There are two candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot running for a two-year term to represent this Assembly district: Republican Assemblymember Randy Voepel and Republican business owner/Assemblymember Marie Waldron. Here are Waldron’s answers to a 14-question survey The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board emailed candidates.
Q: Why do you want this job and what would be your top priority?
A: As a parent, business owner and public servant, I can’t just stand on the sidelines. California has become unaffordable, our schools are failing our children, housing prices are squeezing the middle class, and our homelessness crisis is worsening.
A top reelection priority of mine is working to make California more affordable. I want my son to have the same opportunities that I had in the Golden State and for families to be able to work, live and thrive here. While affordability is at the top of the list, I also want those struggling with addiction or mental health issues to receive real treatment and get off the streets, and I want our communities to be safe. All these things require elected officials to put party aside and come to the table, something I have done time and time again on issues that matter, such as criminal justice, affordable housing and mental health.
Q: What is the biggest accomplishment of your career?
A: In the 2021-22 budget cycle, I was able to attain almost $13 million for five fire districts in my Assembly district — the Valley Center Fire Protection District, the North County Fire Protection District, the Rincon Fire Department, the Deer Springs Fire Protection District and the San Marcos Fire Department.
Legislatively, my work in health care access, especially in the area of mental health and substance abuse treatment, has been very successful. As vice chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, I work every day immersed in health care policy, trends and innovations in treatment and patient advocacy. I also serve on the bipartisan mental health caucus and the Stanford University five-year initiative on addiction and the brain. In mental health, the lack of providers, inadequate funding and stigma are huge obstacles to getting people into treatment.
Each year, I author and co-author legislation to make it easier to access care, including advocating for increased workforce training for treatment specialists, increasing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for physicians, and mandating timely access turnaround times for treatment and referrals with a mental health specialist.
Because substance use disorder is a major issue in our criminal justice system, I have worked hard to create treatment programs to prevent overdose, recidivism and death upon reentry into society. I also created a state grant through Assembly Bill 653 in 2021, which was funded this year with $10 million to provide counties with medication-assisted treatment for incarcerated individuals in county jails which have been impacted since Assembly Bill 109 realignment.
My business has hired previously incarcerated individuals for many years, and I have seen firsthand the impact of opioid drugs on those struggling with the barriers to reentry.
Last legislative session, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law my bill, Assembly Bill 1304. The bill incentivized parolees to participate in medically assisted treatment reentry incentive programs by providing reduced parole sentences to eligible parolees who complete specified periods of treatment.
Assembly Bill 1304 has saved and will save lives by reducing overdoses, improving reentry success and reducing recidivism. Our state needs to stay on track to continue to pursue proven solutions to support the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated individuals who are faced with addiction disorders and substance abuse to avoid more homelessness and crime.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the changing climate. What would you support to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California?
A: California leads the way in addressing climate concerns. It is important to make sure we keep a reasonable balance with economic issues. What is good for the environment can be good for business if we do it right. Investments in new technologies and supporting innovative solutions that help as well as create new breadwinner jobs is a healthy balance. For example, tackling big impact issues like making sure we address vegetation clearance and forest management can prevent the tragic wildfires we have experienced which undo decades of climate action.
My bill, Assembly Bill 1447, signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, will reduce carbon emissions at roadway intersections by synchronizing traffic signals to avoid needless idling. Funded through the greenhouse gas fund, sustainable projects can receive grant funding to synchronize traffic signals in real time.
Q: Assess what the state is doing now to address the drought. What would you do differently?
A: California voters overwhelmingly approved funding for water storage in 2014, yet bureaucracy and red tape have delayed any substantial projects. As it stands, a major reservoir in Northern California that could provide water for over 1 million households a year has yet to be built, and dilapidated canals in our valley remain unrepaired. It has been decades since the state has built any substantial state water projects, so it’s past time to put this money to use. Lack of political and environmental regulations continue to stall projects with red tape. Without changing the bureaucratic and legal hurdles blocking new projects, efforts to create additional storage capacity and water resources will continue to stall.
Q: The California Air Resources Board has adopted a policy that would ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. What would you do to ease the transition to electric vehicles and ensure affordability, equity and practicality?
A: California’s energy grid can’t withstand heat waves as it is. I voted in support of a measure this year to help create a stable grid by keeping the Diablo Canyon power plant open, as it currently supplies nearly 9 percent of the state’s power. This is a move in the right direction, and I will continue to work to ensure our energy grid is first stable, so those with electric vehicles can charge them, and so we are prepared to handle an increase in demand.
In 2018, I voted in favor of Senate Bill 1000, which charged state agencies with accelerating electric-vehicle infrastructure investments, ensuring accessibility and mitigating increased costs on rate payers. If reelected, I will continue to support similar measures to ensure California is prepared, and our families aren’t the ones hit with increasing costs.
Q: What can the state do to get more people to use public transit?
A: What works for San Francisco commuters does not work for San Diego County commuters. Making transit accessible and efficient is difficult as our region is less dense than major cities on the East Coast. While effective public transit as it stands is costly, greater route frequency would encourage more ridership.
Having served on the North County Transit District Board of Directors for eight years, I understand that efficiencies of service, convenience for riders and constantly looking at route improvements are key to increasing ridership. Making transit accessible and efficient is difficult as California’s topography and development is much more widespread than the more congested cities on the East Coast. Mass transit will not be a more viable option unless it can be more in line with drive times (a 30-minute drive versus a 90-minute bus ride, for example). While it is currently cost-prohibitive, more frequency on routes would also help. Currently, only in urban cores would mass transit work more efficiently as long as there are viable multi-modal connections. We need to be planning 25-50 years out to create a workable system.
Q: Housing affordability is a huge issue in California. What can you do to help renters or homeowners who are struggling now?
A: San Diego County is one of the most expensive regions in the country to buy a house or rent it. This is unacceptable. That’s why I support expediting new housing construction, especially infill and renovating and urban renewal in the urban cores and cutting red tape that holds up development year after year. Additionally, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been used as a weapon against development and can hold up projects for years. It’s been so dramatically abused that the state will exempt projects like sports stadiums and the Capitol annex project from CEQA in order to build projects on time and on cost. If we can waive requirements for sports stadiums, we ought to do the same for projects that put our housing crisis behind us.
Q: More and more resources are being dedicated to the homelessness issue, yet California has more homeless people than ever. Do you see progress? What solutions are working?
A: Our approach to homelessness is clearly not working. We have spent $17 billion on the homeless crisis over the last several years and homelessness has only increased. Across almost every benchmark, we have failed our homelessness population. Cycling mentally ill people through the criminal justice system has not worked, and we cannot allow people to die on the streets without supporting services to address their humanity, mental illness and substance use disorders.
First, we need accountability for the programs we already have in place to ensure we aren’t just wasting taxpayer funds. Metrics need to be met for these programs to continue to receive funding.
Second, we need to provide shelters with wraparound services such as mental health treatment, family reunification programs, affordable housing placement and job training. We also need to identify what underlying problems are causing each individual’s situation. Many suffer from severe mental illness or drug addiction. Others happen to be just going through a stroke of bad luck that has put them in this unfortunate position. Whatever the case is, we need to identify what the problem is and how to best properly direct them.
I look forward to working with the governor’s office on implementation of the CARE Court program, which will bring together the court system, wraparound services, including mental health and substance use treatment, for those on our streets who need help.
Q: California’s crime rate is going up. Do you blame recent criminal justice reforms, other factors or some combination? How would you keep Californians safe?
A: Proposition 47, Proposition 57 and Assembly Bill 109 have been named as problems for California’s criminal justice system by individuals on both sides of the aisle, and I agree. When human trafficking isn’t classified as a “serious” or “violent” felony in California, there is a big problem.
This year, I authored Assembly Bill 1597 to undue a major problem with Proposition 47 — the serial theft prosecution. Smash and grab retail theft has become commonplace since Proposition 47 reduced certain crimes to misdemeanors. My bill would restore those penalties to pre-Proposition 47 status. Unfortunately, Assembly Bill 1597 died in committee.
I have supported commonsense reforms that ensure violent criminals remain in prison, but also support criminal justice reforms that help rehabilitate first-time offenders and those who need mental health support. California must strike a balance and we can’t ignore increasing crime rates. I will continue to support efforts to fix these bad policies and ensure our families are safe.
Q: How would you help California students who suffered from learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Students have suffered learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. This loss was significant in math and English language arts, and it was especially hard on low-income students and English language learners. That is why we need to ensure our schools are fully staffed and up and running. I have supported numerous pieces of legislation to bring more mental health services into our schools in light of the COVID-19 stress issues also.
Since I am not a doctor, I don’t pretend to address the medical side; however, we need to make sure we do not lose sight of the personal rights, parental rights, local control, the doctor/patient relationship and other issues that were impacted and overridden by government mandates.
Addressing learning loss and mental health within our youth requires a multifaceted approach. We have to equip our schools with the tools they need, but also support parents in their ability to discuss, mitigate and address problems at home. In 2021, I supported a budget request to provide funding for resources for our schoolchildren who were impacted by the pandemic. I will continue to support similar efforts and push for more resources for our school districts as they deal with unprecedented issues due to the pandemic.
Q: The state has had giant surpluses in recent years yet there are worries about a potential recession. How would you ensure the state is prepared to weather an economic downturn? What will you do for Californians who are struggling economically now?
A: I have supported, and will continue to support, more investment in California’s rainy day fund. With a recession potentially on the horizon, I supported one-time investments to help Californians deal with today’s issues, such as a gas tax suspension or a tax rebate. This one-time spending ensures we aren’t set up for failure when the budget surplus we have today inevitably is not there. Just because California has surplus money does not mean that we should set the next generation up to meet ongoing obligations under the assumption that this funding will stick around.
Q: California has the nation’s most strict gun laws and among its lowest gun death rates. What is your philosophy toward gun legislation? Have you or your family been directly affected by gun violence?
A: Overreaching gun laws and bans that strip legal, law-abiding gun owners of their Second Amendment rights do not ensure public safety. Instead, supporting and fully funding law enforcement and making sure our public safety personnel have the tools they need to do their jobs is critical.
Q: What is your position on Proposition 1, which would establish the rights for Californians to an abortion and to contraceptives in the state Constitution?
A: I understand the sensitivity around this issue, and respect opposing viewpoints, but I am and always will be pro-life. While I am opposed to Proposition 1 due to my personal beliefs on the sanctity of life, ultimately, this decision will be up to California voters this fall.
Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?
A: I’ve known my opponent for years. I respect him, appreciate him and thank him for his years of service. I just believe I’m more effective than he is as a legislator. Having served in leadership positions in the Legislature for 10 years, first as minority whip, then as floor leader and finally as minority leader for three years, I have worked across the aisle to get major legislation and solutions passed. I have had more bills passed, secured more state funding for our region and been at the table for more major bipartisan conversations than he has.