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In Final Push, Both Lucius and Panetta Court Voters One by One

Krista Almanzan
20th District Congressional Candidates Democrat Jimmy Panetta and Republican Casey Lucius.

For the first time in almost a quarter of a century, the congressional district that spans Monterey Bay Area has an open seat.   Congressman Sam Farr announced his retirement last year.  

In the race to replace him, both Republican Casey Lucius and Democrat Jimmy Panetta are using the final days of their campaigns to appeal directly to voters.

“We’re in Watsonville, and we are walking door to door in a neighborhood with high propensity voters, and we’re going to ask them to vote Casey for Congress,” says Lucius.

She walks with Kip Hawley, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration, and now a volunteer for what they call, Team Casey. 

He lives in Pacific Grove where Lucius is a City Councilwoman with a hefty resume.  She’s a Navy Veteran with a PhD in Political Science and worked as a Professor at the Naval War College before deciding to run for Congress. 

Kip Hawley says she is what Congress needs in these divisive times.  “That’s what we all complain about.  We have a Congress that’s dysfunctional, and the reason is because we don’t elect people who are capable of moving the ball forward.  And Casey is one of those rare people,” says Hawley.

As she knocks on doors, Lucius’ pitch varies based on who answers and how much they’re willing to engage. 

“Well its exciting cause we’ve never had a woman represent this district.  And I’ll tell you a statistic.  In Congress there are only 19% women, but the women pass 60% of the legislation,” she tells a mother of four who answers the door.

Lucius is a Republican, but she does not support Donald Trump.  She also takes a lot of positions a traditional Republican may not.  She believes in climate change, supports gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose.

“There are things I agree with in the Republican Party and there are things I agree with in the Democratic Party. And then there are things that I don’t’ know yet.  I want more information and I want to learn.  I want to be open minded about those decisions.  And I think my opponent is a party line voter,” says Lucius.

“I believe that if my opponent is elected it won’t be an open seat for another 20, 25 years.  So I tell people.  This is it. Now or never make your choice cause you might not have a choice again for a long time.  And we haven’t had a choice for a long time,” she continues.

The Congressional seat that represents the Monterey Bay Area has been held by a Democrat for 40 years.  Retiring Congressman Sam Farr has served for 23 years.  And prior to that, Leon Panetta held the seat of 17 years.

Now his son, Jimmy Panetta is the Democrat running for the seat in first attempt at elected office.  He says voters want to continue that legacy. 

“A legacy of solid representation for the people of this area.  And people understand that that needs to be continued.  But in order to do that, the person whose representing them needs to know them and they need to know that person.  And so I think that’s at stake. That the service that the service the constituents of this area have received, they don’t want to lose that,” says Panetta.

In his downtown Monterey campaign office giant Jimmy Panetta for Congress banners hang on the wall.  About half a dozen staff and volunteers sit at their laptops.  Panetta says he’s spent most of his time out of the office.

“I’ve been from Parkfield to the northern border of UCSC.  We knocked on 91 doors in Gilroy, the sliver of the district that’s in Santa Clara County.  You name it, I’ve been there,” says Panetta.

He pulls out his iPhone to personally calls some voters.  Volunteers like Nooria Noor are also making calls to likely voters.

While Noor says she traditionally votes democrat, she has never volunteered for a political campaign.  That all changed after Panetta came door knocking in her neighborhood.  From there she looked him up and liked that he spent ti me as an Intelligence Office in the Navy Reserve.

“Because he has volunteered to go to Afghanistan. I am from Afghanistan originally, and that’s the main thing that attached me to him when I saw that, and I said wow.  Several things, you know you put all these things together,” says Noor.

Panetta is currently a Deputy District Attorney for Monterey County.  A job that brought him home from Oakland where he was a prosecutor. Panetta grew up here and says he knows the region’s issues like a local.

“It’s knowing this district. Knowing the people. Having those deep roots to this area, which helped Sam, and I believe will help me,” says Panetta.

If elected, he wants to work on comprehensive immigration reform, and says he will work with all sides.  He supports Hillary Clinton. In fact, Clinton came to Salinas to endorse Panetta earlier this year.  But if Donald Trump wins, he says he’d be prepared for that too.

“If it’s a President Trump.  We’re lucky that we have a system of checks and balances you know hopefully we’ll put that into effect,” says Panetta.

Tuesday voters will decide which of these two candidates will represent the Central Coast in Washington. 

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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