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Face to Face with Four Democrats Who Want Your Vote (Part II)

Candidates for the 51st Assembly District share their views on partisanship, the one accomplishment they're most proud of in their careers—and what they'd do if they became speaker of the California legislature.

Earlier Friday Patch presented the first installment of a TERA-sponsored Q&A with four Democratic candidates vying to represent the 51st District in the California Assembly.

In this concluding installment of the Q&A with Arturo Chavez, Jimmy Gomez, Oscar Gutierrez and Luis Lopez, we bring you excerpts from answers the candidates gave in response to what we believe were the three most interesting questions they were asked in the April 25 forum:

Question: “Would you ever concede an ideological principle to arrive at the solution to a problem?

Lopez: In order to get things done in Sacramento, you need to govern in coalition. You need to bring together multiple constituencies—you can’t do it alone, you can’t say, ‘this way or the highway’—you have to ensure that you engage people, that you bring them together, that you hear arguments and, yes, that there is compromise where there can be so that you can get things done. The real problem is that our politics are dominated by interests. I want you to know that I’ve raised my money largely from individuals—I have raised over $225,000 primarily from individuals. I am not the Sacramento candidate in this field. I am not the guy coming out of machine politics. My candidacy is being fueled by the people in this Assembly district. I think that’s the kind of politics we need in Sacramento.

Chavez: There is a lot of partisanship in Sacramento, it’s difficult to negotiate with some of the individuals—you do have to reach across the aisle. But to compromise on an ideological principle to try to get some of these people on board, it depends … . And I talk about that because I am a Democrat and Republicans sign the ‘No Tax’ pledge … it’s like saying you’re going to buy the house but you’re not going to fix the kitchen: I’m not going to fix it because you’ve taken a pledge that you’re going to stay the same way all the time. Of course, it’s leaking like crazy, like a sieve, and it’s coming apart when you walk in, but you took a pledge not to take care of the kitchen—and that’s what’s happened. So you can’t make any kind of agreements when people take those types of pledges. So you have to be more open if you’re going to solve the kind of problems that are out there.

Gutierrez: I believe that everybody has at least one good idea, and if we can pool those one good ideas into a big pot of good ideas—that’s what I believe. So I’m more than willing to talk to anybody about an issue, listen to what they have, assess the issue, and make the best judgment basically by looking at the issue at hand. In terms of what’s going on in Sacramento, I think we have a communications breakdown. You have the speaker of the Assembly and the other groups doing almost everything you can think of within a slight chance of being completely unethical—and then revert back to some virtue and pretend that they’re helping the community. I kind of think, well, where’s the essence of what government really is? I think government really is—you. I have to listen to you. It’s not the other way around, where we go up there and tell you what to listen to. If you’re looking for someone who’s multi-partisan, bipartisan, whatever, that’s me.

Gomez: In my professional life and even my personal life, I live by a simple motto, which is: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This happens often when people are holding out for legislation that is perfect or a program that is perfect. And what they fail to accomplish is what is good for the community or the family. You have to compromise when necessary. But when it comes to certain issues, you do have to stand up. And in Sacramento, it’s unfortunate, not a lot of people share that philosophy. They want it all—they believe that they are right and everybody else is wrong. It’s very difficult to negotiate with somebody who says that what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine. When you’re negotiating with individuals like that, you’re never going to get anything done. So, sometimes you have to dig in your heels and push forward with the votes that you can get together, to live up to the values of the district that you represent.  

Question: If you were the speaker of the California Assembly, what would initially be your primary goal?

Chavez: I think the best thing to do is to get everybody on board to create jobs in the state of California. Of course, I would push my program, which would be jobs, education, public safety. Those are the three things that “I’ve been trying to work on, that I’ve been working on.

Gutierrez: The thing I’d do is to implement a code of ethics so that both sides of the house—Republicans and Democrats and everybody in between—would have to sign an ethics pledge. We’ve had members of the Assembly who’ve been caught for drunk driving, we’ve had members of the Assembly who’ve been caught for shoplifting. That would be something I would want to stop right there. Second would be stop all out-of-state junkets that are hosted or provided by political action committees. 

Gomez: I want to work on education, job creation and healthcare coverage. Jobs are the great equalizer. If a parent doesn’t have to work four to five jobs, like my mother and father had to make ends meet, then they can be at home in time to take care of the kids, to make sure that they’re studying and are on the right path. So we need to create jobs, and one good way to do that is to support our entertainment and television and theater industry. We have the highest per capita individuals working in the entertainment industry here in Northeast L.A. than in any other district in the entire state. These are the grips and the gaffers—the industry’s backbone—and we need to keep their jobs here.

So, job creation is Number One. Number Two is education. If you don’t have the skills necessary to achieve those jobs, then you’re not going to be able to get those jobs. So we have to reinvest in our K-12, we have to reinvest in our community colleges, and make sure that the job-creation at those universities is in line with those industries that are developing. Healthcare: We have lost hardly any jobs in the healthcare industry during this recession. Kaiser has hardly laid off any individuals—and now they’re preparing to rehire.

Lopez: I’ve been working for the last 10-11 years in nonprofit healthcare. It’s my passion, it’s what I know, and as I look at this endeavor of mine in running to represent you in the Assembly, should I have the opportunity to also serve in a leadership position, I would want to be true to that vision that I have—to be part of reforming our healthcare, reducing costs over time, making sure that we expand access to as many people as we possibly can so that it does not bankrupt our families and our state. Of course, we have jobs to create and these things are not mutually exclusive—we have a growing sector in healthcare, we have to have people well trained in the pipeline to take those jobs as primary care physicians, which we have a shortage of, as nurses, which we have a shortage of—and these people should be coming from our communities. We should be making sure that they’re graduating from your high schools, that they’re getting through our colleges and our universities—right here in El Sereno and East L.A. and Echo Park.

Question: In your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of? And if possible, what would you do differently?

Gutierrez: I’m very proud of the many years I’ve served as a private individual in the broadcast[ing] industry. I’ve done almost everything you can think of—I’ve worn many different hats at various radio stations and companies. But I think the most proud thing I’ve done is my volunteering. I don’t talk about it much. I’ve volunteered with various groups to register Latinos to vote. I volunteer with various groups, raising money for cancer. I’ve been a big supporter of the Red Cross.

Gomez: For a kid who started out as a sandwich artist to end up working with nurses and different professionals is something that I’m proud of. I was hired with the nurses in ’09 to build a program to give nurses and healthcare professionals a louder voice in the legislative and political process. To exercise that voice and expand healthcare, to make sure that patients are put before profits. I’m also proud that I went back to teach at a community college. Most teachers in high school never thought I was going to go to college—it was that community college that gave me that second chance. I actually spent my time not only to teach kids the skills to pass their class but also the skills necessary to improve their lives. A lot of times, the opportunities we have are right in front of us, but we can’t see them because of how we grew up. It’s inspiring to see what might be right in front of them—that they just need to reach out and take advantage of it. So I am most proud of those three things that I’ve accomplished, and when I get to Sacramento, I’m going to continue focusing on those three things and seeing if I can make a difference at just a different level.

Lopez: For me, interestingly, it’s not about the professional work I’ve done in healthcare. It’s about the advocacy I’ve done around marriage equality. I did not happen to be one of the 18,000 same-sex couples who got married. I worked for eight years, forming an organization to work in Latino communities specifically to raise awareness about the need for equal rights. Since Prop. 8, we’ve moved the needle tremendously and I’m proud to have had some role in doing that at least here locally.

Chavez: I’m proud of several things. I started my own business—there were only two people and a couple of thousand dollars. The other thing I’m proud of is that I started a program called Young Senators. We recruited high school students from the district. For the last five years I’ve funded the program by raising money through a nonprofit and we have an eight-month program of volunteer work for these students, and at the end of that time we took the students up to Cal State Sacramento for two nights, three days. They were able to debate bills on the floor of the Senate and meet with legislators and get outside of the area they grew up in. Many of those students are now going to college, and seeing those students this summer was my proudest moment.

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