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We’ve laid out what we’ve learned about the 79th Assembly District candidates’ different stances on schools, police reform, helping businesses recover from COVID-19 and more.
Residents of California’s 79th Assembly District have started receiving ballots to vote on who will fill the seat vacated by Shirley Weber.
Weber, who represented the area for nearly a decade, was recently appointed secretary of state by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Five candidates are vying for the seat, including her daughter, La Mesa City Councilwoman Akilah Weber. Other candidates include AFSCME District Council 36 representative Leticia Munguia, Generation Justice founder Aeiramique Glass-Blake, California Teachers Association committee member Shane Parmely and business owner Marco Contreras, the sole Republican in the group.
The district, which covers parts of southeastern San Diego, Bonita, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and National City, is one of the most diverse in the state, both racially and economically. Voice of San Diego hosted a debate between the candidates and wrote about labor’s role in the race in February.
We’ve laid out what we’ve learned about the candidates’ different stances on schools, police reform, helping businesses recover from COVID-19 and more.
The primary is April 6, and the two candidates who get the most votes will move on to a general election on June 8.
Reopening schools is one of the areas Contreras is prioritizing in his campaign.
Contreras thinks schools should already be open – and can model their reopening around private schools that are currently open for in-person instruction. He said that teachers should have been vaccinated already. He believes getting schools funding and teachers vaccinated should be a priority.
Contreras would not mandate that educators be vaccinated before returning to school.
He is a proponent of school choice, the idea that parents can choose what school to send their children to, regardless of whether it happens to be their neighborhood public school, a charter, private school or other option. Opponents of school choice say that it funnels money away from struggling public schools and can exacerbate inequities in education.
Contreras told the Union-Tribune that schools should evaluate educational outcomes on metrics such as graduation rates, test scores, parent involvement and extracurricular activities.
One of Contreras’ areas of focus is supporting law enforcement for safer neighborhoods. He said he doesn’t believe police officers get enough credit or support for what they do, and would be against any initiative to defund the police.
Contreras said reopening the economy is another focus of his campaign.
Contreras wants to create a program that partners with community outreach centers, churches and schools to help students and adults discover what their professional strengths are and help them develop their goals and visions to better the workforce.
He also said he’d fight to reopen businesses.
Glass-Blake said she is supportive of school choice, but when charter schools are not operating properly, they need to be shut down.
She said schools not only need upgraded ventilation and air filtration systems in order to reopen, but teachers need to be vaccinated. She said students and teachers also need PPE if they return. She emphasized the equitable distribution of resources as public schools think about reopening.
Glass-Blake would not mandate that educators be vaccinated.
When it comes to Local Control Funding Formula funds – money from the state that schools have more discretion over and that increases based on vulnerable student populations – Glass-Blake said there needs to be greater oversight and transparency in how the funds are spent and ways to measure how policies are impacting disadvantaged students and communities. Shirley Weber has tried to implement stronger LCFF accountability measures, with mixed results.
Glass-Blake said she would not accept support or donations from police unions. She said we need to re-imagine what policing looks like, reducing policing in communities of color that are overpoliced and reallocating funds to counselors and other policing alternatives.
Glass-Blake suggested to the Union-Tribune establishing a state database with records of police abuse complaints and findings to prevent officers who resigned or were fired following misconduct from getting law enforcement jobs elsewhere.
Glass-Blake told the Union-Tribune that the state could have improved its communication with underserved communities during the pandemic, ensuring people knew where food banks were located or how to get vaccinated.
When it comes to economic recovery, Glass-Blake said workforce development is essential in the 79th District, to ensure people have the training and education to get a dignified job that pays a livable wage.
Glass-Blake said that labor unions’ political workings have consistently been disconnected from the needs of the Black community.
Glass-Blake also said she will be pushing for more parks in the 79th District.
Munguia is pro-labor and supportive of the teachers union, having previously worked for the California School Employees Association.
Munguia said getting students back to school means ensuring access to testing, vaccinations and facilities that have proper ventilation. She also said that the state needs to provide resources for wraparound resources, like mental health services, for students and staff. She also said she believes there needs to be a conversation about equity when it comes to re-opening and prioritizing kids who need more help, like those with special needs.
She would not mandate that educators be vaccinated before returning to school.
Munguia said LCFF funds have already been shown to help districts make measurable gains among needy students, but that the next step is to improve the transparency in how each district is using that funding.
When asked if she would accept police union support, Munguia said she has met with a local police union and indicated she would accept their endorsement.
She agrees that different communities have historically been policed differently. Munguia said police departments need more resources to be more successful and that we need to re-envision how police officers get dispatched and which calls actually go to them to respond to. Munguia suggested things like crisis teams, implicit bias trainings and a return to a community policing model that focuses on building relationships with communities officers patrol.
Munguia also suggested establishing a state database with records of police abuse complaints and findings to the Union-Tribune.
Munguia told the Union-Tribune that the state needs to push hard to restore economic sectors devastated by the pandemic, like tourism.
Elected leaders should work to offer career retraining for workers whom the virus put out of work, she said. Munguia said a recent state economic stimulus package includes grants funds for small businesses, and that type of investment needs to continue to ensure local small businesses can remain open.
Munguia said neighborhood parks must be clean and safe, and that families should be able to walk or drive there easily.
Parmely has been a teacher at San Diego Unified for 20 years and sits on the California Teachers Association State Council. She thinks California’s charter school system is in desperate need of reform.
Parmely said she thinks the county needs to be at least in the red tier for schools to reopen, that teachers and staff be vaccinated and that there needs to be a plan to have better air circulation in order to return safely.
When it comes to LCFF funding, Parmely said the funds have been inequitably distributed and are not following kids to their actual school campuses.
Parmely told the Union-Tribune that she opts her own kids out of standardized testing, because she believes the tests provide little valuable information about student outcomes and shift money away from classrooms and to private companies that produce testing materials.
Parmely said she thinks certain jobs currently handled by police should be reassigned to professionals who are specialized and certified in those areas, like interviewing victims. She also thinks police officers who commit misconduct should be automatically decertified. California remains one of the few states that doesn’t do this.
Parmely told the Union-Tribune that the distribution of aid provided by federal, state and local governments was too slow and not always targeted to those who needed it most.
Parmely wants to see an evaluation of what has happened to businesses that didn’t qualify for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to businesses trying to keep their workforce employed during the pandemic. She also wants the state to bolster its support for the creation of new businesses. She said that the state already has targeted economic zones – or lower socioeconomic zones – where grants could be focused.
She also suggested the creation of mentorship programs to help people figure out how to cut through red tape and start their businesses.
Parmely thinks that there should be more state parks and open spaces in the 79th District and that they should be given more resources, so they’re better maintained.
Weber said she supports charter schools – public schools that operate independently from school districts – and won’t come out against any school “that’s showing progress.”
Weber, who’s also a doctor, said she will not support larger school districts returning to in-person instruction without either mass testing or vaccines. She said that if she were in the Legislature, she would push the state to work with companies to produce and provide mass testing to help reopen schools.
She said she would not advocate that vaccines be mandatory for teachers to return to school.
Weber said she would support more oversight of how districts use LCFF funds meant for disadvantaged students, like foster students, homeless students, English learners and low-income students.
Weber said she would not take a police union endorsement or money, but would work with them on reform efforts.
Weber said there could be more done in Sacramento to address police misconduct, including decertifying officers, and making it easier for the public to access records related to serious incidents.
Weber told the Union-Tribune that she would have pressed for quicker turnaround of COVID-19 tests at the state level.
When it comes to economic recovery, Weber said that the state should be working with local governments to make sure that funds from Sacramento are going to the businesses they were intended for, especially funds allocated for small businesses and multicultural nonprofits.