Yamada Figures to Be A Formidable Candidate For Senate

Mariko Yamada tours the Pollinate Davis offices and talks about the economy and startups with Sonia Acuna-Rubio the Managing Director, Latin America at NSF International
Mariko Yamada tours the Pollinate Davis offices and talks about the economy and startups with Sonia Acuna-Rubio the Managing Director, Latin America at NSF International

In 2008, then-Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada faced long odds in the battle for the open Assembly Seat against West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. No one gave her much of a chance, and yet, at the end of a hotly contested and contentious battle, she prevailed in a vote that was not even particularly close.

Ms. Yamada has often described herself as almost the accidental candidate. She had taken a position as Chief Deputy Supervisor to Dave Rosenberg, and when Mr. Rosenberg was appointed by recalled Governor Gray Davis to be a Yolo County Superior Court judge on October 3, 2003, Ms. Yamada was appointed to be his successor as Supervisor. She then almost immediately had to be elected in her own right in the spring of 2004.

Four years later, in 2008, it was the seat vacated by Assemblymember Lois Wolk that Mariko Yamada won. Now she will have to face sitting Assemblymember Bill Dodd and probably others for the Senate seat that the same Lois Wolk is vacating. As was the case in 2008, Ms. Wolk is endorsing Ms. Yamada’s opponent.

Last week, Mariko Yamada sat down with the Vanguard, at the Vanguard Offices in Pollinate Davis to talk about her candidacy. Keep in mind that, at the time of the interview, Bill Dodd had not formally announced.

She told the Vanguard that, when she entered the Assembly, “the district and our country were pretty much at the brink of collapse.” She described the first three years of her term as “really an emergency situation.  The last year or two that I was privileged to serve when things had gotten a little better, but there was so much unfinished business that I felt the need to continue and that’s why we’ve decided to run,” she said.

Mariko Yamada said that between the old 8th Assembly District and the current 4th Assembly District, she has represented and worked on behalf of about 80-85 percent of the current Senate District. “While six years is a brief period of time to represent the Assembly, the relationship and the work that I tried to accomplish are going to serve us well as we go forward and try present our case to the voters,” she said.

Ms. Yamada was actually termed out at the beginning of December, when her opponent, Bill Dodd, took over the Assembly seat.

Mariko Yamada does not believe that the two years off she will have taken will harm her with the voters. “We have been very transparent about running. We announced March 14 and we have had discussions even in the last year of my Assembly term that this was the direction we were going,” Ms. Yamada told the Vanguard.

She added, “We are confidant that the so-called gap years can be used to an advantage. There are a lot of pressing issues that when you are in office that is the primary responsibility.” Now, she has “the opportunity to really engage the citizens on the ground,” attending meetings and activities that she wouldn’t have been able to while in office.

Senate District 3, like the two Assembly Districts, is a large geographic area, all or parts of six different counties. Mariko Yamada said it was a bit more urbanized than the current Senate District. It is more compact, and therefore somewhat more manageable in terms of driving distances and time.

“I don’t see it as too different from the issues we’ve tried to work on in my 20 years here in Yolo County,” she said. “That is a focus on our ag and natural resources. Water is certainly our issue du jour for our entire state. The pressures of the drought on our agricultural industry as well as the need to balance that with housing.”

“There is always going to be a dynamic tension between the need to provide affordable housing for example with the need to preserve our natural resources,” Mariko Yamada explained.

The long-term issue area that she has focused on has been “addressing the needs of aging and long term care in our state.” This is a growing population, so “even if you’re not at that age cohort, it’s going to affect all of the other systems and age groups in our state.”

Mariko Yamada has taken advantage of some of her extra time by taking a trip – recreating the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Two days after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, she took a trip to four states in the south – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“I think to have this opportunity to recreate the struggles of the 60s in a 21st Century context still is as real today as it was 50 years ago,” she said. “It’s no secret I’m a social worker by profession, and it’s part of ethos to seek social and economic justice.”

The bigger picture is that when she entered the Assembly, the state was in emergency cut mode. “We had to make cuts that were heartbreaking and that you had to lose sleep over if you looked at the effects,” she said.

Revenues have improved, but Prop. 30 will expire in the sales tax portion at the end of 2016, with the higher income tax expiring at the end of 2018. “Anyone who is running or planning to assume office at the state level has to keep that in mind that the revenues, that the voters agreed to extend to the state, are scheduled to lapse,” she warned.

She is hopeful the economy can continue to improve so that the voters do not have to be asked to renew the tax.

For social services, the state remains in a restoration mode, “rather than an increase mode,” Ms. Yamada explained. “I don’t see any great appetite especially on the part of Governor Brown to expand or increase many of the programs that I think are essential.”

California has seen, through LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), an increase in funding for education for some districts, but places like Davis have received less. Ms. Yamada noted that the governor has been successful at implementing his desired changes to funding formulas.

“I think in principle, especially communities like Davis that are very giving and very generous do understand the issue of putting resources where they’re needed the most,” she said. “At the same time we don’t want to lose sight that we do have children here in need and it takes an organized and collaborative set of voices… to communicate that we shouldn’t be hurt by the budget decisions that are made to benefit the rest of the state.”

Overall, she said, as a 21-year resident of Davis, given the level of generosity of the community, “I think we’ll make it through these periods of time.”

On higher education, Mariko Yamada noted that “it was some time in the last year to year and a half that student debt actually exceeded home mortgage debt.”

“There is federal complicity in all of this, but also it’s something that I know the legislature, when we did enact middle class scholar, was a step in the right direction,” she said. But that doesn’t relieve the burden people have who are trying to raise their families.

Mariko Yamada has some strong support already. She lists among her supporters Congressman John Garamendi, Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer John Chiang, Insurance Commissioner Dave Joes, former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Former Senator Noreen Evans, and other statewide officials.

Locally she has support from Supervisor Jim Provenza, former Supervisor Betsy Marchand, Sheriff Ed Prieto, County Clerk Freddie Oakley, Superintendent of School Jesse Ortiz and former Woodland Mayor Artemio Pimentel.

Earlier this week, she announced the support of Senator Holley Mitchell, along with Former State Superintendent Delaine Eastin, a Davis resident.

State Senator Holly Mitchell said Monday, “Mariko Yamada is an experienced leader informed by her progressive values, one whom I can always trust to speak calmly but deliberately on the issues of the day. Her commitment to inclusion and her ability to work with diverse communities has earned her widespread respect among her colleagues. I am very much looking forward to her joining me in the California State Senate.”

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said, “Nothing is more important to our posterity than education. For the children it means they will have choices about what they do in life. For the society, it means we will have economic development and prosperity. Education is a win-win-win for our state and its destiny, as well as for our children and their future. Thank you, Mariko, for being a warrior for children and for their education, from preschool to grad school. You have my full support.”

“I am honored to have Holly Mitchell’s and Delaine Eastin’s early support. The work they have done – and continue to do – in moving our state forward is the kind of bold leadership California needs,” Mariko Yamada said of the endorsements.

She continued, “As a member of the State Senate, I look forward to working with my colleagues on real solutions and taking on the tough fights on behalf of all Californians. Progress has been made – but we’ve got more work to do!”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Jim Frame

    She described the first three years of his term as “really an emergency situation.”

    His term?  Whose term?

    but there was so much unfinished business that I felt the need to continue and that’s why we’ve decided to run,” she said.

    “We’ve decided to run”?  Who, the Queen of England?

  2. Tia Will

    “We had to make cuts that were heartbreaking and that you had to lose sleep over if you looked at the effects,”

    The key phrase for me is “if you looked at the effects”. Too often those who manage to achieve great wealth and or political power ( whether elected or not) do  not choose to “look at the effects”. There are always those dismissive comments that one can throw out about “no one promised life would be fair” or “the poor will always be with us”, that seemingly get us off the moral hook for the adverse consequences of the decisions that we are making. Not some preordained rule of the universe and how it works. The choices that we are making.

    I speak so strongly to this because my job demonstrates on a daily basis the previous decisions to make health care contingent upon access to insurance which many Americans could not afford. I cannot help but think that individuals regardless of their political leanings would have empathy for the situation of a woman forced to choose between having a roof over her kids heads and being able to feed them, and having a work up of the lump she has noted developing in her breast ( as one example). For those of you who would counter, she could always go to an emergency room….this is not considered an emergency….she would be advised to see her doctor. Which would be fine if she could afford one. But our previous rules about preexisting conditions would then preclude her from getting insurance once the presence of the lump was acknowledged.

    Lest I stray too far off topic, regardless of what one thinks about Ms. Yamada’s political leanings, I do believe that she can be trusted to “look at the effects” of the issues for which she advocates.

  3. Justice4All

    Shes great. I spoke with her the other day at the Yolo Dems meeting. Im really excited she is running. She will be a champion for regular people, seniors, and education.

  4. Matt Williams

    Mariko has always made social services a major part of her public service commitment.  My many interactions with her during her tenure as Supervisor confirmed both the strength of that commitment and the ability to translate the commitment into positive actions.

  5. Frankly

    Yamada is a disaster.  A puppet of the labor unions, and with the business sense of a flea.  Vote for her if you like ongoing budget problems from overspending.

  6. Davis Progressive

    is mariko great or a disaster?  i guess it depends on your point of view.  i remember her as one of the few politicians who put her neck on the line in the halema buzayan situation a long time ago now when she was a supervisor.  on the other hand, i don’t recall her addressing any of the major criminal justice issues in her time in the legislature and she has been close with bobby weist and the firefighters.  so for me, the jury is out.

    1. Matt Williams

      I think that is a fair summation DP. Frankly’s focus on fiscal over social services makes him see her in a less than flattering light. Her social services orientation has definitely been strong on both senior issues and health care. I don’t recall her addressing any of the major criminal justice issues either. That is an aspect of social services that I’d like to hear her address.

  7. skeptical

    Why is Yamada a disaster? 
    Is it for supporting the Tsakapoulos project near the Causeway? 
    Is it for wasting millions of dollars pursuing eminent domain acquisition of the Conaway Ranch? 
    Is it for sweeping under the rug the corrupt practices in County government while she was a Supervisor? 
    Is it for supporting a pro-developer County Habitat Conservation Plan? 
    Is it for turning a blind eye to the “pass through agreement” that blackmail’s millions of dollars annually out of the coffers of the City of Davis? 
    Is it for neglecting to act on a single responsible financial reform or government restructure while in the legislature? 
    Is it for failing to understand that a better general use of tax dollars would make more dollars available for those most in need? 
    Is it for commencing the shallow attack on Democrat Bill Dodd that he was a “Republican” in his pursuit of the Assembly seat he now occupies? 
    Is it for her crony politics, supporting the causes of her political “friends” and suppressing the causes of her political “enemies” regardless of the merits? 

    If so, I agree with you.  Otherwise, feel free to add to the list.

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