Moderate Democrats Vying for the 16th Assembly District Find Much in Common

ELECTION 2014 | ASSEMBLY | 16TH DISTRICT |It wasn’t too long ago that Contra Costa County’s wealthy 16th Assembly District was a pinkish shade of red. Termed out Assemblymember Joan Buchanan is credited for turning the Lamorinda district blue, but following an outspoken stance by one of the candidates hoping to replace her decrying the havoc caused by a pair of BART strikes last year, the rift between left and right is again in the spotlight.

Steve Glazer

Last week, the three Democrats in the race, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, former Danville Mayor and current Councilmember Newell Arnerich and Steve Glazer, an Orinda council member who was Gov. Jerry Brown’s former campaign manager, discussed among other issues, the future of regional transportation strikes, raising the minimum wage and the legalization of cannabis in California. Also in the race, but not included in the Democratic candidate’s forum last Thursday in Lafayette, is Catherine Baker, a Republican, who is showing significant fundraising strength. According to campaign finance reports released last Friday, Baker raised nearly $124,000 during the last half of 2013, the most among the quartet of candidates. (Read below for complete campaign finance totals in the 16th Assembly District.)

Her potential to sneak into the top two next June between three moderate Democrats may be a reason for the strong push by Glazer to highlight angst among some in the Bay Area following successive BART strikes late last year that buckled transportation in the region. Glazer called BART management’s role in the strikes as “incompetent” and faulted them for agreeing to pay raises. “This was excess on all sides and we were held accountable for it,” said Glazer, who asserted other large cities around the country, including San Francisco, have moved to prohibit transportation unions from striking. “They decided–both Republicans and Democrats–that it’s not anti-union to say you can’t strike.”

Tim Sbranti

“Be careful what you wish for,” said Arnerich, who worried about ceding control of the negotiating process to an arbitrator. “By the way, then we have to live with us not having a say in what their new future contracts will be.” However, said Sbranti, tinkering with one group’s collective bargaining over another is a “slippery slope.” “Nobody benefits from a strike, however, when you look at what’s at stake, I think this is bad policy.” He questioned whether transportation affects the region’s health and safety, as it would police and fire labor negotiations. Transportation strikes are not the highest priority, said Sbranti, when more pressing needs exist such as parking at BART, its security and extending the line. “This effects BART on a daily basis, this, to me, is not one of those issues because it’s something that occurs infrequently.”

The discussion began with two candidates pressing their opponents to enter into various pledges. Glazer challenged Arnerich and Sbranti to disclose their answers to private union surveys they might fill out during the campaign. Later, Arnerich proposed a pledge against accepting money from outside special interests. There was no response by the candidates on either proposed pact.

All three presented somewhat nuanced answers to whether state and cities should raise the minimum wage. Arnerich and Sbranti say they support raises tied to inflation, while Glazer focused on the increased burden on small business owners. “Most of these jobs are being provided by small business people in our communities,” said Glazer, “I think you should talk to them. I think they’ll tell you things aren’t so grand.” However, Glazer called a desire for higher wages a “fair argument.”

Newell Arnerich

“I want to pay my employees as much as I can because I think they will work harder for that,” said Arnerich. He added the minimum wage issue is also a national issue since another state can undercut California’s higher minimum wage to attract companies seeking to pay lower wages. Sbranti also said wages should be indexed with inflation, “Otherwise, if you leave it flat, workers fall behind and inequality grows.” However, he too, realizes small businesses also have a burden, he said.

There was also tepid support for the possible legalization of cannabis in the state. Sbranti and Glazer urged for the state to take a “wait-and-see” approach and monitor the successes and unintended consequences that may arise from Washington and Colorado, two western states which recently approved legalization. However, Sbranti and Arnerich both offered standard tropes regarding the use of cannabis among teenagers. Sbranti, who is a high school teacher, said “I’ve literally seen lives ruined by marijuana.” He recounted some older students who expressed lament their drug use hampered their lives and identified marijuana as a “gateway drug” to their other addictions.

Although, Arnerich said legalization could save the state money on medical costs and financially hurt the local drug trade, he said society has not yet communicated the risks of using marijuana. “We’ve have told our youth it’s okay to use marijuana, but what we haven’t told them is all the repercussion of it and the responsibility that goes along with it.”

There was consensus among the candidates the state’s controversial high-speed rail project is imprudent during the state’s current financial situation. Sbranti called for “collective pause” on the project, while Arnerich and Glazer questioned the rush to move forward with the project devoid of initial funding.

Later, a Miramonte High School student asked the candidates whether taxes are too high. Glazer said, “Absolutely” and questioned whether taxes are being spent effectively. Arnerich agreed, saying state taxes have “probably reached its max.” Sbranti, though, advocated for an overhaul of state taxes, including a discussion on Proposition 13 and enacting a two-year budget process. “We’re always in crisis mode in California when it comes to budgeting,” said Sbranti, “and we need to get away from that.”

AD 16…….End Cash..2h-In…..2013-In…2h-Out….2013-Out

GLAZER……$329,074  $111,718  $357,440  $ 20,987  $ 29,072
BAKER…….$109,989  $123,920  $123,920  $ 18,436  $ 18,436

SBRANTI…..$ 94,203  $105,590  $218,345  $118,381  $140,163
ARNERICH….$ 72,941  $ 74,300  $124,313  $ 39,194  $ 51,373