MIKE STOKER: I have always answered the call to public service when it has arisen, and today California faces its biggest challenge yet. This is California’s last chance to get it right and return to the Golden State we once knew, and I believe I have the right experience to help turn Sacramento in the right direction.
In the 1980s, I led the fight to right-size our Santa Barbara County government by consolidating departments and programs, and as a result we turned a multimillion-dollar deficit into a multimillion-dollar surplus. For those efforts, I was recognized by Governing magazine as “Most Valuable Public Official in County Government in America” in 1993.
I answered the call again in the mid-1990s when Gov. Pete Wilson asked me to clean up the mess at the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Two years after being named chairman, the board’s integrity had been restored. In 2000, Secretary of State Bill Jones asked me to take on implementation of the Voting Modernization Act in all 58 counties. I did, and in 2002 returned to the private sector where I have always received greater compensation than the jobs I have accepted in the public sector.
Years of over-spending have caught up to Sacramento politicians who have no answers or solutions. Special deals for special interests have to stop. And partisan gridlock needs to be broken by electing people like myself who have a history of reaching out to everyone, regardless of party, to get the job done. The answer is not revising Proposition 13 as my opponent has advocated, but in creating jobs, cutting wasteful state spending and making education a top priority.
NOOZHAWK: What unique experience or expertise do you have that is lacking in Sacramento and will make a difference in the Legislature?
MS: I have a long record of results. As a result of my success in leading the fight for budget and regulatory reform as a county supervisor in the ‘80s, we turned a mutimillion-dollar deficit into a multimillion-dollar surplus. I accomplished this working, as I always have, in a bipartisan manner to get the job done. This is the tye of leadership and experience we need to truly make a difference in Sacramento. We need people committed to rolling up their sleeves and working across the aisle to get things done.
I was recently honored when nine current or formerly elected Democrats and Independents endorsed my candidacy because they know my record of being independent and working in a bipartisan manner. This was the first time in recent memory that anyone running for partisan office in Santa Barbara County had so many elected or former elected officials from the other side of the aisle endorsing a candidate of the other party.
NOOZHAWK: Where do you see yourself in seven years?
MS: Back in the private sector where I have always returned after getting the job done. Being your assemblyman means a pay decrease so I am not doing it for the paycheck. My philosophy is get in, get the job done and go back to the private sector.
NOOZHAWK: What is the most important aspect of California’s economy? How is Sacramento helping or hindering its success?
MS: The most important aspect of California’s economy is our small businesses; these are the engines of economic growth and are currently under attack by out-of-control regulations and high taxes. Another important aspect of our economy is our future workforce, which is why I support investing in our schools by requiring at least 80 percent of all education dollars go directly to the classroom. We must have an educated workforce if we are going to compete successfully in the global economy, particularly with India, China and the other Pacific Rim countries. That will require us to completely rethink how we are currently regulating small-, medium- and large-size businesses and taxing needed investments in new plants and equipment that are vital for new job creation.
California has lost 4 million jobs since 2000 as a result of over-regulation. Those 4 million jobs equated to a loss of $16 billion in this year’s budget. To talk about budget reform you need to talk about job creation. Unlike my opponent, who wants to focus only on jobs created through green energy, I want to expand jobs in all sectors. We are currently losing green companies to Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Texas due to our excessive regulations.
NOOZHAWK: California has been in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis for more than a decade. At $19 billion, this year’s budget deficit is among the nation’s worst. Sacramento is three months late adopting a budget as required by the state Constitution. How will you change this seeming dysfunction?
MS: Fortunately, since the California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of approval to raise taxes, they will not be raised after the voters sent a clear message against new taxes in the May 2009 special election — a message that we continue to hear today.
Unfortunately, we have a tough choice that needs to be made. We can either balance the budget by trimming state spending, or by balancing it on the backs of schools, cities and counties. This alternative means teachers and critical city and county employees get laid off. Far too often the unwillingness of Sacramento politicians to balance the budget at the state level has led to this option being exercised. I have called for a reduction of 20,000 state employees (6 percent of the total), exempting teachers in the UCs, CSUs and community colleges, as well as public safety.
Since 2004, we have actually added 79,000 state jobs and at no time during this recession have any state jobs been eliminated. While no one takes joy in laying others off, it’s time Sacramento stepped up and faced the same realities as the rest of us have in our own lives. Families, cities and counties are all cutting back, but Sacramento continues to spend while taking from those who are being more responsible. I have pledged to not vote for any budget that takes any money from schools, cities or counties. My opponent refuses to take the same pledge.
NOOZHAWK: Municipal officials throughout the state — including in Los Angeles and San Diego — are openly discussing bankruptcy as a way out of their bleak financial predicaments. What caused such distress? What’s the solution?
MS: The main problem is that previous budget deficits since 1991 have been balanced with one-time adjustments, financial gimmicks, or by wrongfully diverting funds from schools, cities and counties. I addressed this in a previous answer. I will not approve any future cuts or diversions. Most of our cities, if they could plan for no future cuts and diversions of funds to the state, would be able to deal with their own unique situations. In some cases there will be necessary cuts in services, in other cases it will be laying off employees.
But in all circumstances, if consensus is not forthcoming to balance the budget solely by focusing on state government and refusing to balance on the backs of schools, cities and counties, the situation for all these school districts and cities currently on the brink of bankruptcy will be catastrophic.
NOOZHAWK: Should public-employee benefits track the value of private-sector benefits? Why or why not?
MS: Yes. However, I would exempt public-safety employees because they literally put their lives on the line every day and there is no equivalent in the private sector. All other nonpublic-safety emplyees should be provided benefits that are equal to those received by their counterparts in the private sector.
NOOZHAWK: Amid the partisan divide in Sacramento, what steps will you take to work with legislators from the other caucus on behalf of your constituents and all Californians?
MS: As I mentioned previously, I have always worked in a bipartisan manner to get the job done, and I hope to be a role model for bipartisanship as your assemblyman.
NOOZHAWK: What policies do you or would you support to meet California’s current energy demand while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?
MS: Like my opponent, I support the PXP oil project. I believe we need to significantly expand tax credits for alternative-energy research and development, which will develop a more diverse array of energy sources.
And we need to significantly expand the use and availability of natural gas in California, particularly for transportation. Natural gas is why California’s electricity grid is one of the cleanest in the world, but we can make it even cleaner with the use of solar and wind energy.
NOOZHAWK: Do you support the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?
MS: Like my opponent, I, too, oppose Proposition 19. The problems of local government attempting to regulate marijuana have been negatively manifested when you see what has happened in the city of Santa Barbara with medical marijuana dispensaries. While my opponent has been the chief advocate for the dispensary owners and operators and has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from these individuals, I support banning these dispensaries in the city of Santa Barbara.
There is a reason Santa Barbara is the only city in the 35th Assembly District that allows dispensaries. When highly concentrated THC lollipops are ending up in our elementary schools and the pot sold in the dispensaries is ending up in drug busts in numerous other states, there is a problem. It is time that Santa Barbara join the other cities of the Central Coast and say no to medical marijuana dispensaries.
NOOZHAWK: Name your favorite place in the 35th Assembly District.
MS: Sitting on a boat in the Santa Barbara marina watching a sunset with a good glass of wine.
NOOZHAWK: Will you pledge to work to update California’s century-old newspaper adjudication law so that Noozhawk and other online-only news publications can publish legal notices?