Thursday, October 28, 2004
‘Silicon Valley to the Salad Bowl”—that’s how Democratic incumbent Simón Salinas refers to the 28th Assembly District, which stretches from the southern end of Santa Clara County, through all of San Benito County, and down to eastern Monterey County.
In this vast district, Salinas says he wants to represent the workers, and that his opponent, Republican challenger Bob Perkins, wants to serve only business interests.
Salinas grew up in Watsonville and has spent his adult life in the city of Salinas. Perkins is a relative newcomer to the county; he’s lived here about four years.
Salinas earned his law degree and teaching credential before teaching 6th grade and working as a professor at Hartnell College. He began his public service career in ‘89, when he was the first Mexican-American to win election to the Salinas City Council. He then won a seat on the County Board of Supervisors for two terms before voters sent him to Sacramento, where he was sworn into the state Assembly in 2000. He recently finished his second term.
Perkins, who has never held elected office, is the long-time manager of the Farm Bureau, which represents the interest of the agriculture industry. Salinas, the son of migrant farmworkers, spent his early years picking crops.
“He [Perkins] has got to remember that he’s not only representing growers,” Salinas says. “He’s also representing the farmworkers. He’s got to remember that. You have to be able to listen to both sides of the issues.
“He says he understands agriculture—I understand agriculture, too. I picked the crops. If I support farmworker housing, well, agriculture should, too. It’s supporting their workers.”
Salinas has a bi-partisan track record. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed 14 of Salinas’ 16 bills into law. These include Salinas’ AB 32—a bill that encourages partnerships between growers and non-profit developers, and will make it easier for growers to provide housing for their farmworkers. It’s one of five bills in Salinas’ final legislative package that are intended to increase affordable housing supplies.
Meanwhile, Salinas has managed to stay connected to his roots, and to the people and place he represents.
“I wanted to work on local issues because that’s what I did as a councilman, and as a county supervisor,” he says.
As a state assemblyman, his causes remain the same: affordable housing, education, transportation, and health care. He chairs the Local Government Committee and the Select Committee on Rural Economic Development. He has served on numerous other committees, including Transportation, Agriculture, Health, Housing and Community Development, and Veterans Affairs, and was named Legislator of the Year by the League of California Cities and the American Planning Association for his work on affordable housing and other local government issues.
Perkins takes a more tightly focused approach: He wants to go to Sacramento to make California more friendly to business. His Web site says his campaign is about “more business, more jobs, more pay and more opportunity.” And in a recent interview, Perkins talked up his pro-business approach.
“The Governor’s on the right track,” he says. “You have to, first of all, raise expectations. Business responds to predictions of the future. Business was leaving because they didn’t see a future here. The governor has already changed that expectation.
“At least over the past four years, the legislature has piled on bills that imposed all kinds of restrictions and regulations and fees and taxes that discourage people from doing business here.”
Perkins talks about business a lot; and he says things like, “Arnold needs some help,” although the Governor has not endorsed him. He also criticizes Salinas for supporting bills that were opposed by the state Chamber of Commerce.
Perkins says he supports some type of amnesty program for undocumented farmworkers, but says he, like Schwarzenegger, opposed a bill that would have allowed thousands of undocumented immigrants in California to get a driver’s license.
He says he’s convinced that the Legislature could trim fat—in the form of government agencies or programs—before raising taxes. “I’m not on the raise-taxes side of the ledger,” he says. “But I haven’t signed a no-tax pledge.”
On the issue of affordable housing, Perkins says he isn’t a fan of inclusionary housing policies, which require developers to ensure that a certain percentage of their projects be priced within reach of working people.
“The bottom line is supply and demand,” he says. “It hasn’t worked because it hasn’t been allowed to work.” And throughout the county’s five-year General Plan Update process, he has vocally opposed policies that would encourage developers to build more affordable housing.
He’s stridently pro-property rights, and doesn’t like government regulations.
As head of the county Farm Bureau, Perkins also worked to defeat Measure Q, the failed half-cent sales tax to bail out Natividad Medical Center.
Salinas says Perkins was wrong not to support Measure Q.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Salinas says, pointing out that Natividad serves the needs of uninsured farmworkers. “You can’t say, ‘we need their labor,’ but call a half-cent sales tax a job killer.”
Unlike his challenger, Salinas says government cannot be run strictly like a private business.
“I think most of us like our clean air,” Salinas says, “and we like the regulations that keep it clean. We like our clean water—government regulations keep it clean. Some regulations are needed.”
If Salinas gets a third and final term in the Assembly—and it’s widely assumed he will win the race by a wide margin—he says he’ll continue to write legislation to encourage developers to build low-cost and workforce housing, and continue working to support the issues that matter to his constituents.
“I will work to protect the safety net,” he says. “The governor’s earlier budget wanted to reduce Medi-Cal by 15 percent. That’s a no-no. And we need to protect education. Certainly, we need to monitor these two things in the next budget process.”
Perkins says he’ll be back.
“Win or lose, I’m going to be running again in two years.”