In late November, State Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon made a surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election for AD 57 in 2020. While Assembly candidates typically spend upwards of two years preparing their campaign, this left the field open to candidates willing to pursue a fast-and-furious three-month campaign leading up to the March 3rd primary.
Twelve candidates stepped up to the plate; six live in Whittier.
After filing as candidates, two Whittier-based challengers rescinded their bids for the seat. One of them, CSUSB sociology professor and L.A. County HIV commissioner Justin Valero, likened the crowded race to “a circular firing squad, a bloodbath, like the  senate race all over again and I’m not interested in being a part of that.”
Whittier City Councilman Henry Bouchot, who also stepped back, said he “thought long and hard about representing the community in assembly and even though I feel there’s a lot of good I could do in the state legislature, my heart is with Whittier. There’s a lot I still want to accomplish in Whittier and I’m not ready to move on just yet. I’m looking forward to accomplishing a lot on the Whittier City Council.”
The four Whittier candidates remaining in the race are:
- Scripps College Environmental Policy professor Vanessa Tyson
- Whittier City Councilman Josue Alvarado
- Political science educator Jessica Martinez, and
- Deputy Public Conservator for L.A. County Mental Health and Rio Hondo College Trustee Oscar Valladares.
Sustainable City News interviewed these four candidates to learn how Whittier will be represented in the Assembly District 57 race.
Q: In three sentences, explain why you are running for California State Assembly.
Vanessa Tyson: I’m running because I want smart policy, and because laws crafted in Sacramento often are formulated with the best intentions, but frequently include flaws–it’s the law of unintended consequences. Sustainability isn’t just about clean air, clean water, and renewable energy sources. It’s about shaping a society that we can all share well into the future.
Josue Alvarado: After realizing the lack of expertise in the individuals that were currently running, the majority of them have never served in public office, I decided to run to ensure that the types of issues that many of our cities are facing are addressed in Sacramento.
Jessica Martinez: Our society has strayed away from principles; from being honest, taking care of other people. I want to bring us back to those values. We have homeless on our street, our judicial system seems incapable- there’s no justice.
Oscar Valladares: As a deputy public conservator from Los Angeles County or an employee for the past 15 years, I have an acute expertise in delivering services in the front lines, whether it’s been enforcing, establishing child support orders, or, for the last 7 years, I’ve been providing mental health services for folks who circle in and out of homelessness and dealing with severe mental illness, as well as involuntary treatment. I have a long history of activism across the county both in organized labor as well as very informal grassroots in Whittier; whether it’s been protecting our environment, more diversity of representation in the region. That’s what I seek to bring to the 57th: both a new and fresh perspective on representation- working families as a priority- helping small business with the new assault on brick and mortars and family businesses.
Q: What differentiates you from the other candidates running for this seat?
Tyson: I have a background in both state and federal politics and policy before I went to graduate school to get my PhD. I worked for Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald as a field deputy handling a wide array of issues, but focused primarily on health and immigration. I also worked in Sacramento as a Committee Consultant to the Senate Committee on Public Safety, which is the criminal counterpart to the judiciary. So I’ve already analyzed legislation for the State of California. I grew up here in Whittier. I’m a first-generation college graduate, and I was raised by a single mother.
Alvarado: For me, the best way that I can define it is local control. Too many times we have Sacramento passing laws and giving blanket numbers to cities without providing the resources for these cities to either A. address the homeless issue or B. address the affordable housing issue or C. address general development needs. Those are the three main reasons and I feel I have a shot at it because I have the most experience in these fields.
Martinez: I will not compromise my values just to win the election. We have irresponsible people in our assembly right now in our state government. They’re lying to the people. For example, with Prop 6 in this last election, the governor and the other people were telling people that this money is going to go towards fixing our infrastructure- our roads, our bridges- things that citizens across California need. But now they are putting their money into the bullet train, which is a never-ending money pit.
Editor’s note: 2018 California Proposition 6, a ballot measure which did not pass in 2018, was an attempt to repeal Senate Bill 1, which taxes gas at 12 cents a gallon to create a fund for state and county transportation projects.
Valladares: I have over 15 years of front line public service as a county employee, whether that was making sure that single or custodial parents had the means to be able to support their children, access to health care, making sure that people are receiving mental health care, that there is a way of diverting folks away from jail and making sure that we are actually working with the reentry programs, as a community college trustee. None of the other candidates have that trajectory of being a public servant in the front line servicing our Angelenos. I’m an immigrant, a DREAMer, and I’m proud of my story and the opportunities that our country provides.
Q: What legislation will you author as an Assembly member?
Tyson: I’m passionate about the environment, so I want conservation curricula added to K-12 education. I will make every effort to pursue a green economy, and prohibit new drilling. We can’t afford to rely on fossil fuels. Protecting the Whittier Hills, as well as state parks and national forests, is crucial to the survival of generations to come. I want more money generated for CALFIRE and our statewide emergency services, including first responders. I also want to make sure that we coordinate as much as we can with the US Geological Survey (USGS) because there’s a lot of science behind the megafires we’re seeing year after year. I want to put limits on mandatory reporting in instances of campus sexual violence because they violate victims’ rights to privacy. Responses to sexual trauma require incredible sensitivity to the needs and wishes of victims. More generally, I support labor and good jobs with living wages and solid benefits. I support mental health treatment and additional scholarships for those going into social work. I want a healthy society, where we work to prevent the underlying causes of violence, and we intervene in the school-to-prison pipeline that is incredibly common particularly among marginalized communities who lack financial resources and educational opportunities.
Alvarado: I would have to go in support of what we’ve already passed, but the legislation I would want to pursue is allocating the surplus funds that we have at the state being returned to the local level to begin developing affordable housing. I will also want to work with my colleagues to bring back redevelopment agencies to cities, which was previously legislated and removed from cities a few years ago to balance our budget at the state level. Now that the budget has a surplus of billions of dollars, it’s time that we reallocate those resources so cities and communities can start addressing the housing crisis directly.
Martinez: Most of the issues that I want to address are very simple. I want to protect a person’s right under the constitution to raise their family their way- for example with vaccines and sexual education- I want to protect a person’s paychecks, I want to protect the common person on the street from being assaulted and not having any justice. I’m a constitutionalist so I want to protect a person’s rights. I want to protect your property, your family, your ability to worship whatever it is the way you worship, your personal freedoms- I believe in the second amendment. Protecting our families through education reform, through tax reform, criminal reform. I am pro-life.
Valladares: I don’t know if authoring legislation is a priority. I think having an understanding of the needs of the different regions and cities…but most importantly, I think we need to get a handle on what the cities really need in terms of housing and our neighbors who are experiencing lack of housing or being pushed out of affordable housing. How can we provide assistance in working with the county, as well as the federal government and obviously the state, to see where we are first. We would need to have a series of town halls with our elected officials to bring forward solutions on how we can help them navigate, whether it’s providing more funding for access to mental health, including involuntary treatment for folks who are dealing with severe mental illness and/or substance abuse.
Watch this space for reports on other candidates for Assembly District 57, including Lisa Calderon (D), Primo Castro (D), Fernando Landeros (Green), Gary Mendez (D), Sylvia Rubio (D), and Dora D. Sandoval (D)