The first faceoff between Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan since the launch of their campaigns for the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District special election was rather amicable, and showed barely a sliver of sunlight between their policy stances.
Bonilla, D-Concord, and Buchanan, D-Alamo, sought the TriValley Democratic Club’s endorsement Monday night in Dublin. The result was not really in doubt – that’s Buchanan’s home turf, and sure enough, she won the endorsement vote 29-2 with four club members voting to remain neutral.
But it wasn’t really about the numbers – Bonilla knew she probably couldn’t win this club’s nod. Rather, it was about sounding out loyal Democrats for what’s going to be a fast, intense race – the special primary will be held March 17, and the special general on May 19. They’re running to succeed Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, who has just succeeded Rep. George Miller in the House.
“You’ve got two good Democrats, and sometimes we don’t have that, do we?” Bonilla told the club.
“Susan and I have worked closely in the Legislature… and it’s too bad that term limits force good people to run against each other,” Buchanan agreed.
Bonilla said three years as chair of the education budget subcommittee gave her intimate knowledge of the state budget’s largest sector, and she’s proud that Proposition 30’s tax hikes and a resurgent economy have let the state start backfilling the education funding it shorted in recent years.
She said she’s also proud of the Local Control Funding Formula on which lawmakers compromised with Gov. Jerry Brown, and of authoring a bill to move the state away from its standardized STAR testing and toward assessments that better fit the new Common Core curriculum. “We went toe-to-toe with the federal government and we won. We didn’t lose a dime and we didn’t double-test our children last year.”
She recounted her work as a Concord councilwoman to help ensure the former Concord Naval Weapons Station was converted into open space, and her work as a Contra Costa County Supervisor to develop a plan to pay down a $2.1 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. And she touted her endorsements from DeSaulnier; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; many other electeds; and an array of police and firefighter groups.
Buchanan said she’s proud to have authored a new law that protects students’ privacy from data mining when school districts contract with private companies for data management services, or for online programs and mobile apps used for instruction. She also cited her 2012 law to restore the historic beacon atop Mt. Diablo, which has been used in Pearl Harbor Day commemorations in recent decades – “What a difference it made in the lives of some of our brave servicemen” – and her efforts to update and streamline the state’s information technology procurement.
But her passion, she said, is public education
California’s once-great system is “at a critical point now” with too many children struggling in K-12 – “What happens if we leave half our children behind?” – and not enough capacity in the University of California system: “There’s got to be room at the inn.” And quality preschool is needed to ensure children have the proper tools with which to learn, she said.
“We can and we should do better,” she said. “When I go to the senate, I want to be one of the strongest advocates for public education. Public education is every bit a part of our infrastructure as twin tunnels and high-speed rail.”
During a Q&A session, both candidates talked about walking back the state-imposed limit on the size of school districts’ budget reserves; discussed the importance of continuing to reform the state’s costly prison system; touted their efforts in developing more effective job-training programs; and expounded on the importance of maintaining strong services for veterans.
Unsurprisingly, both said they would work to extend the Prop. 30 sales taxes and income taxes on the rich – due to expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively – in order to keep bankrolling education.
“The governor has made it very clear that the word ‘temporary’ means temporary, but … we need to go out to the people, I believe we can make the case,” Bonilla said. “There’s no way that you can get education on the cheap, it just doesn’t work.”
They also were questioned about Community Choice Aggregation, a state policy letting local governments choose greener electricity supply contracts. Bonilla seemed stronger in her support of local governments’ right to pursue this, though both emphasized that communities must do intensive research to ensure the energy they buy really is coming from green sources.
As this race heats up, remember that the 16th Assembly District which Buchanan represented for six years covers substantially more of this senate district than the 14th Assembly District in which Bonilla has just started her third two-year term, so Buchanan might have a name-recognition advantage. But Bonilla has an edge in endorsements (at least, so far) and has good connections that might help her raise more support – for example, her district director, Satinder Malhi of Martinez, also is president of the Contra Costa Young Democrats.
The TriValley Democratic Club is where Rep. Pete Stark and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell had their first face-off in early 2012 –also was a surprisingly calm, respectful affair, considering how ugly that race later became. Here’s hoping this race doesn’t get as spiteful as that one did.