. "We keep looking for the light rail in the city, and can't find it," Castro Trenti said.
He also said the clock Vega built along with Tijuana's signature arch cost 11 million pesos (roughly $1 million) and doesn't work.
Vega noted that he left offices with city finances in excellent shape, unlike today's debt-ridden Baja California municipalities. But Castro Trenti said the payroll doubled during his government.
The PAN has won the governor's race four straight times for various reasons. One was that in the beginning, the public was fed up with the PRI. The PAN also has delivered on major public works, such as new roads and road improvements, providing infrastructure the state needs to grow and meet the demands of its expanding populace. Vega defended the PAN's governance, while saying he would deliver more. He said that while poverty is still too high, extreme poverty has been drastically reduced under PAN governments. Castro Trenti had said there were 300,000 living in poverty in the state, a tenth of the state's population.
Castro Trenti concluded by telling voters to think in terms of a more positive future, saying, "I believe in you."
Ruanova dedicated his two minutes at the end to continue blasting the PAN, saying it was responsible for the state's low voter turnout and "was deceiving us and enriching us." (No doubt, Ruanova meant to say that the PANistas were enriching themselves.)
Vega concluded by saying,"You need a lot of heart to govern, and I have a lot of extra heart to share with you."
The first debate was held last week in Rosarito and was only broadcast via the Internet. Next week's debate will take place Wednesday in Ensenada, with the topics of countryside, fishing and sustainable development
Sánchez Díaz, who joined El Sol de Tijuana this year after a long tenure at El Mexicano, said that the security issue could be a defining one in the upcoming debates, which are supposed to follow fixed themes (Wednesday's were social development, work, and vulnerable groups). Vega, in his concluding remarks, said Baja California cannot afford to "go even one step backward" in security matters and fall into the trap of violence being suffered in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Nuevo León states. He pointed out that all of them have PRI governors. Sánchez Díaz also said that if voter turnout is low, the candidate with best get-out-the-vote organization would win. Traditionally, the PRI has been the best at delivering that kind of vote.
After the debate, commercials for the two main candidates aired. Castro Trenti's followed a theme he touched on in the debate: "I work for you so that you make more." Vega's said, "I will head a government at your service, because with me, the people are in charge."
After the debate analysis, there was an ad for the Monte de Piedad pawn shops in San Diego County. Coincidentally, Vega has made his fortune in part through his Casa de Empeño pawnshops.
Ruanova, although the Citizens Movement candidate, has long been a PRIista. In his 2013 book, El Cártel del PAN, he has an epilogue dated Dec. 31, 2012, where he says, "I am a PRIista." He also offers a refund to anyone who buys the book and then still votes for the PAN. The back of the book says its price is 50 pesos ($3.90) for workers and students, 100 pesos ($7.80) for the general public, 1,000 pesos ($78) for PANistas who work in the government and 500 pesos ($39) for unemployed PANistas.
Columnist Gilberto Lavenant discusses Ruanova in his May 13 Palco de Prensa (Press Box) column titled, "The Worst Defeat." Lavenant said that even though Vega was going to get beat up on, he should have participated in a May unofficial gubernatorial debate that took place that day at Frontera newspaper.
Update, June 12: El Mexicano reports that Vega will not participate in a debate to be put on June 13 by the COPARMEX business group in Mexicali because it is not an official debate. The paper also says, however, that Vega will not participate in tonight's official debate in Ensenada, either.