California’s 38th Assembly District encompasses the Santa Clarita and Simi valleys, along with parts of Soledad Canyon and the San Fernando Valley. But November’s race for the seat being vacated by Republican Scott Wilk has a distinct Santa Clarita flavor.
We’d say “Meet Dante Acosta and Christy Smith,” but if you live in the Santa Clarita Valley, chances are you already have met one or both of these candidates with long roots in the area and different visions of where to take it.
Acosta, the Republican nominee, moved to Santa Clarita from Granada Hills in 1986, and has worked in various financial-sector jobs in the area for 30-plus years. He has served on the Santa Clarita City Council since April 2014.
He’s also a member of the Santa Clarita Rotary Club, a Circle of Hope board member, and a member of the Old Town Newhall Association.
Smith, the Democratic candidate, is a graduate of Hart High School and UCLA (with political science degree) who has lived in the 38th District since 1979. She has served on the Newhall School Board since 2009, currently as board clerk and formerly as president.
She also was founding chair of the Valencia Valley Education foundation, a non-profit that raised funds to help put tech equipment in classrooms — per a state mandate but absent state funding. Previously, she was a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Education from 1994 to 1996.
As they seek to succeed Wilk, who is running for state Senate, the pair squared off in aSignal-sponsored debate back on Aug. 11, at which the role of party politics in Sacramento dominated – and the two delivered more of the same last week in separate interviews with The Signal.
But there were other disagreement points as well.
Smith emphasized that her Democratic affiliation reflects a better chance that she, rather than her Republican opponent, could get things done in the state capital.
“I would point to access to the majority party of the state, access to the Speaker,’’ as an advantage she would have “to get legislation on the table,” she said.
Acosta reiterated what he said at the debate, declaring that Smith would be shut out of budget negotiations because “the budget is run by three people in Sacramento” and, “If you’re part of the Democratic Party, you’re going to be forced to vote for the budget the way it comes out.”
“If she thinks otherwise, that’s a naïve approach,” he said of Smith.
“I would not have to ask permission to vote for the district,” he said. “I will always vote for the best interests of the district.”
Smith said she has received assurances from two Democratic Assembly members that she would be free to vote independently – and insisted she would not be a puppet to party politics anyway.
For his part, Acosta paints himself as a consensus builder – contentious City Council meetings notwithstanding — who could “work across party lines” as a member of what he conceded would be a minority GOP in Sacramento.
He also touted his experience in the private sector as a financial adviser, saying, “My business experience gives me experience my opponent does not have.”
Smith, meanwhile, said, “I always wanted to be in public service.”
The “ahah!” moment that convinced her to run for the Assembly seat, she said, came at a California School Board Association political seminar last year, when it was pointed out that a large number of legislators with significant public-policy experience in education would be termed out.
“It’s really important to know what happens in the classroom and at the administrative level,” she said, pointing to her experience with the Department of Education during the Clinton administration.
If she is sent to Sacramento, she said, one of her focuses would be to increase the state’s per-pupil funding, which she said has consistently ranked around 47th of the 50 states.
“In terms of technology, language development, even extra-curricular activities, there’s a lot more we could be doing,” she said.
Which of course raises the question – how do you pay for it?
Part 1 of her answer: “I am not in favor of raising taxes,” she said, adding that she favors “more bureaucratic auditing, looking for redundancies – a lot of times, waste becomes institutionalized.”
Part 2 of her answer: “We need to expand the pie, continue to grow the state’s economy” by attracting more residents and businesses to California.’’
She described as unfair the state’s reputation as being unfriendly to business – “there’s a small amount of mythology about businesses leaving California, it’s less than 1 percent’’ – but did acknowledge the need “to look at more effective ways to streamline’’ getting businesses up and running by cutting out red tape for matters such as licensing and permits.
“Taxes should not only be business-friendly, but also friendly to the middle class,” she said.
Acosta – also opposed to new taxes — said “we need more bang for our buck” in education, and that he would push to emphasize classroom-centered programs such as vocational training, as well as more connections between local businesses and schools, where the schools would train students in the skills needed by the businesses.
“It will take money, but it will not take more taxes, it will take prioritizing,” he said.
He also blasted the state’s “overregulation” of businesses, suggesting government’s role needs to be cut way back because, “For too long, small-business owners in California have been getting the short end of the stick.”
He said matters such as the $15 minimum wage and increasing unemployment insurance are “symptoms of the disease,” adding, “The cumulative effect is driving businesses out of California – most businesses are small businesses run by middle-class folks, and they are getting wiped out.”
Besides jobs and the economy, and education, Acosta’s other “key issues,” are:
• Public safety (he opposes both Assembly bill 109, the “realignment” that would free some non-violent offenders earlier, and Proposition 47, the ballot measure that would reduce some crimes, particularly property crimes, to misdemeanors – “big mistakes,’’ he said”).
• Infrastructure and water (he thinks money ticketed for high-speed rail can be better spent on repairing roads and building new water-delivery and treatment facilities).
Smith, while touting her education background as her strength, stressed, “That’s not the extent of my public-policy experience.”
She pointed to economic growth, public safety, transportation, infrastructure and water as items on her radar.
Significantly, she said, she would urge continued vigilance in monitoring water consumption “to wait out the drought” but would also push for state and federal funding for possible new water infrastructure, such as a treatment plant.
“There’s no shortage of things I would like to go to Sacramento to work on,” she said.
On the more local level, both candidates oppose the opening of the long-pending Cemex mine.
Regarding the nearly 1,000-acre Whitaker-Bermite site in the center of Santa Clarita (expected to be cleaned up and ready for development in 2018), Smith’s vision would tilt more commercial than residential — because another commercial area in the city would boost jobs, and help decrease driving and carbon output, she said.
She said she would also push for state funding to provide roads and public transit to service that development.
Acosta said he favors a mix of industrial, commercial and residential developments in the area, and would also push to punch new roads through the tract, “relieving some of our traffic situation.”
For more information on the candidates, visits their websites at danteacosta.com and christysmithforassembly.com.