SAN LUIS OBISPO (CN) – California voters have a history of electing actors with no political experience, but actor Robert Mitchum son’s campaign to unseat a nine-term congresswoman might need money more than name recognition.
Chris Mitchum’s challenge to Rep. Lois Capps tops the list of local races in San Luis Obispo County, a politically diverse community, where agricultural conservatism collides with the liberal leanings of a college town.
Capps, a Democrat, has called Mitchum a “tea party darling” who would hurt the middle class.
“He’s on the record as being for things like privatizing Social Security when my goals are to invest in programs that support strengthening the middle class,” Capps, 76, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
She supports the Affordable Care Act, opposes offshore oil drilling, and agrees with President Obama’s measured response in Syria.
Capps is a former nurse, who was elected to complete her husband’s term in 1997, after Walter Capps died of a heart attack.
Mitchum, 70, a former vice president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, calls himself a “constitutional Republican.” The son of actor Robert Mitchum, also a conservative Republican, Chris Mitchum’s movie credits include John Wayne flicks “Chisum” and “Rio Lobo.”
Mitchum says he supports free markets and lower taxes, favors offshore oil drilling, thinks Obama should send troops to Syria, and opposes the Affordable Care Act.
“You can’t fix it because it’s never going to fit with our Constitution,” he told the Tribune. “And that’s why (the Democrats are) trying to destroy our Constitution.”
Frontrunner Capps has bombarded the airwaves with ads, thanks to a lopsided campaign chest. According to campaign finance reports from January to July, Mitchum had raised just one-tenth the money Capps had: $165,000 compared to more than $1.6 million – and most of that was from a loan from himself. The Republican Party has not supported him financially.
California’s 24th Congressional District includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and a portion of Ventura County. Ronald Reagan once lived in northern Santa Barbara County – prompting conservatives to call it Reagan Country – but the realigned district leans toward Democrats. And Mitchum’s limited fundraising, plus a previous unsuccessful attempt at the office, suggests an uphill battle.
Home to California Polytechnic University, agriculture and tourism are still the top industries, with a strong winery and vineyard presence. While the average income remains middle class, wealthy retirees from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno drive up housing prices in the coastal county.
San Luis Obispo, along with coastal communities Los Osos, Cambria, and Morro Bay remain more liberal. Before redistricting in 2010, the rural, ag-heavy parts of the county were represented by staunch conservatives Kevin McCarthy and Bill Thomas. The county as a whole is more Republican, 42 percent to 36 percent.
Here’s a look at some of the ballot measures county voters will face:
* Cuesta College money. The 50-year-old junior college, an affordable feeder to Cal Poly, has purchased numerous ads in recent weeks noting its financial impact on the community. A $275 million bond measure it supports would pay for leaking roofs, failing air-conditioning and heating units and a swimming pool. The money would also be used for permanent classrooms, technology upgrades and a job and career training facility. Critics say it’s too much money, and they worry the college does not have the financial stability needed to ensure the money will be spent wisely.
* Arroyo Grande city status. Measure C will ask voters in the south county community if their city should change from a general law city to a charter city. Becoming a charter city would give Arroyo Grande control over election procedures, public bidding and contracting and rules for use of city property. Labor unions say the change would allow the city to waive prevailing wage requirements on public projects.
* Road money. Measures in Atascadero, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach would raise money for roads.
* Morro Bay election. In the coastal town of Morro Bay, voters will decide if the city will go to a two-election setup with a primary election for local candidates in June and general election in November. Proponents say a two-election system would encourage more people to run. Opponents say it’s too costly. Currently, candidates can avoid a runoff by garnering more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
* Development approval. In Pismo Beach, Measure H would limit development in Price Canyon. Proponents, including two City Council candidates, say it will protect quality of life while requiring voters approve projects that might impact air, traffic, and water. Opponents, including two former council members, say the measure was drafted without public input and will take power from the City Council.
* SLO tax. A measure to reauthorize the city’s 0.5 percent tax increase, approved by voters in 2006, has spurred a citizen-based campaign against it, despite claims that it will allow the city to make infrastructure improvements. Opponents say so far the money has not been spent the way voters intended. While proponents say the money has been used to preserve open space, make capital improvements and improve downtown safety, opponents worry the money could be used for salaries and pensions.
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