Republican Mike Stoker thinks he’s got what it takes to win the 35th Assembly District seat in his race with Democrat Das Williams. Last week, Noozhawk talked with Stoker about the issues important to him, and the Nov. 2 election.
Stoker, 54, has spent a good 30 years working as a land-use expert and constitutional law attorney. He’s gotten involved in politics three times, he says, each when he has asked to step away from his private-sector job to do public service.
“Unlike my opponent, I’ve taken a pay decrease to serve,” said Stoker, adding that he hasn’t made public life a permanent way of earning an income.
“For the politician, it’s the best paying job they ever had, and they’re desperate to do whatever they have to,” he said. “The public servant … they’re doing it for the right reasons” and will usually take a pay cut.
“My whole background has been not even wanting to get involved with politics when times are good,” he said.
In the early 1990s, then-Gov. Pete Wilson asked Stoker to serve on the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and Stoker maintains that he helped turn around the scandal-ridden agency. In 2000, he served as deputy secretary of state. He also was elected to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, and is most proud of his term there.
“We transformed county government,” said Stoker, adding that the county had a $30 million deficit in the early 1990s and that he and his colleagues turned it into a $10 million surplus.
But he acknowledges that California, and its budget deficit, are mammoth challenges of a much bigger proportion.
“We are facing the biggest challenge of my lifetime,” he said.
Stoker is a native Californian, like Williams, and he says the state is last or nearly last on multiple fronts, among them education and job creation. He says $16 billion in business revenue has been lost since 2000 because of overregulation. If that hadn’t been allowed to evaporate, “we wouldn’t have a budget standoff.”
“California is notorious for passing so many dumb, stupid regulations, often in the name of the environment,” he said. “But that’s had a devastating effect on businesses.
“Only through our outrageous rules are we capable of turning deserts in Arizona and New Mexico into thriving cities.”
For financial solutions at the state level, Stoker recommends that 20,000 state employees be laid off, with the exception of public safety and teachers.
“The alternative is to raise taxes, and that’s not gonna happen because it takes a two-thirds vote to make that happen,” he said.
Stoker pointed to last year’s special election in which Proposition 1A asked taxpayers to boost California’s rainy-day fund by $10 billion, which would have come from increases in sales and use taxes, vehicle license fees and personal income tax. Statewide, 65.9 percent of voters opposed the measure, 64.9 percent in the county.
“They said not only ‘No’ but ‘Hell no! The gig’s up, now live within your means’,” he said.
Cutting at the state level instead of on the backs of schools, cities and counties is the real answer, said Stoker, who added that saying California has a revenue problem instead of a spending problem is the wrong approach. He said the state has never conducted a cost evaluation of the thousands of boards and commissions it has created, “because once the state creates something they never eliminate it.”
“(State workers) are only 6.2 percent of the entire labor force,” Stoker said. “Neither you nor I would notice in a second.”
Stoker thinks he can reach across the aisle to solve the state’s most pressing problems, and says he’s got Democrats, as well as independents, supporting his campaign.
“They know I’m a person who reaches out to work with anyone,” he said. “You contrast that with my opponent, who’s perceived as being about as partisan as they come. He’s never endorsed a Republican in his life. He’s already thinking like someone in the Legislature.”
Stoker said he walks the district’s neighborhoods every day, and people from all over the political spectrum can agree that the partisan gridlock in Sacramento must end.
“Coming out of this election, you’re going to find more mainstream-type candidates who work well together,” he said.
And working together on a solution can’t come too soon for Stoker.
“This system is going to crash, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse,” he said. “This is our opportunity.”
Click here for more information on the Stoker campaign.