Thursday, May 8, 2008
Central Coast Dems like talking about improving schools, promoting green business, protecting the environment and supporting universal health care. So it’s no big shock that the four Democratic candidates eyeing Assemblyman John Laird’s soon-to-be-vacant 27th District seat all list each of these things as top priorities.
Barbara Sprenger, a businesswoman who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains, proposes a green energy loan program that would provide 100-percent low-interest loans for solar panels, solar and on-demand water heaters, home-scale wind generators, insulation and other clean-energy and conservation systems.
Steve Barkalow, a Carmel chiropractor, wants to reform health care, placing health-insurance companies under public-utility-type oversight and mandating that they operate in a not-for-profit structure, and increasing state and federal support for hospitals, among other changes.
Bill Monning, an attorney and professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Monterey College of Law, says he would work to raise revenues for schools by restoring the vehicle license fee (VLF) and increasing the corporate tax rate by 1 percent. He also would support increasing Cal-grant financial aid to students in the University of California and community college systems.
And Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Emily Reilly, who owns Emily’s Bakery, remains committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, and cites her leadership on the Santa Cruz City Council, which adopted a mandatory green-building program for all new construction.
All four say they support SB 840, Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s plan to create a single-payer health-care delivery system for all Californians. And all four say they look forward to finding creative ways to implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas production in California by 25 percent by 2020.
These are all noble, important issues for would-be state lawmakers – and they all require a lot of time and consensus building before they can come to fruition. This is where the reality of the gig sets in: Whoever replaces Laird, who is termed-out of office, will serve a minimum of one (and a maximum of three) two-year stint at the Statehouse. During this term, the new lawmaker will have to build alliances and get up to speed on how things get done in Sacramento. Two years isn’t enough time to implement sweeping reform measures, which means the new Assemblymember also will have to start campaigning for reelection about half-way through his or her time in office.
Reilly began building support for the green-building program in 2001. Four years later, in 2005, the City Council adopted it, with buy-in from the business community. It became mandatory in 2007.
In addition to working on his or her pet Central Coast issues while in Sacramento, the newly elected lawmaker will have some huge statewide problems to help solve, including a $14 billion to $20 billion budget deficit. The 27th District Assembly member will have to help close this gap, which also begs the question of a larger discussion on statewide budget reform. Monning and Sprenger detail the most comprehensive ideas. Monning supports a two-year budget cycle and says he’d vote for a simple majority – as opposed to the current two-thirds requirement – to approve a spending plan. He says he’d also look at reinstating the VLF (while requiring gas-guzzling, high-polluting vehicles to pay a higher fee), increasing the gas tax to pay for roads and highway patrol, revisiting the Prop. 13 property tax formula and creating an oil-extraction tax for oil companies that drill off the coast. Additionally, Monning says new jobs – namely, new green-technology jobs – would boost the economy and give the state more income tax money. Sprenger agrees with Monning on several proposals, including eliminating the two-thirds requirement, reinstating the VLF and charging Humvee owners more, and changing the Prop. 13 tax formula. She also supports increasing corporate income taxes and reforming the existing sales and excise taxes.
The question to ask when looking at the four candidates: Who is the most likely to accomplish any major feats at the state level?
Barkalow doesn’t have any public-service experience. He says his patients support his candidacy.
Monning says his work in conflict resolution will come in handy in Sacramento. He has lobbied the state as a UFW volunteer and a union lawyer for California Rural Legal Assistance in Salinas, where he and others called on the county to adopt field-posting laws after chemicals sprayed on produce fields poisoned farmworkers. The county ordinance later became a model for the state law. He’s also a professor of international negotiation and conflict resolution at MIIS and he founded Global Majority, which trains students in non-violent conflict resolution.
“As an organizer, I know one person won’t make a difference in Sacramento,” Monning says. “The only thing that will make any difference in Sacramento is organizing coalitions of like-minded people and raising a voice that is louder than one. That’s what I have done all my adult life.”
The Sierra Club, UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and other local labor organizations, the California Teachers Association, California Professional Firefighters Association and a slew of local Monterey County elected officials have endorsed Monning.
Reilly also touts her professional career. In 1979 she sold homemade cookies at her sons’ school to supplement her income. Nearly 30 years later, Emily’s Bakery is a Santa Cruz institution. “The same exact skill set that has made me successful as a business owner has made me successful as a local elected official: being trusting of my staff and being responsive to my customers and constituents. The skills that I have are desperately needed – creative solutions to difficult problems. Creative, and also attainable, and also implementable.”
The League of Conservation Voters, Vote the Coast, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and former state controller Steve Westly back Reilly.
Sprenger says state budget woes would be fixed under her watch.
“I’ve worked on complex budget issues,” she says. “I’m certainly the only one here [in the race] who has been on welfare and lived on the edge in West Virginia with two kids, and had to decide whether to buy toilet paper or flour.”
She also started a small business in a Silicon Valley garage, has served on the San Lorenzo Valley school board, and, with Friends of Locally Owned Water, successfully staged a public buyout out the Cal-Am water system in Felton.
U.S. Reps Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda say send Sprenger to the state capital.
Now, the choice is up to voters.