WALNUT CREEK -- In a face-to-face debate early Tuesday, state Democratic Sen. Mark DeSaulnier emphasized his nearly 40 years of experience in public office while GOP challenger Mark Meuser stressed a commitment to lowering taxes and reducing government regulations.

The two men vying for the 7th Senate District spoke to the Walnut Creek Sunrise Rotary Club, answering a range of questions posed by club member David Pearson.

Meuser, a 38-year-old attorney and owner of a Walnut Creek law firm, has never held public office but worked after law school as a campaign manager and chief of staff for a Republican state senator from Missouri.

The 60-year-old DeSaulnier owned the iconic TR's restaurant in Concord and spent the bulk of his political career in local politics, first on the Concord City Council and then the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. He subsequently served one term in the Assembly and is seeking re-election to a second term in the state Senate.

The newly drawn District 7 spans eastward from Orinda and San Ramon to the county line and south into Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore. About three-quarters of the district is in Contra Costa County, while the balance of its constituents live in Alameda County.

DeSaulnier and Meuser differ at almost every level.

Meuser is running a shoestring campaign, reporting roughly $20,000 in contributions through Sept. 30 and less than $1,000 in the bank.

DeSaulnier collected about $234,000 this year and still had all of it and more in his campaign account at the close of the last campaign finance period.

On the issues, here's a snapshot of the candidates' respective views voiced Tuesday:

  • Pension reforms. DeSaulnier argues further savings must be won through bargaining with public employee unions. Meuser endorses legislation that would allow unilateral benefit reductions and convert some pensions into 401(k)-style retirement accounts.

  • Same-sex marriage. DeSaulnier supports it; Meuser opposes it.

  • Education. Get state government out of the classroom, and let teachers teach, Meuser said. Districts need more flexibility but must be held accountable, DeSaulnier said.

  • Business climate. Businesses are leaving the state in record numbers, and the state regularly has been cited among the worst places to run a business, Meuser said. This is a myth, countered DeSaulnier, noting several independent studies that show a very small relocation rate.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, Twitter /lvorderbrueggen or Facebook/lvorderbrueggen.