Freshman Salinas seeks second term

– Keep up the hard work.
GILROY – Keep up the hard work.

That’s what Simon Salinas wants Gilroy voters to allow him do this November by electing him to a second term as their 28th District state Assemblyman.

Salinas, a Democrat from the city of Salinas, said he’s put together a solid freshman term – especially in the face of major state challenges like the energy crisis and budget crunch – since beating Republican Jeff Denham by 10 percentage points in 2000 to take the seat vacated by termed-out Peter Frusetta.

“I think overall it was a good term for our local district,” he told The Dispatch. “I was able to get a good legislative package that addressed some of the local issues we had that required legislation. … My commitment during the second year of the budget crisis was to try to keep hits as far away as we could from local government and also focus on education and public safety.

“I think we were able to balance the budget and still protect those services.”

Salinas, 47, has experience at multiple levels of government. He served two terms as a Monterey County supervisor after getting his start in local politics as a Salinas City councilman from 1989 to 1993. Before entering politics, he was a teacher at Bardin Elementary in Salinas for five years and an English-as-a-second language professor at Hartnell College for four. The sprawling area he now represents reaches from portions of San Jose south to King City and includes Gilroy, Hollister and many smaller rural communities – as well a major population center in the city of Salinas itself.

But Salinas said many of those communities have similar needs – ranging from affordable housing to health care – and he fights for all of them in Sacramento, empowered by his chairmanship of the Assembly’s local government committee.

“Gilroy obviously has similar situations as other areas I represent, so my thought is whenever I’m in Sacramento looking at state policy, I look at how it affects my whole district,” he said. “I think I try to do that as best I can, and that’s why people from all four counties and all the cities have responded” to his campaign.

Connections in Gilroy

In Gilroy, Salinas said he’s met with officials from Gavilan College, local schools and other community leaders to ensure he understands those local needs and priorities, held community meetings and set up staff office hours.

Salinas also tries to act as a liaison between district communities themselves to promote the sharing of information and solutions.

“If Gilroy is looking at a prevention program, I say look at Salinas or King City, they’re trying something and maybe it fits here, and vice versa,” he said. “If I see something Gilroy’s trying, I try to tell Hollister or Watsonville. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Salinas and Republican challenger Jane Howard of Gilroy both share two declared top priorities: education and public safety. Salinas also made health care his third top priority as listed on the League of Women Voters’ SmartVoter Web site.

Besides being a member of the Assembly’s education committee, Salinas said he also draws from real-world experience in education.

“I’ve been in the classroom at the primary and advanced (levels),” he said. “I’ve been in the trenches, and it’s given me the perspective and experience I’ve tried to use on the committee.”

Salinas said he’s worked to reduce class sizes, increase parental involvement in the classroom and bring resources to repair and expand those classrooms – including efforts to produce a statewide school bond measure this November. He wants to continue a focus on getting financial resources to low-performing schools and give local districts the flexibility to come up with their own plans for recovery.

With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks highlighting the already-important issue of public safety, Salinas said he has worked closely with law enforcement to assess the security of major state resources while ensuring that agencies retained crucial funding.

Campaign officials say Salinas also pushed for prevention programs and funding for rural counties such as San Benito County, and note he has secured the endorsement of several major law enforcement agencies.

“If you look even after we’d reached an agreement on the budget where we pushed and cut, law enforcement was supportive because we made sure we worked with the agencies to provide them the resources they needed to look at the safety of our communities,” Salinas said. “This is post-9-11, and we really wanted to work with law enforcement to make sure we didn’t hamstring them.”

Salinas said his personal experience growing up as a farmworker helped him recognize the importance of fighting for broad access to health care, especially for children and the elderly. He said he’s supported the expansion of the Healthy Families insurance program and funding for community health clinics.

Transportation priorities

In transportation, Salinas said he helped save $7 million in funding for short-term safety improvements on state Highway 25. Like Howard, he’s waiting for the outcome of studies and community debate before making a call on some longer-term projects, such as full widening of 25 versus the so-called 3-in-1 – discussions he said he monitors and has helped to facilitate.

Salinas said he’ll use his position on the assembly’s transportation committee – where he said he has a good relationship with chairman John Dutra – as well as his leadership of the local government committee to help leverage funding once the dialogue is complete.

“They need to continue developing consensus,” he said of his district’s counties. “Once they do, it makes it much easier for me to advocate for them. The last thing you want to do is go to Sacramento divided.”

Salinas’ other committee assignments have included agriculture, housing and community development, health and the chairmanship of a select committee on rural economic development.

With more tough budget decisions to come, Salinas said state leaders need to examine all areas for potential savings. But his major goal will be to continue to protect his three priorities and local interests, where he’ll work with officials to set priorities and strategies.

“My position’s always been you keep the cuts as far away from the delivery of services as you can,” he said. “That’s a good way to start.”

Increasing revenues also needs to be considered as an option, Salinas said, although he stresses that Republican support will be necessary for any action. A bipartisan commission active in the last budget process should convene immediately to begin reaching that consensus, he said.

“It has to be a combination of probably spending cuts and some types of fair ways to increase revenues,” he said. “What that is, who knows? The best approach is to engage both parties to sit down and come up with ideas and recommendations.”

Besides endorsements from the influential South Bay Labor Council and two state teachers’ associations – traditionally Democratic supporters – Salinas also highlights an endorsement by the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce as evidence of his approachability.

“I’m not with everybody all the time, but I don’t think they can say I didn’t listen to their concerns,” he said. “I think that’s why they decided I could go back and keep working with everybody.”

Previous articleRosa Maria Saldana
Next articleHave another hit of fresh air … or hot air … or stale air


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here