(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited and paraphrased for brevity and clarity.)
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Contra Costa County in the foothills of Mount Diablo in the city of Concord. I went to Clayton Valley High School and had the quintessential California childhood. Nothing out of the ordinary. My parents were both in sales. I went to public schools and had a wonderful childhood enjoying the area and the sunshine.
After high school I went to Cal State Northridge largely because several of my friends were going there. I’d say living through the Northridge earthquake altered my life.
Tell us about your years in college?
At Northridge, after the earthquake, I was involved in rebuilding the community and putting things back together. In fact after the earthquake I ran for student body vice president as a write-in candidate. I won and that got me more involved in working in the community. The enduring challenge of rebuilding the community did change me and helped form my philosophy. Ultimately I served as student body president and then became the chairman of the California State Student Association, representing all 23 schools at the state level, and 400,000 students. I ended up graduating from college with a degree in political science.
What did you first do after college?
After about a year out of college I had the opportunity to take a job at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey with the knowledge that I could apply for admission to the program after working. To me that was good enough incentive to take the position. I did end up studying international relations, which I’d actually been interested in since middle school. That led to my first job which was working with a company on a software program to monitor humanitarian data. The funding came from two foundations — one headed by George Bush and the other by George Soros. Those two men have almost nothing in common except the same first name, yet they were able to come together to push forward a good idea.
Working there helped shaped my philosophy that the best ideas and the best policy can come from either side of the aisle. And that we should all be working for the best ideas and the best outcomes regardless of who advances the idea.
How did you first get into the political arena?
I fell in love and got married and we decided to move to my wife’s area and raise our family there. That led me to enter public life at the local level. I was initially involved in an issue surrounding a local park, which led me to running for the San Rafael City Council.
I did not have a grand scheme to run for the legislature but when I saw who was trying to represent our area — someone who had just moved into the district — I thought we could do better with someone who knew the community and had lived there and worked in the community. So I decided to run.
In the 10th District, California’s new open primary system was put to good use as two Democrats faced off. Being considered the more moderate of the two, you won the election with a lot of support on the right side of center. Is there a responsibility that comes with that?
I do feel a special responsibility to represent everyone in my district. I come to Sacramento with the belief that every constituent deserves representation. It is my job to represent the people in the North Bay and find common ground among the various factions.
I also believe that the values of the voters in my district are not that different than voters across the state. Of course, the North Bay has a reputation of being different but I don’t think we are. For example, in November, we passed a measure that increased the sales tax and uses part of that increase to preserve agricultural land within our district. The people here care deeply about local agriculture and preserving that way of life. I don’t think we are that much different in that respect than the people in the Central Valley.
You are now part of a Super Majority in the Assembly as the Democrats have enough votes to pass whatever they would like and survive a veto. How do you see that position playing out?
There is a tremendous responsibility that comes with that new power. People all over the state voted for their individual assemblymember or state senator, they did not vote specifically for a Super Majority. We have to be very careful how we use that new found muscle that we now have. For example, the people of California voted for Proposition 30 (an increase in taxes for the highest income earners). This affects the entire state and the people are going to be watching us very closely to see how we use that money and to make sure that we do make education whole again.
Do you come to your new office with a specific agenda? Was there one issue that has driven you while you’ve held elective office?
I started at the local level so I have a great appreciation of how poorly Sacramento has treated local cities as well as local school districts. I am very much interested in reversing those trends. Sacramento can’t rob the cities and the school districts every time it wants money. The Legislature does have a bad reputation with the people and it is deserved. We need to rebuild that trust. Hopefully I will have 12 years to earn that respect back.
What is your view of the role agriculture plays in this state?
Agriculture is number one. It has a huge impact on the economy and the jobs in this state. I was backed by the local farm bureau and I very much value the contributions agriculture makes to our community. In the North Bay we very much appreciate agriculture and the great quality of agricultural products we have in this state that deliver great nutritional value to the people.
What is your view of immigration reform?
We need comprehensive immigration reform but it must come from the federal government. I very much hope that happens.
Our readers produce the best fruits and vegetables in the country. Are you a consumer of our products? And do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable?
Absolutely, I am a big consumer of fruits and vegetables and I always have been. Here in the North Bay we love our local agriculture and have always shopped, bought and eaten locally. California has the best and most delicious produce and I appreciate that. Right before I called you, I ate an apple. I’d say my favorite vegetable is broccoli and my kids love it too.
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