Capitol Alert

Secretary of state candidates Padilla and Peterson disagree on Bowen

Republican Pete Peterson and Democrat Alex Padilla agree on plenty of issues in their contest to take over the California secretary of state’s office.

But they don’t see eye to eye on the performance of Debra Bowen, the current Democratic occupant of the office whose tenure has been criticized by some as lackluster. Bowen recently disclosed that she is battling depression.

In a radio debate on Monday, Peterson complained that Bowen had politicized the office he believes should conduct business above the partisan fray. Padilla defended Bowen, saying her office had overseen accurate elections and she had met “the minimum standards for the job.” He suggested that Peterson endorsed Republican attempts to politicize election offices in other states.

In a subsequent interview, Peterson said his statement was based on “errors of commission and omission” by Bowen. He cited Bowen’s support of Assembly Bill 145 in 2012. The measure by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would have banned “bounty” payments to petition circulators who register people to vote. The bill’s supporters argued that per-registrant payments encourage fraud, but such bounties are standard in Republican registration drives. The bill passed on a party-line vote before being vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Peterson also said Bowen should have done more to challenge “biased titles and summaries” of ballot measures issued by the Attorney General’s Office. “There have been a few instances where the secretary of state has not defended the nonpartisan nature of the ballot box,” he said.

Padilla disputed Peterson’s assertions during the debate on KQED’s Forum show with host Michael Krasny. He linked Peterson to GOP efforts in some states to cut back on early voting and impose ID requirements, which critics say are meant to suppress turnout among young, non-white and other Democrat-leaning voters.

Peterson has disavowed those policies. Countered Padilla: “At the end of the day, he’s a registered Republican.”

Krasny asked about Bowen’s recent acknowledgment that she is battling depression and sometimes works from home. “Nobody can question the results or integrity” of California elections during Bowen’s time in office, Padilla said.

Peterson, though, said the office has performed poorly “for whatever reason.”

“I’ve known people for several years telling me she has not been coming in regularly,” he said of Bowen.