Rob Bonta, Abel Guillen

ELECTION ‘12//ASSEMBLY 18 | With the days tumbling quickly towards election day, 18th Assembly District candidates Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen unfurled noticeable shades of populism during a forum Wednesday night in San Leandro.

Both progressives stances came into sharp relief on the subject of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform bill quickly passed by the Legislature at the end of the August session. The problem is not $2,000-per-month pensioners, said Guillen. “We should be going after the managers, folks who are CEOs of hospital district with high salaries. That’s what I would have gone after first.” Earlier on a question regarding the possible closure of San Leandro Hospital, Guillen mocked the CEO of Sutter Health, the owner of the facility for making “$10,000-per-minute, or something like that.” Guillen’s opposition to the governor’s bill bled into a second question when he said, “Instead of beating up public employees, we need to look at the private sector and for them to say, ‘Hey, how come I don’t have pension, also?’ We should all have pensions, don’t you think?”

Bonta added rushing a bill through the Legislature late at night and at the last minute is “not a recipe for good legislation.” “It totally does an end-around the good faith public bargaining process at the heart of rights for working families,” said Bonta. Both of his parents receive $30,000-a-year pensions, he told the audience and he is working on his own for the future. “We owe it to hard-working employees to provide the pension that was promised to them.”

A similar tone of populist anger also crept into a discussion of making funding for schools more equitable. San Leandro and Alameda both lie at the bottom for funding per students in the entire county. San Leandro students, for instance, bring in nearly $1,000 less per student in school funding than children in the Tri Valley. “The formula we have now for receiving funding from the state is archaic, outdated; it’s inefficient,” said Bonta, whose children were plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for chronically underfunding mandated school services. “Different district have different challenges and resources need to be allocated accordingly,” he added, such as district’s with disproportionate numbers of low-earning family, second language learners and large achievement gaps. “We’re going the wrong way, guys. But, I think you know that with where we’re headed with our public schools,” he said.

Guillen, whose background is in finance and also sits as a trustee on the Peralta Community College board said he has seen the inequities of state funding across the state. However, at one point, he drew quizzical looks from some in the audience when he said, “I worked down in Bakersfield, down in the Central Valley and there was school district—I thought we had bad schools down here–but this one particular school, literally, in their classroom, they only had one electrical outlet in the classroom.” Afterwards, Guillen said he misspoke and was only referring to the state of decay he witnessed down south and not to disparage local area schools. Guillen also said he would move to change the formula for distributing state funding to schools. “You’re educational outcome should not be based on where you live,” he said. Like Bonta, Guillen also supports Measure L, the San Leandro Unified School District’s $39 school parcel tax on the November ballot.

Later, a bit of hypothetical thinking may have provided a fresh insight into how either candidate would perform on the fly, if elected to the Assembly. On a question that assumes Proposition 30, the governor’s sales tax measure fails this November, both discussed how they would move to plug the potentially enormous budget short fall. Prop. 30 won’t improve things, said Bonta, but it ensures the state’s budget situation won’t get worse. He added Brown could call for lame duck session of the Legislature or quickly prepare for another ballot measure in the near future. They could also wait until December and call in the new fresh-faced Legislature, he posited. “Get the new legislators, once they are sworn in to the table to try to do what is the state’s job. What it has failed to do time and time again, which is create a balanced budget to address the cost side and the revenue side.”

At no other time did Guillen become more animated than when he described disgust with Sacramento’s inability to function smoothly. “They can’t make deals, so they come to us to decide,” said Guillen. “It’s the Legislature’s job to make those tough decisions.” He would also try to work with those across the aisle. “Those Republicans in Kern County love their kids as much as we do up here,” he said. To help increase the chances of passing Prop. 30, Guillen said voters needs to know exactly where each dollar is going within their specific municipality. “And that will bring government closer to home.”