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Eight congressional candidates will discuss local and national issues at the 24th District Congressional Debate at Cal Poly on Thursday, Feb. 4 at Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre from 6-8 p.m. Equally as interesting is who will not be in attendance.

Matt Kokkonen, the 2008 Republican nominee for Congress who ran against current Congresswoman Lois Capps, did not receive an invitation to this year’s debate. Kokkonen is registered to run for Congress as a Republican, but said Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner, a debate organizer, is not allowing him to participate.

Kokkonen claims that Latner did not invite him because of their opposing political ideologies. Kokkonen is conservative and Latner is liberal.

However, Latner disagrees.

“Regardless of his ideology or my ideology, that was not a criteria that was used to determine what people were chosen or invited to the debate or not,” Latner said.

Conservatives like Tyler Gross and Assembleyman Katcho Achadjian will participate in Thursday’s debate. Kokkonen did not request paperwork from the San Luis Obispo County or Santa Barbara County’s clerk-recorder and does not have an active campaign website, qualifications Latner said were used to determine who may compete in the debate.

“Matt Kokkonen had neither requested papers nor did he, and still does not, have an active campaign website,” Latner said. “And everyone else that was invited fulfills the criteria.”

Latner said he is part of the organization committee for the debate and his role was to invite candidates. All candidates he reached out to were names that he received from the two counties’ clerk-recorders in early January.

“I directly contacted the county clerk-recorder because you do have to request papers if you are running for office, but the filing period doesn’t even start until Feb. 4, so no one is an official candidate at this point because the process hasn’t officially begun,” Latner said. “But people that are serious about running for Congress typically request papers at the beginning of the year.”

The papers are the petition in lieu of filing fee period for voter-nominated offices forms, according to San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong. The forms opened on Jan. 1 and will be available until Feb. 25.

“Since there is no nomination period as of yet, (the) petition in lieu of forms would certainly show candidates’ intention to run,” Gong said. “Candidates would go to the office, and we would issue that form to them with their name and seat that they are running for.”

According to Gong, nine candidates have requested petition in lieu of forms based off Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County’s Clerk-Recorder Offices as of Jan. 29. The candidates are Achadjian, Gross, Salud Carbajal, Steve Isakson, Benjamin Lucas, Jeff Oshins, William Ostrander and John Uebersax.

Despite the fact that Kokkonen did not request a petition in lieu of form, it does not mean that he has not shown intention for candidacy. Kokkonen announced that he was running for a congressional seat in September 2015.

“I already stated that I was running back in September, so the community has known that I am running,” Kokonnen said.

According to the Cal Poly News webpage for the debate, individuals who have recently requested paperwork to file for candidacy have also been invited to participate. Kokkonen has already filed a statement of organization form with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which is used to register campaign committees.

“It says that individuals who have requested paperwork are invited, but I have already filed with the FEC and wasn’t invited,” Kokkonen said.

However, Kokkonen was not invited because he didn’t request the correct forms according to Latner’s criteria, regardless of the fact that he filed for candidacy with the FEC.

“Congressional candidates file their papers in the county where they reside,” San Luis Obispo County’s Clerk-Recorder Office Division Supervisor, Tami Bisantz, said in an email to Mustang News. “The Federal Elections Commission pertains to their financial committee, not their papers to run for office.”

Kokkonen was not the only candidate who did not receive an invitation, Latner said.

“Several other candidates (like) Benjamin Lucas (and) John Uebersax didn’t meet one or more of those criteria, so they were not invited either,” Latner said.

According to Key Dates and Deadlines on the San Luis Obispo county website, the Declaration of Candidacy and Nomination period is from Feb. 16 to March 11. By the end of March 16, there will be a list of official candidates.

Mustang News is a co-sponsor of the debate, and will be livestreaming it on MustangNews.net for those unable to attend.

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