By Monica Velez
On the evening of January 13, 2016, six democratic candidates running for Senate District 3 and Assembly District 4 got together for a panel discussion. Topics discussed were water resources, education, retirement security, social justice and financial reform.
Opening statements started with Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, running for Assembly District 4. Wolk touched on the points he thought need improvements: working on global warming, raising the minimum wage, universal pre-school, and ending homelessness.
“We need folks in Sacramento who have a track record of getting things done, who can work well with others and are progressive democrats, and that’s me” said Wolk.
Next was Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, also running for Assembly District 4. She talked about her background living in Winters and her father being a high school agriculture teacher, teaching her and her brothers to be leaders and to be involved in the community.
Aguiar-Curry talked about her childhood working on farms and orchards, and how she had been able to get things done being a two-term mayor of Winters.
“I want to protect the land and beauty of the sixth county district,” said Aguiar-Curry. “ … when women lead we get things done.”
The last candidate running for Assembly District 4 who spoke was former school board member and current Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor. He said he was running because he wants “Californians to thrive.” He wants to help even out the playing field, creating equal pay for equal work, retirement security and to increase minimum wages.
Saylor wants to make sure no family goes hungry and wants to protect natural resources, expand economic assets and improve education.
“The California Dream must be accessible to everybody,” said Saylor.
Former Assemblymember for six years and social worker of forty years Mariko Yamada was the first speaker for the candidates running for Senate District 3. She talked about her past experiences working in Washington, D.C., and in Southern California and how those challenges prepared her for working in this district.
“I believe my background, education, temperament and experience have prepared me well to take on the challenges of the state and district,” said Yamada.
Current Assemblymember Bill Dodd, also running for Senate District 3, talked about preserving agriculture in his opening statement. He strives to make California a better place for the next generations, so they can have a better way of life.
“Leave the place you lived better than you found it,” said Dodd.
Gabe Griess, who hopes to be the next senator in District 3 as well, started off talking about why he wants to be elected. After 20 years of military service he chooses to spend his time, not at home with his three kids or fiancé, but to improve the leadership he thinks the state needs, because “we can do better.”
“I have the strength in character, the moral compass, and the attitude of selfless service to ensure that your needs are met,” said Griess.
The first question being asked to the panel was regarding water, and how they each plan to limit water and agricultural use. Dodd began by talking about the projects the agricultural committee has been working on, like flood irrigation for the crops. He said that working on Proposition 1 would help fund the projects that need to be put in place, like recording water transactions.
Griess says that right now we are failing when it comes to water usage and that it’s a question of capital investment, leadership and innovation. He said that as the next state senator he will continue to seek solutions to major problems like the water issue, and by educating children in new innovative technology there will be improvements in agriculture and water usage.
“We have the technology now to use water nearly an infinite number of cycles, so lets make the capital improvement,” said Griess.
Yamada has served six years on the water committee and talked about the dilemma of a lessening water supply combined with the need for housing. She said the community needs to work with farmers to grow more crops that have the least water usage.
Saylor’s approach was to focus on collaboration between cities to make large decisions. Saylor talked about how the Water Resources Association has worked to hire contractors to store water, so that there is water during dry seasons.
Saylor thinks that the cities of Northern California have done a good job at preserving the use of water, but doesn’t think Southern California can say the same, and opposes the twin tunnel proposal because it will further destroy the environment, because of the years of construction it will take.
“We need to really look at more innovative ways of securing the water that falls from the sky, we need storage above ground, we need to connect the plumbing systems of the delta with the plumbing systems of the hills, and we need underground storage,” said Saylor.
The Vice Chair of the Water Resources Association, Aguiar-Curry, explained how they are working diligently with farmers to figure out what they are going to do with sustainable ground water management. She explained that farmers are very innovative and are constantly working on how to cut down water usage, remembering that soil throughout the states are different and need different things in order for crops to grow.
“We need to remember that water issues are not going to be the same answers throughout the state,” said Aguiar- Curry.
Lastly, Wolk brought up his position as being mayor during a drought, and how he was able to succeed in water conversation. Like Saylor, Wolk is in opposition to the twin tunnels and knows it is not the solution to the problem.
“We should take the 15 billion dollars that the governor has set aside for that and drive it into Prop. 1,” said Wolk.
Wolk thinks Proposition 1 is excellent because it talks about providing funding for water conservation, ground water clean up and storage.
Next, the question of how each candidate would preserve fiscal benefits of the state and improve retirement security was brought up to the panel.
“If you want the economy of tomorrow to be strong, you must invest in education,” said Griess.
Griess explained how it is the responsibility of the government to ensure pensions for people who gave years of their life in service, such as policemen or teachers. He also explained how, as the economy expands and workers organize and put pressure on their employers, they could ensure pension opportunities and increase in wages.
Yamada took a different stance, explaining that public workers should not be put against private workers and that there should be a balance and fairness with retirement security.
“Public pensions are supposed to be the guarantee for being able to live your golden years in security,” said Yamada.
Similar to Yamada, Saylor noticed the problem of the question was putting one group of retirees against another. Public and private workers should not be put into different categories or clubs, or hold anything against the other.
“I think that one of the strongest ways for us to advance the retirement security for all people is to reinvest in the labor groups that we’ve got that need to be the heart of the workers union,” said Saylor.
Aguiar-Curry’s approach was to look into the future and to have more conversations as to where we are going as a working community and what we are going to do with retirement.
The first thing Wolk said was that he disagreed with Aguiar-Curry and that as a public employee this issue hits him very close. He thinks that the focus needs to be reinvesting in public employees and the work that they do.
“I am committed to protecting public pensions for our public employees and our retirees,” said Wolk.
Dodd thinks the governor’s reform has gone a long way but believes that collective bargaining is the way to get at public pension.
Social justice was the next topic brought up, asking “what legislation could you sponsor and support to help reverse the disproportionality of employment and economic disparity for the 41 percent” of California’s citizens, those of color?
“I’m delighted to answer this first, because I have dedicated four decades of social work practice and my life was born out of injustice to ensuring that we continue as a society to seek equity for all,” said Yamada.
She explained how some policies need to be reversed, and how poverty should not be contributed to by state policy. She gave the example of the Maximum Family Grant, which is on the legislative radar and how these kinds of policies would be the ones reversed.
“I agree with Mariko, what we’re dealing with is a much broader issue,” said Saylor.
Saylor said the two issues we are dealing with are education in the schools and the second is community. He said the lifespan in California to the rest of the world depends on what zip code you live in, because the access to healthcare and healthy food. The first step is focusing on foster children, English learners and sustainable communities investments where the most help is needed.
“I think we need to start right off at pre-K, I think we need to make sure we have funding for our students,” said Aguiar-Curry. “… how are we going to get out of poverty if they don’t have the opportunity to go to school when they’re young?”
Aguiar-Curry explained the importance of having a roof over your head, and how are people supposed to attend school when they are worried about where their next meal is going to come from. She thinks that affordable housing, supporting teachers and pre-K education are the key components to be sure that families have.
Similar to Aguiar-Curry, Wolk believes in having a universal pre-K. He also thinks we need to support the Local Control Funding Formula, providing more funding for English learners, making sure the diversity of teaching matches the diversity of students, and providing more legal services for low income families.
Dodd is also taking a stance on education, focusing on the right of equality for everybody, and having more child care as well as early childhood education.
Griess started off by talking about how some people were raised, some were nurtured and some weren’t, and don’t know any better. He supports hiring people of diversity and people who come out of prison.
“Although we shouldn’t be having this conversation, we are,” said Griess. “Racism and inequality is unfortunately still part of our society.”
Another question asked was what is the candidate’s vision of a long-term plan that brings California school facilities into the 21st century and what steps would need to be taken to ensure the quality of these facilities.
Griess thinks that the government is able to do better than what they are doing and should come together to figure it out. He thinks we need to maintain the facilities that we have and if we all believe in education and in our children we need to have teachers who are paid fairly, as well as a modernized facility.
Yamada thinks that there is no better investment than to ensure we have safe places for children to learn and teachers to work. She thinks this is a very important issue that needs to be on a ballot and passed.
“The longer we wait for facilities to come the more cost that will occur, so this is an investment not a cost,” said Yamada.
Saylor thinks that there is not better way to prepare for a rainy day than to educate the next generation and the investment in school facilities is a big part of that. He said it is time to modernize schools and there are a lot of schools that need that.
Aguiar-Curry described the destructive nature of older schools, where there are electrical cords hanging from the ceiling. She explained how there was funding for new computers, but that the facilities or libraries didn’t have informational structure for broadband to get the technology to work for them.
Wolk again brought up the importance of universal pre-school and that he couldn’t think of a better investment. He said we need smaller class sizes and more investment in career education and newer facilities.
Dodd had similar responses as the other candidates, also saying the importance of having new facilities will lead to educating students and preparing them for the 21st century.
In the panel discussion, audience members also had a chance to ask questions, the first one being whether each candidate would support birth control and abortions. Every candidate was pro-choice and said that each woman has the right to be make her own choice regarding her body.
In closing statements, Dodd and Wolk both emphasized the amount of support they have from public officials, both mentioning the leadership capabilities they have that California needs.
Griess explained how he thought being humble, approachable and credible all related to leadership and how people are seeking somebody who is there to listen more than they talk, and assured that this is what he stands for.
Saylor said that he is here to make a difference for California and that working together is the key to making positive differences in every aspect of society.
Yamada was excited about the campaign and believes it takes preparation to run for the office of the state senate, and knows that her experience and temperament will aid her to be able to successfully complete the job.
Lastly, Aguiar-Curry said that she has spent her whole life trying to bring people together. She talked about equality and how everybody should have internet access, education and job opportunity.
“With your support I know I can make 2016 the year of the women,” said Aguiar-Curry.
Elections will be on June 7, 2016.
The Vanguard and the author of this article would like to make a correction, and to offer sincere apologies for the following error: In the discussion on social justice, it was stated that Mariko Yamada said that certain policies need to be reversed, and the example she gave was incorrectly identified as the African Family Grant. The text should have read “Maximum Family Grant,” and has been corrected.