2022 election: Q&A with Marie Waldron, California State Assembly, District 75 candidate

There are two candidates on the June 7 ballot for the newly drawn state Assembly District 75, which stretches from the Riverside County border south through Fallbrook, Bonsall, Valley Center, Ramona, Poway, Lakeside, Santee and Jamul to the Mexico border and east to the Imperial County border. Current 71st District Assemblymember Randy Voepel and business owner/current 75th District Assemblymember Marie Waldron, both Republicans, will automatically advance to a Nov. 8 runoff election.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board sent them a 13-question survey, and is publishing their responses here. If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at matthew.hall@sduniontribune.com.

Below are Waldron’s responses and a link to Voepel’s.

Q: From wildfires to sea level rise, the climate emergency is increasingly affecting California. What immediate steps should California lawmakers be taking to address it?

A: California leads the way in addressing climate concerns. It is important to make sure we keep a reasonable balance with economic issues. What is good for the environment can be good for business if we do it right. Investments in new technologies and supporting innovative solutions that help as well as create new breadwinner jobs is a healthy balance. For example, tackling big impact issues like making sure we address vegetation clearance and forest management can prevent the tragic wildfires we have experienced which undo decades of climate action.

Q: The governor’s pleas to reduce water use have been widely met with indifference. What, if anything, should state lawmakers be doing to address drought conditions?

A: We in Southern California have been reducing and conserving water for decades. Living in a cycle of drought has led to reductions in agriculture and new technologies to increase water efficiencies. We need to be more proactive regarding water instead of adding more restrictions. We need to develop better management and new infrastructure to allow for reliable and affordable water supply.

Droughts are a recurring feature of California’s climate, but that does not mean water shortages and curtailments have to be. California has not built any major water-storage projects since the 1970s, yet the population of the state has roughly doubled. Furthermore, significant repairs are necessary to address the existing impacts of subsidence to California’s water supply infrastructure that moves water throughout the state. Repairing and improving upon water conveyance allows for increased reliability and improves Californian’s resiliency to drought.

Q: What would you do to address the surging gas prices in California?

A: As an Assembly member, I have opposed every tax increase, including the Senate Bill 1 gas tax increase. I co-authored legislation to suspend the gas tax for six months to provide relief to taxpayers. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the average driver pays roughly $530 a year in gas taxes. The Legislature last increased the gas tax in 2017 when it passed SB 1 — the Road Repair and Accountability Act. SB 1 increased a number of vehicle and fuel taxes by approximately $5.2 billion annually to primarily fund road maintenance and transit. In addition to increasing the gas tax in 2017, SB 1 also imposed an annual inflation increase that takes effect each year on July 1.

Of the total 51.1 cent per gallon state gas tax, 21.4 cents per gallon (42 percent) is due to SB 1 tax increases. This impacts hardworking, struggling Californians the most.

Q: How do you strike a balance between reducing the state’s dependency on fossil fuels and addressing energy affordability issues, including the high cost of gasoline?

A: The Legislature used a creative maneuver in 2010 to bypass the constitutional protections for gas tax revenues and shift $1 billion per year to backfill the general fund. This diversion continues every year. Maybe if the transportation dollars were used for what they were promised, we could see a reduction in gas taxes.

Basic supply and demand dictates that the more supply we have, the lower the costs. Allowing local supplies not only reduce costs, it also provides good-paying jobs for Californians, including helping second-chancers to get back on their feet.

I have supported alternative fuels also and new technologies which add diversity to our energy portfolio.

Q: How would you bring down the high cost of housing, both for homeowners and renters?

A: The fees government adds on to the cost of new homes can add upwards of $75,000 to $150,000 to the price of a new home. Reining in government fees will go a long way toward reducing costs. In addition, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been abused to the point where lawsuits can add years to a development and are used to avoid or prevent development. The costs of CEQA along with the time delays have caused the state to exempt state projects like the new Capitol annex or sports stadiums from CEQA while still requiring full CEQA for housing and water infrastructure projects.

Q: Homelessness is growing dramatically across the state. How would you address it?

A: I have worked in the mental health and substance use space for decades, starting during my tenure on the Escondido City Council as a part of the San Diego County Opioid Task Force; authoring numerous pieces of legislation for mental health and substance use disorder treatment options, access and funding; and serving as a member of the bipartisan, bicameral mental health caucus and as vice chair of the Assembly committee on health. It is imperative that we address these two co-occurring disorders when discussing homelessness. When housing is provided, there must also be wraparound services. We need to help people access treatment and social services to help them stabilize and to increase safety.

Cycling mentally ill people through the criminal justice system has not worked, and we cannot allow people to die on the streets without supporting services to address their humanity, mental illness and substance use disorders.

During my time in the Legislature, I have authored and passed numerous bills to expand and extend Laura’s Law, to bring people into care who are at risk to themselves and others. I have also authored and passed bills creating new medication-assisted treatment programs for substance use disorders and also supporting timely access to care for mental health treatment.

Q: What, if anything, should the state do to make mass transit a viable option for commuters?

A: I have spent many years on the East Coast, where mass transit was readily available. I have also served for eight years as a board member and as an alternate to the North County Transit District here in San Diego County. Making transit accessible and efficient is difficult as California’s topography and development is much more widespread than the more congested cities on the East Coast. Mass transit will not be a more viable option unless it can be more in line with drive times (a 30-minute drive versus a 90-minute bus ride, for example). While it is currently cost-prohibitive, more frequency on routes would also help. Currently, only in urban cores would mass transit work more efficiently as long as there are viable multi-modal connections.

Q: How will you balance public health with economic and educational concerns going forward in this pandemic or the next one? What specific steps and strategies, from lockdowns to mask mandates, would you recommend or rule out if there is a new surge in deaths and hospitalizations?

A: The pandemic exposed many deficiencies in our health care and government operations as the government attempted to address safety concerns while dealing with lack of emergency preparedness. COVID-19 imposed upon our schools the monumental task of offering online education led by instructors who were not trained to do so, using curriculum that was not designed to be presented online and offered to students who did not choose to be educated online.

Students have suffered learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. This loss was significant in math and English language arts, and it was especially hard on low-income students and English language learners.

Since I am not a doctor, I don’t pretend to address the medical side; however, we need to make sure we do not lose sight of the personal rights, parental rights, local control, the doctor/patient relationship and other issues that were impacted and overridden by government mandates.

Vulnerable populations (elderly, incarcerated, communal living, schools) were impacted by lack of safety protocols and available personal protective equipment, as well as businesses that were forced to comply with confusing and ever-changing regulations and mandates that wreaked havoc on our economy and job base. We need to make sure we don’t overreach, but respond specifically for the sole protection of health and welfare, without stepping on constitutional rights.

Q: California has the strictest gun laws in the nation yet has had some of the nation’s worst mass shootings this year. What more, if anything, should be done to reduce gun violence in California?

A: Overreaching gun laws and bans that strip legal, law-abiding gun owners of their Second Amendment rights do not ensure public safety. Instead, supporting and fully funding law enforcement and making sure our public safety personnel have the tools they need to do their jobs is critical.

Q: California has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms in recent years. What would you change and why to ensure justice is equitable and effective?

A: We need to reduce the cycle of recidivism by addressing some key issues in the criminal justice space. Updating and expanding substance use and mental health treatments in prison, and especially after realignment, in local jails will help to break this cycle. The state’s criminal justice system is the largest mental health provider in California. We can do better.

Traumas, including adverse childhood experiences, must be addressed with the proper programs and treatments. Ensuring people in prison are rehabilitated during their time incarcerated will help to improve re-entry. Ninety-five percent of people in prison will be released into society at some point. Making sure they come home in a better state than they went in will improve community safety.

Q: What single change would you make to improve California’s K-12 public school systems?

A: Supporting parents and strengthening active parent participation in their children’s education will make for a better educational system.

Promote options to prepare for the 21st-century job market by allowing concurrent enrollment for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes. Also, grant high school STEM students access to local educational expertise by allowing them to enroll in community college courses. Promote STEM in the K-12 curriculum by allowing more opportunity for sequenced courses in computer science and programming.

Having school district employers provide professional development for their teachers is not among statutory state priorities under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) law. Even federal Title 2 funds for professional development are grant funds, so local education agencies (LEAs, such as county offices of education, school districts or charter schools) apply for those funds if they want them. Minimizing the need for professional development discourages a focus on this critical component of effective teaching and harms teachers.

Current law (the LCFF) pushes school finance decisions down to the district level, but there is no way to track how the money is allocated between schools or by identified priorities.

Q: Should taxes in California be increased? If so, which ones?

A: No. California is already one of the most unaffordable states to live in due to higher taxes and costs.

Q: What is the most important issue we have not raised and why?

A: Wildfires. California has just finished a record-breaking year of wildfires in 2021. With lack of rain and high, dry vegetation, this year is shaping up to be a bad fire season.

That is why I asked for and received almost $3 million in last year’s budget to help three local rural fire districts in San Diego County develop new fire stations and buy new brush apparatus.

Getting ahead of vegetation clearance and forest management will go a long way to prevention. As will raising awareness of vehicles pulling off the roadways sparking fires on road shoulders (which in recent years accounted for almost 25 percent of fires in San Diego County), working on getting more irrigated groves, removal of Mexican fan palms, undergrounding utility lines, trimming trees and brush along power lines, and increasing and supporting fire districts in getting the best equipment to fight fires and keep everyone safe.

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