SACRAMENTO – Sitting in a coffee shop across the street from the state capitol building here on Monday morning, the rotunda visible in the backdrop through the window, Scott Wilk was asked how he expected to feel in a few hours, when he finally took the oath of office as the new Republican senator from the 21st District.
“I’m going to cry,” Wilk said — and then he did in fact tear up right there, remembering his first trip to this city, as a 13-year-old boy on a summer trip with his parents, Jack and Lois.
The Wilk family took a tour of the statehouse on that summer day long ago, and young Scott got to stand in the gallery above the Senate chamber — empty of legislators that day but still filling the young Lancaster lad’s imagination with thoughts of a life in government.
At noon yesterday, Wilk, now 57, was on the floor of that same Senate chamber, now jammed with lawmakers, taking the oath of office on the official first day of the 2017-18 legislative session.
Jack, 86, and Lois, 83, were in town as well, along with Wilk’s wife Vanessa, son Scott Jr., 30, and daughter Alison, 27. In all, some 67 people made the trip to be there with the new senator – coming up from the Santa Clarita and Lancaster areas, and from as far away as Tennessee.
As Wilk chatted over a cup of chai tea and soy milk latte, he talked about his unexpected journey to the Senate after four years in the Assembly representing Santa Clarita’s 38th District.
“I had no intention of leaving the Assembly,’’ he said. “It was not on my radar. It’s a great seat, and it was an emotional decision.”
But then Sharon Runner, the previous holder of the 21st District seat — encompassing both the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys – decided that health problems would prevent her from seeking re-election. She and her husband, George, encouraged Wilk to seek the Senate seat. Sharon Runner eventually passed away this past July.
Others friends, including fellow Republican and political pal Steve Knight, congressman from the 25th District, pushed Wilk toward the Senate as well.
Wilk said he wrestled with the decision, but ultimately decided to give up what he called a “safe seat” because, “politics is being part of something bigger than yourself.”
He defeated Democratic opponent Johnathon Ervin with 54.8 percent of the vote in November.
Now comes the tough part — learning the nuances of the other side of the capitol, and then getting things done in a chamber where he’s one of only 13 Republicans in a 40-member body.
“I was a player in the Assembly, but it’s more freewheeling in the Senate, more based on seniority,” Wilk said.
“But politics is about relationships, and now it’s time to start building relationships on the Senate side.”
His first order of business, he said, will be to find a Democratic author for a bill he wants introduced to ensure that Cemex does not begin its hoped-for mining operations in Soledad Canyon.
In the Democrat-controlled Senate, he said, a Democrat author is the ignition key for any legislation to move forward.
The Bureau of Land Management rescinded Cemex’s mining contracts last year, but the company has appealed and is awaiting the decision of a panel of administrative judges.
Wilk said his bill’s goal would be to force the re-opening of public comments on all environmental permits issued more than 25 years ago – as is the case regarding Cemex.
It would be a way to slam the breaks on the controversial and long-pending Cemex matter.
Wilk also said he is still exploring his position on the proposed merger of the Newhall County Water District and the Castaic Lake Water Agency – another item likely to register on the radar in the upcoming months and years.
Then there is the matter of building a staff of 12 to fill district offices in Santa Clarita, Victorville and Lancaster – a much wider and more logistically challenging area than his old 38th Assembly District. Nothing could become official until the oath was administered Monday.
As he did during his Assembly days, Wilk plans to return to the district every weekend — and then pile the miles onto the state-issued 2006 Chrysler 300 that was also used by his predecessor.
And once back up here in Sacramento, he said, continuing the learning curve on the other side of the building.
“It’s about researching what’s doable,” Wilk said.