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2010 Democratic Assembly Q&A with Das Williams

NOOZHAWK: What experiences from your professional or personal life make you uniquely qualified to be an Assembly member?

Das Williams
Das Williams

DAS WILLIAMS: I grew up in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, attending local public schools and solidifying my educational foundation before attending UC Berkeley, where I earned my BA in political science. I followed that up with a master’s in environmental science and management from UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

Much of my experience has been within the Santa Barbara and Ventura communities, whether it’s been as an educator, community organizer or Santa Barbara city councilman. As a councilman, I have worked tirelessly with my colleagues to find innovative, feasible solutions to attain our progressive policy goals. I have helped pass some of the toughest energy-efficiency standards that will result in more than 31 percent of the city’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2011 while putting in place environmental preservation safeguards and fighting to stop oil drilling. I have worked to improve the quality of life for those within my community, improving public transportation to reduce traffic and pollution and our local education system through the expansion of after-school programs and protection of local jobs. While all of these are vital yet ambitious policy areas, I have found ways of implementing successful policy in each of them without resorting to layoffs or cuts to vital services and maintaining a balanced budget.

In addition to my work as an elected official, I am an instructor at Antioch University Santa Barbara and a community organizer for CAUSE, a Ventura-based nonprofit, and led the group’s efforts to stop a proposed Walmart development in Ventura. I also serve as a trustee of Peabody Charter School and as a national board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

NOOZHAWK: With all of California’s fiscal challenges, why are you running now?

DW: As an educator, a local school board member and a city council member for the last seven years, I’ve seen firsthand the damage done by cuts-only budgets and people in Sacramento having the wrong priorities. Class sizes are growing, teachers are being laid off, and every year it is becoming more difficult for local governments to provide the services that people rely on to function and thrive as healthy communities.

Now more than ever we need leadership in Sacramento that has the right priorities, knows how to build consensus, understands what our local communities need, and will work until we achieve the right solution — not an easy short-term fix. Here locally, we’ve had a lot of success in fixing the city’s budget without eviscerating vital services, and on the school board I sit on, fixing our budget without laying off teachers and keeping resources in the classroom where they belong.

There’s no reason we can’t do the same in Sacramento. In the Assembly, I will work hard for my community and ensure that every child has the opportunity for a high-quality education. I will work to create good, family-supporting jobs, expand access to affordable health care and find real solutions, not short-term gimmicks to our state budget crisis.

NOOZHAWK: What is California’s most pressing issue?

DW: We need to restore the quality and affordability of our public education system. I believe this is the single most important long-term issue before the Legislature right now. In the Assembly, I will not only personally vote against further cuts to education, but will work to build coalitions of Democrats who will hold the line on this issue. Additionally, I will focus on forging the consensus needed to pass the revenue increases that can be achieved through a majority vote. I strongly believe that we need leadership in the Legislature that will work to restore the damage and build coalitions that will move our Democratic values of fairness and opportunity forward.

NOOZHAWK: Is the partisan divide in Sacramento insurmountable? How would you overcome it?

DW: It is not completely insurmountable. The most effective legislators, even the most liberal, have built relationships with people on the other side of the aisle. I have a history of building coalitions and getting support from all sides. For example, I currently serve as president of the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, a regional water agency. This is a very diverse board and we come from all over the ideological spectrum. We have been able to work toward effective goals, and I have been honored to serve as a consensus-building president over such an ideologically diverse body to deliver results to our constituents. In the Assembly I will strive to build a similar consensus and results for the 35th District and the state.

NOOZHAWK: Many financial experts call California’s state government employee pension levels unsustainable. Do you agree? How would you resolve the situation?

DW: Pensions and defined benefits have become polar issues, not because a retired firefighter or police officer lives a good life after retirement but because top administrators and department heads often receive such disproportionately large benefits. In the Assembly, I would support reforms such as ant-spiking legislation that would prohibit individuals from inflating their pension by taking on large amounts of overtime or unfairly increasing their salaries during their final year of employment.

NOOZHAWK: What three things should Sacramento do to get California’s economy moving? If you’re elected, how will you help implement them?

DW: Invest in renewable energy to help build a green economy and create new good-paying jobs as well as reinvest and prioritize our education system. The thing that made California so great was our world-class education system, an education system that was the envy of the world. I was fortunate enough to grow up having good public schools and great teachers. I also had great teachers at SBCC, who helped me secure a scholarship to UC Berkeley and I went on to earn a graduate degree from UCSB. Growing up in poverty, I would not have been able to become the person I am now, or enjoyed the many opportunities in my life, if it weren’t for the public school system.

Every child, regardless of where they grow up, deserves access to the same educational opportunities that helped me succeed. For our state and children to remain competitive in the 21st-century economy, we are going to need the best schools and best teachers. We will meet that challenge not only by securing necessary education funding, but also by ensuring that teachers are not hamstrung and can have the opportunity to provide students with an enriched educational experience so they are prepared to compete in an increasingly competitive economy.

The greatest environmental challenge of our generation and opportunity for economic growth is to end our dependence on fossil fuels and make a steady and speedy transition to alternative energies. The transition to alternative energy presents many opportunities in the form of a healthy environment and future energy cost savings as well as economic growth. On the Santa Barbara City Council I have spearheaded efforts to move the city and our region in a new energy direction. Santa Barbara is on pace to become 31 percent renewable by sometime in 2010 — a significant accomplishment that is being reached through sustained investment in renewable energy sources, a commitment to energy-efficiency programs and consistent reduction in fuel use. Our local success in making the transition to alternative energy and becoming a sustainable city has been difficult as we have grappled with financial, operational and organizational challenges. However, our commitment to this transition has and will continue to have positive environmental and economic benefits. This transition has generated local green jobs, encouraged technological innovation and spurred a local renewable-energy technology industry. We must maintain our commitment locally and regionally to move toward alternative energy as a path toward not only greater environmental stewardship but economic growth that will create jobs for the 21st century.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support offshore oil drilling in California? Why or why not?

DW: Absolutely not. The future of our planet and the health of our communities are dependent on an energy strategy that ends the use of fossil fuels and speeds up the transition to clean renewable energy. That means we must do everything possible to not only stop new oil drilling, but put an end to existing oil drilling.

I have had one goal and one goal only throughout my career: to end oil drilling permanently. I grew up on the Central Coast and, like so many others in this community, we have lived with the constant threat that oil drilling poses on a daily basis. Not only must we work to do everything possible to end drilling for the sake of the environment and public health and safety, but make a steady and persistent transition to a clean-energy future. As a legislative aide for former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, I helped write landmark legislation that ended the practice of transporting oil from oil rigs by tanker, therefore significantly reducing the risk of oil spills. I also helped craft a resolution calling on the federal government to terminate all offshore oil leases. As a city councilman I have staunchly opposed all oil development off our coast, including the current proposal by Venoco to build an onshore oil rig in the city of Carpinteria. Here in the city of Santa Barbara, we have had much success in transitioning to green, alternative energy sources and helping reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Since I was first elected in 2003, we have more than doubled the city’s use of renewable energy and created tough energy-efficiency standards.

The very oil rig that erupted in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969 and spewed 3 million gallons of oil on our coast operates to this very day.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?

DW: I support the taxation and regulation of marijuana for legitimate purposes — much as medical use. Current law regarding medical marijuana use is severely inadequate and impedes the safe regulation of marijuana. We must first focus on improving mechanisms improving the effectiveness of marijuana regulation and ensure that establishments are taxed, properly permitted, audited and regulated before we move forward.

NOOZHAWK: Which California historical figure do you admire most, and why?

DW: Phil Burton. The late U.S. congressman had a thirst for justice and always stood up for poor people and the environment. He was well skilled at using the levers of government and his power to help working people.

NOOZHAWK: Should a Noozhawk replace the California valley quail as our state bird?

DW: As long as you can provide me with a specimen so I can verify it’s a native species.

Additional Resources

Click here for Das Williams’ campaign Web site

Click here for Democratic Assembly candidate Susan Jordan’s answers.

Here are the answers from the two candidates seeking the Republican Party’s 35th Assembly District nomination:

» Daniel Goldberg

» Mike Stoker

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