Nine days after the election, Christy Smith received a call that marked the difference between being a candidate for the 38th Assembly District, and an Assembly member.
The new Assemblywoman Smith, D-Santa Clarita, picked up the phone to hear incumbent Assemblyman Dante Acosta formally concede.
“He said that he and his wife, Caroline, had taken a break and discussed it as family,” said Smith. “And he felt like it was the right thing to do given where the trend line of the votes was going… and so that I could go ahead and get started with the process.”
She says she was pleasantly stunned.
Smith ended the call by thanking him, because he had been gracious and, she said, “That isn’t an easy thing to do.”
They hung up, Sacramento staff called, and Smith’s life, she said, started “going 120 mph.”
A day in the life
“When you’re running a campaign you’re going 120 mph and then election night happens and everything stops,” said Smith.
Only after the results roll in and Sacramento calls you up, does your life return to that familiar triple-digit clip, according to Smith.
During the weeks she is in Sacramento, Smith is expected to be in session from 10 a.m. Monday morning until the Assembly breaks Thursday evening. She said she will usually then be picked up at the airport once she lands back in the district by her staff, and then taken to her first and second local events.
“In our case we’ll know it’ll be full days of district events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” said Smith. “And then at some point, hopefully, I’ll do laundry and get ready to head back up to (Sacramento) again.”
Intermixed between the trips from Sacramento and her district will be other meetings and duties, such as setting up her Sacramento apartment and office as well as the training needed to survive and thrive within the Legislature.
“One of the things they start you with is ethics training,” said Smith. “They tell you right away to get a staff scheduler because that’s one of the most important things you’ve got in Sacramento.”
In addition to the ethics and general training regarding the minutiae of legislating, Smith also said she was surprised to learn about one of Sacramento’s best-kept secrets.
“(Sacramento) has a staff of 500 attorneys,” said Smith. “So you can come up with code section that you know you want revised, or a broad concept of a law that you know you want to work on or some specific district issue that needs a remedy, and we can go into legal counsel’s office. We are their client, and they help us process the legal aspects of drafting that piece of legislation.”
“Incrementalism,” Smith said, was the way to define her style. “The concern in the kind of government we have in California, with a two-party system in charge of both chambers of the Legislature … is that we need to make sure there is still a meaningful, deliberative process.”
Due to the Democratic majority in both the Assembly and state Senate, Smith said that the role she hopes to fulfill will be to fight for well-thought-out legislation and to ensure that bills don’t move forward without unintended mandates.
“There are going to be some that are going to be more inclined to move rapidly, especially in these kinds of circumstances,” said Smith. “But I will be looking to make sure we are more thoughtful in the legislative process.”
This approach, she says, comes from her time working in the U.S. Department of Education.
“One of the functions I filled was doing evidence-based public policy,” she said, adding she would analyze federal education programs, find out which ones were working and which ones were not and why.
Smith said this led to a better understanding of how legislation affects the daily lives of constituents on a big-picture scale that — combined with her experience on the Newhall School District board, where she could see how every single federal and state dollar would be accounted for in the classroom — helped inform her style and legislative process.
On Friday, Smith listed three of her main legislative priorities: education, the environment and the economy.
Beginning with education, Smith said her background working as a school district board member had shown her that sharing successful strategies between districts and “teaching the teachers” are concepts that she plans to work on while in the Legislature.
“We can continue to improve California’s education system based on models that we know work in our communities,” said Smith. “We need to change not only how we’re training teachers but how we continue with their ongoing education as the instructional paradigms change.”
She added that she hopes to maintain the state and University of California schools as “world-class” institutions and ensuring students had access to affordable education.
In terms of environment, the Assembly member said lawmakers need to ensure that California continues “to lead globally on the environment.”
“Our environmental concerns are in the district and statewide,” said Smith. “The downsides of California being oil-dependent are pretty significant. We got Aliso Canyon right in our backyard and offshore oil drilling is a huge concern.”
Smith acknowledged that because of her extensive background in education some people may have typecast her. But usually people realize pretty quickly that’s not the case, she said, and they understand that she’s knowledgeable and passionate about a number of issues, especially the economy.
“We’ve been fortunate to have been bouncing back and forth between fourth and fifth largest best global economy, so we want to make sure we keep that position and stature, and at the same time realize there are still vast numbers of people who are largely left out of the economic success of the state of California.”
Smith said her staff would be looking at ways to help people transition from working in the service industry to better economic opportunities through improved job retraining programs and ensuring that the education they receive is lined up with job availability.
“Most people need to do job retraining multiple times in their lifetime, and I don’t think we’ve quite gotten there on the accelerated pace in which that needs to happen.”
Smith also mentioned that she would investigate carrying on a bill, authored by her predecessor but still on the table, regarding foster children receiving grants, as well as ensuring that the large population of first responders who live in the 38th District “have their needs met.”
However, achieving these various legislative goals, the assemblywoman noted, is dependent on what committees she is assigned to.
“I asked for three different committees in these areas, but that will get decided over the next couple weeks.”
Regardless, Smith said she and her staff plan on not waiting around.
“My team and I are here to serve and we looking forward to hearing from anyone who has a stake in the community,” said Smith. “My first week is done and I’m ready to get started.”