Finances, fiscal policy and football all found their way into a recent face-off between the two candidates for the 15th assembly district.
The football question -- what to do about the 49ers, who are currently 0-5 -- may be the telling difference between incumbent Joan Buchanan and challenger Abram Wilson.
Wilson, currently mayor of San Ramon, took the broader approach, saying, "It starts at the top -- taking responsibility."
Buchanan, though, got into the details: "I'm going to be honest. I think the 49ers need a new quarterback."
Wilson's expansive answers v. Buchanan's focus on the minutia was apparent through the entire event, held by Walnut Creek Rotary.
When asked about balancing the budget, Buchanan pointed to the state's $20 billion in borrowing as one specific point to be addressed.
"We're going to have to stand up to our allies and say, 'Look, we're going have to make some touch cuts,'" she said.
Wilson again offered a sweeping, "You don't spend what you don't have."
"You have to find a revenue source," he added. "The problem is that no one's sitting down and working for you."
Asked about specific changes, Wilson suggested a spending cap.
"You just can't keep spending without it coming in," he said.
Buchanan again got specific.
"I would institute systematic budget reform (focusing on) prisons, pensions and debt service," she said. Buchanan would also like the state to add infrastructure, which, she said could also add jobs, which, it happens, was the next question.
"We've taken a number of actions (in the Legislature) to speed the process of creating new nurses," Buchanan said. "We need to do more to accelerate growth through our transportation bonds."
"California is not business friendly or not perceived to be business friendly," Wilson said.
Regarding small business, Wilson said the state makes startups just too expensive.
"When you start a small business in California, before you do anything it costs you $800. We need to reduce that, maybe down to $100," he said. This is one of Wilson's major themes, and he talked about the need to cut taxes in general and the capital gains tax in particular, although generally, capital gains apply to profits from investments, like stocks or real estate.
Buchanan notes that she's been endorsed by the California Small Business Association, adding, "You have to take a look at the local level and at the state level."
The two were given an opportunity to ask each other questions directly. Buchanan passed, but Wilson asked her about why she'd abstained from voting on a number of bills.
Buchanan defended her record, saying she'd voted on 97 percent of the bills that came before her, and that she abstained only when a bill was given to her without enough time to read it.
"Your colleagues will tell you an abstention is a no vote," she told Wilson. "And I do read every single bill."
Regarding term limits, Buchanan said the theory may be good, but in practice, they don't work.
"It takes you a year to get what I call your 'sea legs,'" she said. "You're losing a third of your legislature every three years.
Wilson said voters, not the law, should control how long someone stays in office.
"You are our term limits," he said. "I believe it's imperative that you have someone there with the knowledge," adding, "Grandparents make the best parents."
Both said they oppose Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana, with Wilson saying, "Our children have enough to deal with." While opposing the idea, Buchanan said, "I don't think we should be filling our courts and our prisons with people who use marijuana recreationally."
Asked about pension spiking, a practice that allows workers to add vacation, sick days and overtime to the last year of a contract to boost their retirement pay, both said they've worked to fight the practice. Wilson noted that he and the San Ramon City Council had eliminated the practice. Buchanan said she supported HB 1987, a bill sponsored by her colleague Fiona Ma, which would have stopped state workers from the practice, although it would allow individual unions to negotiate with county pension boards.
In closing, Wilson pointed to the Legislature's 10 percent approval rating, saying, "They don't know who they work for."
Buchanan told the group that she has a passion -- education -- and a talent -- finance. She said she wants her grandchildren to attend great public schools, and talked again of her personal work on pension reform and performance-based budgeting, something California officials have been debating since the mid 1990s.
Wilson, by comparison, wants the legislature to ask a single question: "Do we need to do that project or program to balance the budget?"
Unlike a football game, it's not easy to tell the winner or loser here. That will be determined Nov. 2.