Henry Stern laughed over the phone this week, admitting he still reflexively looks over his shoulder when he hears someone greet him that way.
Only eight days into his tenure as state senator from the 27th District — which stretches from Malibu to parts of the Santa Clarita Valley — Stern was in his statehouse office in Sacramento on Tuesday, still unpacking boxes, still hiring staff … and still getting used to that hard-won new title before his name.
“I’m so excited, I’ve been anticipating this for a couple of years now,’’ Stern, 34, told The Signal.
“The campaign was very long, with a lot of twists and turns. It’s good to be done with it. … It’s good to be past that, to get to work. There’s a lot of serious stuff to do.’’
Stern, a Democrat, gets the chance to finally pursue that “serious stuff” after a campaign against Republican Steve Fazio that was, in the tenor of these political times, often anything but serious.
“Fazio and I ended up gaining a lot of respect for each other down the stretch,’’ Stern said. “(But during the campaign) I became a bobblehead, I became a cartoon. In the end, we calmed that down as candidates.’’
Stern, a graduate of Harvard and UC-Berkeley Law School, wound up beating Fazio, a dry cleaner and political newcomer, with 54.9 percent of the vote.Now Stern succeeds the termed-out Democrat Fran Pavley, for whom he worked a senior policy adviser.
Pavley had an impactful eight years in Sacramento, authoring the state’s 2006 “cap and trade” bill to reduce greenhouse emissions, and another bill in 2016 that puts California on target to further reduce emissions by 40 percent under 1990 levels by 2030.
Stern, a one-time environmental lawyer who still teaches at UCLA, said those are the kinds of the legacies he’s looking to carry on as he puts his stamp on the job.
Environment, public safety, education and job growth are his key issues, he said.
On the environmental front as it relates to the Santa Clarita Valley, Stern said that one of his key objectives is to keep Cemex from opening mining operations in Soledad Canyon.
“I’ve been working to try to close down Cemex for years,’’ Stern said. “We should not be a mining town.’’
Fellow Santa Clarita-area senator Scott Wilk, a Republican, introduced a bill last week looking for the water-permitting process for Cemex to be reopened to public comments, should a federal panel of judges eventually OK the mining giant’s licenses to operate in Soledad.
Wilk has said he hopes for bi-partisan support on his bill, but Stern said this week, “He (Wilk) hasn’t approached me yet on his bill.”
Where Washington is famously gridlocked in partisan lockdown, Stern said he can see across-the-aisle commonality on some issues in Sacramento, particularly as they relate to the Santa Clarita area.
“How do you draw the line from Malibu all the way out to McBean Parkway?” he said. “It’s such a big district. But there is open space, a semi-rural character that defines it.”
Issues like open space, clean air and water, and traffic transcend partisanship, he said.
“It’s between parties on those kinds of issues,’’ he said, “to preserve that kind of wilderness. I’m going to keep pushing on that. … Traffic isn’t partisan.”
On the job-growth front, he said, he wants to use his office as link between entrepreneurs and opportunity. Clean tech, in particular, offers innumerable opportunities – a kind of new frontier in which his expertise can be a sparkplug, he said.
“I’m really big on innovation in this district,’’ he said. “Simi Valley is one of the biggest solar installing areas in the state. There’s a real will to move ahead on that stuff, and we have to try to work directly with these job creators.”
He’s worried, he said, that the Trump administration will trample progress made in California on all manner of fronts, prominently, but not exclusively, the environment.
“I still believe in limited government, in federalism,’’ he said. “I believe they’re going to try to gut the whole thing. I want them to respect federalism, respect state boundaries. We’re doing a lot of great things in California, and I don’t want to see intervention.”
Stern, the first millennial elected to the state senate, also is a big proponent of “youth empowerment’’ – saying the 18-34 age group is “the largest voting bloc in the country, and they need representation.’’
“They are sick of the old kind of political leadership,’’ he said. “They want it unvarnished, no talking points.
“I brought Facebook live into my swearing-in ceremony, and I don’t think anybody’s done that before.’’
In that vein, he said, he is preparing to launch a district-wide “young senators program.”
“Every high school in the district would elect a representative to be involved in the broader young senators advisory council, working on service projects, advocacy in the capital,’’ he said.
They would work on real issues, he said, not make-believe ones concocted classrooms. They would be boots on the ground in their district, make trips to Sacramento to lobby … and to learn.
And to give input to lawmakers.
“What do the kids out there want to work on?” Stern said. “I don’t want it to be a hypothetical exercise – let’s do a real one.’’
Stern is the son of actor Daniel Stern of “Diner” and “Home Alone” fame, but never considered a career in show biz. He said he chose public-service path was chosen early – but that it really solidified during a USO trip with his dad to Iraq in 2003.
The younger Stern was 21, and still in college.
“I met a bunch of people my age putting it all on the line,’’ he recalled. “And I thought, ‘I’ve got to do my part, I’ve got to step up. It was heavy to see a young man 21 in a hospital without a leg.
“That sense of duty was really cemented at that point. It hasn’t left.’’
And maybe soon, when someone calls out, “Senator,” Stern will know they’re talking to him.