By Nick Goodrich
On Thursday, October 13th, a candidates’ forum for Tim Grayson and Mae Torlakson in the East Bay’s 14th Assembly District (AD) was hosted at Concord’s Crowne Plaza by the East Bay Leadership Council. It included questions from the audience, and outlined the candidates’ positions on key issues and upcoming legislation. The forum also presented an opportunity for the two Democrats to lay out their priorities and goals, if elected to the 14th AD. Council President and CEO Kristin Connelly served as the moderator.
Grayson, a current member of the Concord City Council and former Mayor of Concord, said in his opening statement that he is focused on making positive changes that include fiscal responsibility.
“Our state leaders have lacked vision,” he stated, while promising to find ways to make changes that don’t include new taxes. “It’s their first practice to raise taxes, but we can’t continue to kick the can down the road.”
Torlakson is serving her third term on the Ambrose Recreation and Parks District, and is also a manager in the MESA program, which helps disadvantaged California students pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Her top priority is education, and opened the forum by promising to pursue accessible and affordable education for all Californians.
When asked why she wanted serve in the State Assembly, Torlakson replied, “I want to help people. I especially want to help students all over California succeed in STEM…I will use my experience in education and the Ambrose Recreation and Parks District to find a quality of life for everyone, and help them pursue their California Dream.”
Torlakson also spoke on the issue of gun control, saying she would support “common sense gun regulations, background checks for all gun purchases, and closing the gun show loophole” if elected.
For his part, Grayson’s focus on fiscal responsibility was a major factor in his decision to run for Assembly. He cited his successful term as Mayor, during which he brought 1,700 jobs to the city and balanced its $90 million budget.
“I will focus on jobs, economic development, fiscal responsibility, education, and public safety,” he told the audience.
Continuing his statements on fiscal responsibility, Grayson promised to find effective ways to support schools in California that do not necessarily involve new taxes. His focus was more on finding out what is draining California’s current revenue streams, rather than generating more through taxation.
“It comes down to reform not just in the form of revenue, but what our unfunded liabilities and our debts are,” Grayson responded when asked how he would seek to reform the state’s education funding.
He used Proposition 30 as an example, calling it “nothing but a Band-Aid”, and that extensions of Prop 30 and similar propositions are “just bigger Band-Aids” that continue to tax Californians with less-than-effective results. Grayson supports more local control in education, allowing individual school boards to deal with problems on their own terms, with limited interference from the state.
Torlakson also supports local control, but unlike Grayson, promised to fight for increased funding that may involve new taxes if necessary.
When speaking on education funding, her focus was on getting the community to invest more in its students, which involves hiring quality teachers, increasing technology in schools, and attracting businesses to California graduates. She suggested a mentoring program that would increase the performance of California students.
Job growth in Contra Costa County was another area that the two candidates were asked to speak on. Grayson said that job growth was dependent on first accomplishing three things: minimizing the County’s debt, maximizing its economic development, and strengthening its infrastructure.
Then, he said, you support small business—which provide 36% of California’s jobs—by easing regulations and providing them with more resources and capital. By doing this, Grayson said, the County “will allow for an environment of growth and support.”
Torlakson posited that a university right here in Contra Costa County would attract jobs.
“Universities are business magnets,” she said, and stated that the County has the potential to be another Silicon Valley if it could build a four-year university in the area.
The candidates sparred over questions on rent control, housing, and Torlakson’s accusation that Grayson had accepted lobbying money while in office, before being asked for their stance on upcoming California legislation in a rapid-fire round.
At the time of the forum, Tim Grayson supported Propositions 52, 53, 54, 56, 58, 59, and 63, and opposed Propositions 57 and 64; he took no position on Proposition 61.
Mae Torlakson supports Propositions 52, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 63, and 64, and opposes Propositions 53 and 54.
Both candidates support Measure X, but differed on Measure RR, which Torlakson supported, but Grayson opposed.
The candidates also took positions on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Both Grayson and Torlakson believed that the possibility of reforming the Act was possible and perhaps needed, but wanted further study of the issue in order to point out what specifically they would recommend changing.
“It’s working to the best of its design,” said Grayson and Torlakson told the audience, “I believe in it.”
A large transportation bill put forth by Assemblyman Jim Frazier and State Senator Jim Beall was another topic.
Torlakson believes the gas tax proposed by the bill “is too high”, and suggested letting the voters decide whether to approve of the bill, which would raise an additional $3.6 billion annually in tax revenue.
Grayson, however, said he would support the bill.
“It is economically development-minded,” he said.
To better fund transportation, Grayson promised to look at problems with CalTrans, which he claimed has redundant jobs and projects to the tune of $500 million per year. Getting rid of these inefficiencies and poor spending practices, he said, would allow us to use the savings to fund what we need, rather than continue raising taxes long-term.
To close the forum, the candidates were asked a rather interesting question: If you were all-powerful in Sacramento, and could enact whatever tax reform you wanted to, what would you do, and why?
In his answer, Grayson described the California tax system as “narrow and deep.”
“It’s like a funnel, and it’s getting narrower,” he told the audience. Grayson stated that he would call together major business players, elected officials, and education leaders to discuss how best to spread out the tax burden equally and fairly. This, he said, would result in less of a burden on everybody, which would help stimulate the state economy. He included the erasure of unfunded liabilities in his answer, as well.
Torlakson said her first priority would be to help education, and would increase the budget in that area and raise taxes accordingly.
“We’re not giving enough to education, because it’s the key to prosperity,” she said. “Investing in our future is what we need.”
The hard-fought Grayson-Torlakson race will come to a head when California residents cast their votes in the November elections, with the winner will begin a two-year term in the State Assembly the following month.