Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Secretary of state contest is the exception to dearth of debates

Are California politicians giving the voters short shrift by refusing to debate this year? The lack of enthusiasm for the November election, which appears likely to have a record low turnout, certainly isn’t helped by statewide candidates who won’t engage each other on the issues.

Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to hold his one showdown with Republican challenger Neel Kashkari on the same night as the National Football League’s season-opener. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris seem to be cruising to victory without paying their Republican opponents any mind. State schools chief Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck have appeared in several public forums in the hotly contested race for state superintendent of public instruction, but that office is nonpartisan and Torlakson and Tuck are both Democrats.

Only the candidates for secretary of state are bucking the no-debate trend in partisan statewide races. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Republican institute director Pete Peterson are scheduled to debate tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Berkeley – the sixth time the two have appeared together to answer questions. After participating in two forums during the primary campaign, they have squared off twice more in the past month to discuss experience, mail ballots and the tenure of the woman they seek to succeed, Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

It’s perhaps a good sign for the office – after all, Padilla and Peterson are running to be California’s chief elections officer, and both are promising to turn around sagging voter participation and registration rates. David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts, recently told The Bee that the California contest stands out.

“If you look at the rest of the states, there are ideological battles being waged,” he said. “You don’t see that in California. I’ve been impressed by the level of discourse all around. They both want to do this job.”

The debates might also be a result of the race’s uniquely competitive nature in a year lacking for close statewide contests. A Field Poll last month showed Peterson trailing Padilla by seven points, the smallest margin of any Republican seeking statewide office this year.

VIDEO: Brown's campaign for a record fourth term is one of the oddest in California history, Dan Walters says.

HEADS WILL ROLL: California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey was embroiled in scandal this week after the release of e-mails revealed potentially improper communications between Peevey and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., one of the utilities that the commission regulates. Now state Sen. Jerry Hill is seeking to have him removed from his position. The San Mateo Democrat will be outside the commission’s San Francisco headquarters at 10:15 a.m. to announce legislation that would remove Peevey as commission president if is he is reappointed by Brown. Hill plans to introduce the measure when the Legislature reconvenes in December.

PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ: The political action committee Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, which sits at the financial center of the Legislature’s moderate Democratic caucus, is hosting a blowout fundraiser in Half Moon Bay. The two-day, big-money event – tickets range from $5,000 to $40,000 – begins tonight with dinner at the Ritz-Carlton and continues tomorrow with rounds of golf, spa treatments and an appearance by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, who heads the loosely defined caucus of business-friendly Democrats.

A LOVE BIZARRE: After being honored on the Assembly floor in May by the Latino caucus, former Prince protégé and ‘80’s pop diva Sheila E. is back in Sacramento to perform at the California Primary Care Association’s 20th anniversary celebration dinner, 9 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

BLAME IT ON THE RAIN: The UC Center Sacramento Speaker Series kicks off its fall program with Ariel Dinar, a professor of environmental politics and policy at UC Riverside, who discusses what California can learn from the rain in Spain – specifically, how that country is managing its own drought conditions to meet both economic and environmental objectives – noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, who turns 36 today.

READ MORE: Big business channels money to California’s moderate Democrats