Locals Are a Growing Force in the Legislature
by Dan Carrigg
Dan Carrigg is legislative director for the League and can be reached at email@example.com.
The beginning of each two-year legislative session brings with it fresh hopes and opportunities as a new group of legislators enters the Capitol. For local governments, the 2007–08 Legislature is a special class. A full 16 years after the passage of term limits in 1990, what has long been envisioned is finally happening: Former local elected officials - most with a city council background - will constitute a majority in both houses of the Legislature.
While the new legislators come from varied backgrounds, what they have in common is the desire for a better state and a better future for themselves and their constituents. They also have in common their experience on city councils and county boards of supervisors. They know the pride residents have in their communities, the unique challenges they face and the difference that local governments can make in the quality of life for their constituents. Will they remember their local roots? Can they help forge a new relationship of collaborative problem-solving between state and local government instead of polarizing “us and them”?
The tables on pages 12–15 show the Class of 2007–08 of former local elected officials (city council members or county supervisors) who are serving their freshman term in the Legislature. But their time is short. These new Assembly members will be “termed out” by 2012, and new senators will term out by 2014.
What the New Legislators Have to Say
We asked several new legislators the following question:
“What do you bring with you to Sacramento from your experience in local government?”
“The understanding that the state needs to collaborate more with local government. Local government delivers services directly to the people, and imposing mandates on local government in the absence of collaboration does not serve the people well.”
- Assembly Member Jim Beall Jr., D-24
“After 15 years in local government, I’ve developed the ability to listen, and I know I don’t have all the answers. Finding the answers requires bringing people together who have a sincere interest in solving the problem, and crafting a solution that takes into consideration as many concerns as possible. It takes talking about the values constituents want to honor and protect, and finding the common denominators. You have to keep ego out of it. You have to get people thinking beyond today and tomorrow, and then negotiate on the long-term points. I’ve learned patience. Things don’t happen overnight - especially when it comes to developing practical solutions that will work in our complex society.”
- Assembly Member Anna Caballero, D-28
“I believe in the maxim ‘All politics is local.’ Having spent eight years in local government, I encountered firsthand the frustrations, aspirations and needs of the citizenry. Likewise, they expected me to fight on their behalf and make good on promises. With a smaller constituency, the trust is almost palpable. Remaining faithful and sensitive to this trust is essential to serving in the Capitol. Local government has reinforced my notion of serving the people - those whom I meet in grocery stores and at community events in my district - rather than the powers that be in Sacramento. It’s my mission to make certain that the issues of the local people I serve are brought forth, discussed and voted upon, to ensure that their voices are heard.”
- Assembly Member Paul Cook, R-65
“My experiences as a Yorba Linda City Council member, Orange County Transportation Authority director, Orange County Sanitation District director, local chamber of commerce president and small business owner have given me a unique understanding of the strict regulatory environment Californians endure, and a strong will to inspire and reinforce change. The people of my district demand it.
“Infrastructure, public safety, economic development, education, border security, prop-erty rights and responsible budgeting are just some of the issues I’ve championed in Orange County. I’m eager to continue tackling these issues in Sacramento, using insights gleaned from local successes and applying them to state concerns.”
- Assembly Member Michael Duvall, R-72
“I am proud to have served Placer County as a supervisor. I have seen firsthand how local elected officials can get things done in a government setting, and I plan on bringing this common-sense approach to the state Legislature.”
- Assembly Member Ted Gaines, R-4
“The local government experience helps us to clearly understand and share with our colleagues the neighborhood-level impact of decisions in the state Capitol. It’s easy to get lost in macro policy discussions and budget figures, but to make the best decision possible we need to ask, ‘What does this mean for our constituents?’ Having served on the Los Angeles City Council helps me to visualize that and be sensitive to it. From my experience with the League, I’ve learned to think about impacts on both large and small cities, Northern and Southern California, and rural and urban communities. I believe that is going to be an asset.”
- Senator Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley
“Having worked with local government as an elected official, I understand the importance of legislation being beneficial directly to the constituents. That exercise of local accountability is what residents are calling for.
“Given the fact that the state has a $5 billion deficit that must be addressed during the next six months, my experience in local government will be extremely helpful. For the past six years on the Long Beach City Council, I was instrumental in helping the city admit we had a problem and acknowledge we were operating in a structural deficit for over 20 years. We established the first-ever council oversight process, adopted fiscal policies and implemented a four-year plan to resolve the deficit. These experiences are much needed in the 2007 legislative cycle.”
- Assembly Member Laura Richardson, D-55
“As a former mayor of Huntington Beach and former chair of the Orange County board of supervisors, I’ve had to work with unfunded state mandates for more than 20 years. Being a local elected official from a ‘donor’ county, I have seen firsthand the financial burdens the State of California has placed on local governments. I will work to change that.”
- Assembly Member Jim Silva, R-67
“My six years as a Santa Ana City Council member gave me a deep understanding of the issues that are truly important to the people of the City of Santa Ana and Orange County - good schools, safe neighborhoods, better jobs and efficient transportation systems. My time on the city council also taught me how to use public policy to work toward solving these problems in an effective manner.
“I learned that people can disagree on the issues but we must always remember that no problem will get solved unless people of differing opinions learn to work together toward a common solution. I believe this is at the heart of what both local government and state government are about - coming together to serve the people.”
- Assembly Member Jose Solorio, D-69
“My experience as both a city council member and mayor of Santa Clarita has helped significantly in my transition to the state Legislature. First, many of my colleagues start-ed in local government as well, and I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with many members prior to my election. Local government also helped me, as a city council member in a nonpartisan office, to reach consensus with people possessing different political views. Finally, it has provided me with background on numerous issues we are tackling in Sacramento, and it will enable me to hit the ground running because term limits do not allow for a slow learning curve.”
- Assembly Member Cameron Smyth, R-38