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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Key Issues Facing the Legislature in Upcoming Races

Barring something very much unexpected, it seems that Yolo County voters will have two contested Democratic primaries for the state legislature. One that is already well underway is the 8th Assembly District Race between West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. That one had their first debate last week, if you can believe that.

The other one may be getting underway soon, is the Fifth Senate District where current Assemblywoman Lois Wolk is widely expected to face John Garamendi, Jr, son of the current Lt. Governor and likely 2010 Governor candidate, John Garamendi. Last Sunday, Garamendi, Sr. spoke in Davis and sounded not only like a candidate, but looked like a frontrunner for the nomination and probably the Governor's Mansion itself. He may be the strongest candidate the Democrats have had in California in a generation.

Key issues face both races, perhaps none bigger right now than the healthcare issue. On June 28, 2007 at 1 pm on the West Side of the Capitol Steps will be a massive rally for healthcare. Currently a couple of versions of universal single-payer health care are making their way through the legislature.

A number of advocacy groups have gotten together with some of the larger labor unions to really press the issue, but you have to wonder with Governor Schwarzenegger still in office, if all of this is a moot point. This is where Lt. Governor Garamendi spoke so forcefully, calling for a single-payer system and describing in detail how the system has worked with Medicare and that we need simply to begin expanding that system and its coverage to the rest of the population.

In the course of the push for health care and support of a number of proposals in the legislature, it was shocking to learn that one of the members targeted by the group for their weak and/ or lukewarm support was our own Assemblywoman Lois Wolk. While former Assemblywoman Helen Thomson was always a stalwart on health issues on a broad array of fronts, it seems that Wolk has been less of a champion. She was on the list of legislators to lobby, hopefully the hundreds of cards and letters have pushed her into stronger support for health care reform.

Given the number of uninsured Californians, the effect on their quality of life and the effect on the overall economy, this bill is essential. Last summer, I witnessed first hand what happens to people without insurance. My friend experienced a catastrophic illness while he was unemployed and uninsured. The county system is insufficient to deal with the needs. Even for the indigent, the result is a huge medical bill and perhaps a lifetime of debt. And when the system knows that you cannot pay, they give you substandard care. Twice Sutter Davis released a man who was too weak to walk by his own devices, once he was found sitting on the curb on Covell too weak to walk any further and the other time they gave him a cab ride home but he could not climb his stairs to get inside. It was unconscionable and yet somewhat the standard operating procedure.

Education is a perennial issue of importance. This year we see that budget shortfalls once again lead to tuition hikes for UC and CSU students. This is far from the only issue facing higher education. The loss of affirmative action in 1996, means that the then-meager numbers of African American students and instructors have fallen still further. I would like to hear from all of the candidates as to how we can reverse that trend. This is of course not just a problem of higher education, but of all levels as Davis Joint Unified has struggled to bring in minority teachers.

An issue dear to my heart is that of civil rights and unfortunately at the 8th Assembly District debate, I did not get to hear the views of the candidates on issues of civil rights. West Sacramento made news of course in recent months when its Gang Injunction was struck down. Cabaldon as mayor has been fairly quiet on that issue of late, despite his support for it in the past. Moreover, there are a number of bills currently moving through the legislature that would restore access to public records about police officers in citizen complaints as well as other civilian review functions that have been struck down by the courts who argued that they violated police officer's rights to privacy.

Finally, a big issue in recent months has been the potential outsourcing of state jobs. Governor Schwarzenegger has at times proposed outsourcing various state level jobs, such as printing, to outside of the state claiming that it would save the state money. While that may sound like a laudable goal, his ulterior motive is to cut jobs for state union workers. He has recently proposed privatization of the CA State Lottery in an attempt to lease the lottery operations to private companies such as Goldman Sachs. The result would be the loss of hundreds of well-paying unions jobs with wages and benefits.

Closer to home the burning issue of Sodexho Workers attempting to become university employees so that they can get higher wages and benefits has been thwarted by an indifferent upper administration. While Assemblywoman Wolk has made some overtures on behalf of the students, her recent actions this week call into question her commitment on that issue. Wolk walked right past protesters on her way to Chancellor Vanderhoef's end of the year party. In fact, the only public official who paid the protesters any heed was Assembly candidate Yamada.

Organizing and unionization should be core issues for any Democrat. Garamendi, Sr. has an excellent record on labor issues and always receives very strong union support. Wolk's record in the Assembly has made labor unions uncomfortable and many are actively encouraging Garamendi, Jr. to throw his hat in the race. Cabaldon has earned the ire of labor unions for a variety of policy positions including bringing a Wal-Mart Superstore to West Sacramento, whereas Yamada enjoys strong support from local and state unions. Will labor matter in the upcoming elections? We'll find out.

If Cabaldon and Yamada square off again, I hope they can ask questions that are more likely to bring out some of the differences in these candidates. Meantime, hopefully in the next month or so, we will find out if Garamendi, Jr. throws his hat into the ring. Regardless, this next year will be very interesting here in Davis and Yolo County.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting