Voters in the Assembly’s 35th District will be choosing between two newcomers, Democrat Das Williams and Republican Mike Stoker, both of whom are experienced local politicians. Incumbent Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) could not run again because he reached the end of his term limit.
Williams is currently a member of the Santa Barbara City Council but also has strong ties to Ventura County. “I’ve worked in Ventura County for 13 of the last 14 years, the last 10 years for CAUSE,” Williams said. “Before that, I was an aide to (former Assemblywoman) Hannah-Beth Jackson.”
Former Santa Barbara Supervisor Mike Stoker also has roots in Ventura County. “I was raised in Ventura County,” Stoker said. “I went to Camarillo High. I went to Moorpark Junior College. I have family in Ventura.”
Both candidates said there are enormous challenges facing the state but they each have different priorities and remedies for fixing the biggest problems.
Higher education is a major issue for Williams. “The high cost of state universities is a vitally important issue for the future economic competitiveness of the state,” Williams said. “For companies to be able to stay and expand, they need to know that they are going to be able to get the employees they need.”
Williams said the Legislature controls the amount of state funding for the schools but admitted it has limited power over how those funds are actually spent. An oil severance tax has been suggested by Williams as a way to accrue more state funding for higher education. “It is essentially a tax on oil extraction,” he said. “We would be able to reduce fees and see that the system does not slide towards privatization.”
Stoker is against an oil severance tax. He said the road to saving education, along with the solvency of cities and counties, is found in cutting the size of state government. “We need to lay off 20,000 state employees, which I guarantee I could strategically do tomorrow and you wouldn’t notice any change in your life,” Stoker said. He would exempt public safety workers and teachers from the layoffs.
Stoker said it is no longer possible to issue bonds, and he is against raising taxes. “Either you cut certain programs or roll back social services.”
“There have been studies of welfare recipients who migrate from other states to California,” Stoker said. “We’re a magnet because we give more than the federal minimum. We should be looking at that.”
Williams supports the opposite approach. “The basic covenant for civilization is that you don’t let people die when you have the capability to save their lives,” he said. “One of the best examples is the defunding of the program that pays for HIV and AIDS drugs for the indigent.”
Williams added that even the funds for testing for HIV have been eliminated, and most counties have stopped the program. “The tests are the easiest way to save lives, the cheapest way to save lives,” he said.
Both candidates have ideas for making the Legislature functional once again. Both agree that continuing down the present path of budget negotiations is no longer tenable.
Williams is against a cuts-only method of reducing the state deficit. “We need to pass Proposition 25, and we need to restore majority rule on the budget.” Prop. 25 would change the two-thirds requirement for passage of a budget and return it to a simple majority.
“I am going to work hard to build relationships with what few moderate Republicans are left,” Williams said. “I think that is vitally necessary.”
Stoker also vowed to form a coalition of moderate Republicans and what he called “Blue Dog Democrats,” those who are open to compromise. “I’m very well-known for being an independent Republican,” he said. “I always have worked with everybody across the aisle. My whole focus is bipartisanship.”
But Stoker also had a list of changes that would make the budget process more workable than it has been in the past few years. He advocated redistricting along with increasing the number of years allowed in office under term limits. He said this would reduce the dependence on money from special interests on both sides.