James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/18/2010 04:28:09 PM PDT

PHELAN – For some candidates, campaigning boils down to letting voters know where they and their political parties stand.

For Darcel Woods, a Democrat running in the Republican-leaning 59th Assembly District, that’s part of the goal. The other part is letting voters know what separates her from other Democrats.

At a candidate forum Saturday, audience members asked Woods and two other candidates several standard questions about their platforms. Only one question was directed at an individual candidate: How would Woods, who has received endorsements from several labor unions, help fix the state’s overburdened pension system?

“I’m not beholden to anyone,” Woods said, noting that while she has numerous union endorsements, she’s received campaign contributions from just a few.

More than two dozen unions and other labor organizations have endorsed Woods. She’s received contributions from seven, though the contributions add up to $19,100 – more than half of her total contributions, according to data from the California Secretary of State’s office.

“I’ve never met a Democrat who wasn’t beholden to the unions,” said Robert Gosney, the American Independent Party candidate in the 59th District, lending voice to a common complaint among conservatives.

But Woods challenges that position, at least when it comes to the state’s pension system. Woods herself has long been a public employee – a Chaffey College professor, she’s also been a sheriff’s deputy in Los Angeles County, a probation officer in Orange County and a state prison guard – but said she knows the pension system must change.

“I’m not looking to uphold the defined-benefit system,” Woods said. “I’m under no illusion that the pension system can remain unchanged without burying us.”

That kind of stance could be a problem for Woods, as unions are an important part of the state Democratic Party’s base.

Earlier this year, California political handicapper Allan Hoffenblum described Woods as “not a doctrinaire liberal” and said that might might keep the state Democratic Party from getting to active in her campaign.

While Gosney and Libertarian candidate Tony Tyler said they doubted Woods’ commitment to pension reform, the issue was one of the few on which all three candidates seemed to agree reform is necessary.

Another was immigration.

To read entire story, click here.