Senate District 23 Candidate Forum: Hard-line Politics

Four of the five candidates gunning for California’s open seat in the State Senate District 23 addressed the University of Redlands community in a forum on Jan. 28 in Casa Loma. The event was sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the University of Redlands public policy department.


Each candidate, two Democrats and two Republicans, answered questions curated by moderators affiliated with the U of R and AAUW, as well as questions contributed by the audience. All four appealed to some portion of the audience, but the hard-line between their left and right-wing politics makes the upcoming California State Senate primary election on Mar. 3 feel uniquely contentious for a local race like this one.


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On the far left-hand side from the audience perspective, Beaumont City council member and U of R alum Lloyd White (R) took a staunch Republican perspective emphasizing a lean, unobtrusive government. 


White’s solution to California’s housing crisis—a question every candidate had a unique solution to—is to move jobs closer to San Bernardino by encouraging manufacturing in places with open land such as Hemet. He suggests that this would create affordable housing solutions in this area as opposed to the coastal cities, which White accuses the State Senate in Sacramento of doing.


“You’ll see that the focus in Sacramento is to take gas tax money from those of us who commute further than anyone else in the state and direct that money to [affordable housing efforts in] Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco,” White said.


This answer was characteristic of his general philosophy; in almost every single one of his answers, White elaborated on the ways that he wants the state and federal government to have less power and influence than it already does. 


In addressing the 130,000 homeless citizens in California, he was adamant that faith-based groups rather than state government should solve the problem. This way, White argued, the homeless person who receives help feels “obligated” to the faith-based group, rather than “entitled” to state welfare programs.


“When our governor brags, ‘hey I spent more money on homelessness this year,’ and he did it last year too,” White said. “It comes out to record numbers on homelessness, [yet] it’s getting worse. It tells you the government can’t fix this problem.”


With regards to California’s “sanctuary state” laws which prevent local and state officials from cooperating with I.C.E. in detaining undocumented immigrants who have commited misdemeanors, White insisted that the state should not have the ability to prevent state law enforcement from collaborating with federal departments. 


Both White and Bogh suggested that lack of communication between federal and state public safety is at least partly responsible for the success of the perpetrators of 9/11.


“I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m not in favor of ‘sanctuary state,’” White said. “When you have local and federal governments not able to talk to each other … I think that does lead to the Silo effect that a lot of people blame 9/11 over.”


When asked about California’s law mandating at least one woman on every board of directors in corporations headquartered in the state, he insisted that this so-called “war on businesses” was damaging to California’s economy. As an alternative to state-mandated gender diversity, White suggested that people should “start making everyone aware of which boards have no women and then people can vote with their dollars.”


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Second from left, Abigail Medina (D) took a relatively progressive democratic position. As a board member of the San Bernardino Unified School District, Medina places disparities in education near the top of her list of concerns alongside environmental justice and affordable housing.


In addressing the Trump administration’s move to remove California’s ability to enforce its own stronger air pollution regulations, Medina insisted that the state should have the ability to enforce such regulations, and to make them even stronger. She referenced a pollution issue in her own community in her answer.


“A sewage plant is being built across the street [from Indian Springs High School], and where is it being built? In low-income communities,” Medina said. “We have to do more … There has to be some form of accountability.”


She brought up the sewage plant several times throughout the forum, particularly as it applied to inefficiencies, or general ignorance, of the local government.


“[The plant] was literally across the street of a high school in low-income communities, particularly communities of color,” Medina said. “It’s frustrating to me seeing [council members] approve certain projects with no regard to the residents. These are more of the discriminatory land-use practices and we have to stop that. I’m looking at, as a future Senator, supporting bills like SB 1000; creating those buffer zones and a distance between where [sewage plants] are being placed [and residential communities]. It’s common sense. You don’t build it in my backyard and you wouldn’t want it in yours.”


Medina’s defense of such low-income communities formed the basis of most of her answers. For example, in contrast to the other three candidates, Medina identifies “predatory loans” as the primary factor in the affordable housing crisis.


“When the market crashed [in 2008], there were many families coming from low-income communities … that were actually receiving predatory loans at an extreme interest rate,” Medina said.


She advocated addressing these predatory loans by providing financial education to families on how to identify and avoid these loans, as well as how to save money.


In her aim to help minorities in her community, particularly women of color, Medina proposed state legislation that mirrors HR 7, or Paycheck Fairness Act, intended to collect data on salaries among employees to ensure there is no unfair differences in pay.


“It most likely may fail in the federal government with HR 7,” Medina said. “We can try to make legislation in the state of California so we can start addressing some of the issues pertaining to gender pay gap … It’s also making sure that women are not being punished for sharing how much they earn.”


Medina argues that a HR 7-like law in California will provide provisions for women who struggle to negotiate wages that match their male, and white, counterparts.


“Especially with minority women we tend to just agree with what is given to us,” Medina said. “We have to look at ways to better train and educate them that ‘you have more power than what you realize.’”


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Second from right, Inland Empire realtor Roselicie Ochoa Bogh (R) shared much of her small government conservatism with White. She identified herself first by her family’s “deep roots” in the I.E., and considers her top three priorities to be housing affordability, infrastructure, and “quality education.”


In addressing housing affordability in California— or “right up [her] alley,” as the realtor remarked—Bogh suggested streamlining the requirements outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to make it “easier to build” in the state. CEQA guidelines are designed to mitigate “significant environmental impacts” of state and local governments, but Bogh suggests the complexities of these guidelines are a primary contributor to the rising prices of houses.


“I believe in incentivising construction and making it local,” Bogh said. “That’s very important for me; making sure we keep our local communities in charge of what’s best to meet the needs of their communities.”


When addressing the same gender pay gap question that Medina answered, Bogh made it clear that she “believes in the empowerment of the female voice” through education, but voiced her concerns about government control areas where “the free market should come into play.


Yet, Bogh displayed a vulnerable side of herself in addressing this issue, seemingly in agreeance with Medina that there is a culturally ingrained pressure for women to “agree with what is given” to them.


“As females we do have a tendency to not advocate for ourselves,” Bogh said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been so adamant about making sure that my daughters have a voice and are very strong. As a candidate, I can tell you that I struggle advocating for all of my skills and what I have to offer because it’s not culturally what I’ve been accustomed to.”


There were moments like this when Bogh’s small government conservatism seemed to conflict with the issues she has experienced in her own communities, and the result was a slightly more relaxed conservatism than White’s. For example, when asked by an audience member whether or not the state should publicly finance childcare, and if so what would it look like, Bogh took a moment to think.


“I know that for many it is incredibly difficult [particularly] for single parents,” Bogh said. “Our school districts actually have many single parents that are struggling, and we provide before and after [school] … schooling opportunities.”


Bogh was careful with her wording, suggesting vague incentives for local entities like school districts to provide “some sort of assistance” in childcare, by providing a safe place to go before and after school.


When asked if there was a law that she would eliminate, change, or introduce, that would directly affect the relationship between local and state government, Bogh insisted on “local control.”


“California has such diversity and variety in demographics that [state government] hasn’t been very efficient,” Bogh said. “Some of the bills that I think I would address at the state level—that I do not think are conducive to our local communities—would be, one, our sex ed. that many of our parents are struggling with. It might be needed in certain communities, but not necessarily reflect the ones that are right here in our district. As well as the vaccination law; taking away the parental rights over their children and their wellbeing.”


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On the far right hand side, long-time Redlands resident and former journalist Kris Goodfellow (D) is a Democratic Party endorsed candidate with perhaps the furthest left positions of the four candidates. Goodfellow’s three priorities (what she calls her “Three ‘E’s”) are the economy, environment, and education.


For Goodfellow, housing affordability is “inherently linked to education” and “not having enough high quality jobs” in the area. Surprisingly, she echoes the concerns of White, that San Bernardino residents are those who are “commuting the furthest,” impacted by the gas tax, with less access to jobs. She advocates for the preservation of CEQA, but suggested that it can be “baked in” to zoning legislation and multi-species habitat development programs like in Riverside county.


“I think that [baking-in SEQA] would clear the way for larger development projects, and make sure that there is affordable housing in this area,” Goodfellow said.


It was in the audience-sourced questions where her liberal perspective was clearest. For example, when asked about better ways to spend money on the 130,000 homeless in California—at about $40,000 spent per person by the state to help this growing population—Goodfellow advocated for housing (“$40,000 seems like plenty of money to house somebody”), and pushing for a living wage.


“We need to make sure that people who are working hard are not living in their cars; are not going to Walmart, from their job at Walmart, to buy food at Walmart using CalFresh,” Goodfellow said. “When that happens, it is the most disgusting form of corporate welfare that I can imagine.”


Goodfellow also went after policies benefiting corporations later during a question about whether or not to preserve Proposition 13 (1978), which moderator and political science professor Renee Van Vecten clarified for the audience.


As it is now, Prop. 13 places a limit on property taxes of all buildings, both residential and commercial, to one percent of the purchase price, with no more than two percent reincrease a year. A recent proposal would modify this proposition, separating residential from commercial properties, allowing for two separate tax rates. 


Goodfellow supports this “split-role” proposal because without it, Prop. 13 protects the property taxes of large corporations at “artificially-low rates.”


“This is only going to affect big corporations,” Goodfellow said. “It’s going to restore twelve billion dollars to our communities and our schools, which is sorely needed. We are 41st in the nation in per-person education spending in California, and that’s shameful. We are by far the largest economy in the country; our kids should not be falling down there behind Mississippi.”


As an owner of a small business in Redlands who partners with Esri, Goodfellow argued that this old proposition makes it much more difficult for new small businesses to compete with corporations. 


Much of Goodfellow’s policies centered around how local and state government could aid the community. For instance, while addressing the same question about the potential for state-funded childcare that was asked of Bogh, Goodfellow insisted that such funding was a necessity. She referred to the lack of paid family leave in the U.S. as a primary reason.


“We are the only country in the developed world that is not paying for paid family leave,” Goodfellow said. “I run a small company, and we do offer paid family leave. We just had our first baby born to one of our employees, and she was able to take two months off, and she’s able to work from home to help raise her daughter. She’s a single mom. We need more of that.”