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Assembly Candidates Talk Issues At Town Hall Meeting

Assembly Candidates Talk Issues At Town Hall Meeting
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California Assembly District 10 candidates, Eric Guerra and Stephanie Nguyen laid out their visions for a better Sacramento County in two separate town hall meetings last week asking the candidates to tackle the biggest needs felt by communities of color.

Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) hosted the Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 forums. Guerra and Nguyen fielded questions regarding inflation, public safety, homelessness, local businesses, anti-Asian hate, climate change and bipartisanship. 

The candidates spoke to the region’s most influential cultural organizations. It is a key demographic in the race to represent portions of South Sacramento, unincorporated Sacramento County and Elk Grove. These areas lie in the newly redrawn District 10. 

“We will absolutely make a difference when it comes to the vote on Nov. 8. It’s important to speak to the majority minority if they want to win.”

-Betty Williams, President of the Sacramento branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Eric Guerra
Photo by Tony Mercado

From humble beginnings

Guerra and Nguyen opened their sessions by remembering their immigration journey to now council members in Sacramento and Elk Grove. Those experiences fueled their drive towards advocacy for equal  opportunities in education, housing and job training.

At five years old, Guerra was already working with his mother harvesting crops in the agricultural fields. He went on to chair the Sacramento County Planning Commission and Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. Additionally, Guerra won the election for the Sacramento City Council twice, and is the current Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Sacramento.

“I make sure I look through the lens of opportunity. In the state Assembly, I will continue to do that,” he said.  

Nguyen said her parents came to this country with nothing. She grew up relying on every form of public assistance program available to her family. English was also her second language. Despite those challenges, Nguyen and her family beat the odds and managed to navigate themselves out of poverty.

“I’m really fortunate today to be able to run an organization that serves families exactly like my family,” Nguyen said.

Today, Nguyen is the executive director of the non profit Asian Resources Inc. (ARI). In 2017, she became the first Asian American woman to hold a City Council seat in Elk Grove. Over two decades, she has helped immigrants, refugees and low income families access resources to stand on their own.  

“Decisions made at the state level truly impact us,” she said. 

Inflation

The state of the economy has always been voters’ number one concern, according to many national opinion polls like Gallup, and Inflation is at a 40-year high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Basic monthly grocery bills has nearly doubled for a family of four. On Sept. 21, the Central Bank raised interest rates another 75 business points.

Guerra said funding emergency housing and food and support services addresses immediate needs. But, prioritizing economic mobility would create windows for success to get people back on their feet.

“We can never be just reactive. We have to be proactive.”

-Eric Guerra

Nguyen wants to change city and county assistance programs. Many working families become disqualified for programs as they fall short of securing aid due to unrealistic income guidelines. She also wants the state to increase its financial and educational investments into programs like CalFresh, which helps families afford groceries, “but they need to understand the process for qualifying for it,” she said.

Small business support

Small and minority owned businesses took a hit the last several years. Post-COVID pandemic, more than 19,000 small businesses in California shuttered or closed their doors. 

Nguyen said providing local, state and regional tax credits for those businesses would help put money back into their pockets. She wants to cut the red tape that makes it difficult to run a business. She helped lead people back to work through ARI’s On-the-Job training program. The program also reimburses small businesses during the training period. 

As a councilman, Guerra led the way to streamline the permit process and reduce fees. He said he would push the state to take a longer look at hiring small businesses. Guerra also led Stockton Boulevard’s redevelopment from an eight-acre blighted stretch to 200 units of affordable housing. He also championed the new bio-tech center at UC Davis’ “Aggie Square” that broke ground in February. The center will add nearly $5 billion annually to the Sacramento region’s economy. It will also generate 25,000 jobs, according to a UC Davis 2020 economic impact report.

Elk Grove City Councilwoman Stephanie Nguyen
Photo by Tony Mercado

Public safety

Crime is on the rise. In June, the Sacramento Police Department released a report revealing increases in violent crimes in 2021 compared to previous years. In Elk Grove, violent crime rate increased from 399 cases in 2020 to 448 cases in 2021, according to the police department’s most recent annual report.  

Nguyen said she would work with Assemblyman Jim Cooper on ideas and plans that would work for each community. Cooper won the election in June as Sacramento County Sheriff and has endorsed Nguyen for his seat.

Propositions 47 and 57, two criminal justice reform measures, passed in 2014. Prop 47 downgraded some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, including thefts under $950. Prop 57 expanded parole consideration and early release for many criminal defendants.

Nguyen feels those measures have led to the crime spike. Guerra said reviewing laws help determine its effectiveness. He added there needs greater attention on recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.

“Providing trade skills and opportunities to the incarcerated before they are released would inspire them to pursue careers and opportunity,” Guerra said. “They’re going to come out at some point. If we don’t give them what they need and provide that hope, they’re going to fail.”

Anti-Asian hate

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism said Asian hate crimes increased across the country by 339 percent. To reduce the incidents, Guerra and Nguyen both said that there needs to be a better job of reporting them.

“The problem many of our communities have faced is we become silent when something happens. And when something happens to one community, it’s an attack on all communities.”

-Eric Guerra.

Guerra labeled the attacks forms of ignorance. He also recognized the gaps in the system. He said he would make sure hate crime enforcement and prosecution is taking place.

Nguyen said she would revisit a bill pushed by Cooper. That bill would have given longer prison sentences to those convicted of a hate crime by classifying them as felonies. It failed in January on a legislative committee vote.

“A hate crime is a hate crime. We shouldn’t go easy on someone for hurting someone else.”

-Stephanie Nguyen.

Climate change

Both candidates support keeping the Diablo Canyon Plant, the state’s largest single electricity source, open for another five years. Nguyen called for a solid grid that could hold renewable energy. Guerra believes in diversifying all energy sources, whether it is renewable, wind or solar. He wants efficient building construction, and dedicated funding for state universities for applied research on energy efficiency and production.

Both candidates had concerns over Gov. Newsom’s plan to have only zero emission vehicles sold by 2035. This could pose a problem for low income communities, they said. Nguyen wants all proposed rebates to be inclusive of lower income areas.

Guerra said he would continue supporting and expanding avenues such as the, “Clean Cars for All” program. It provides $9,700 for those meeting the income threshold to buy an electric vehicle.  

“When you’re a low income worker, you’re not looking for a Lexus. You’re looking for something that’s safe for your kids and your family,” said Guerra, the chair of the Air District.

Homelessness

Addressing homelessness in Sacramento and Elk Grove remains a constant concern. Guerra called it “a failure of humanity at this point.”

Sacramento’s homeless numbers spiked 67% to nearly 9,300 since 2019. Elk Grove’s homeless rate is Sacramento County’s lowest. However, the numbers are rising as housing prices increase and affordable homes become scarce. Guerra and Nguyen’s cities have attacked the problem in recent years. 

During the pandemic, Guerra said Sacramento used hotel vouchers and rental and family assistance programs . It made 1,100 beds available to the homeless. But for one city to handle the problem alone is wrong. 

“Any city that does enforcement legislation on their own is throwing the problem to the neighboring jurisdiction,” he said. Guerra also said he would aim to require cities to have legally binding partnership agreements. 

Guerra supports Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “CARES Court,” which stands for: Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment. The law allows county judges to order treatment for people suffering from addiction and severe mental illness.  

Nguyen worked with Assemblyman Jim Cooper to secure $5 million for the Elk Grove Food Bank. She also led the ordinance to ban over crowded camps.

Bipartisanship

Guerra and Nguyen said they would aim to push things forward and focus on doing good work for the people.

“We should be working across the aisle on all bills. I’m willing to work with everybody just so we can figure things out, Nguyen said.”

“It’s unfortunate we live in this world where you can’t be friends with Republicans or Democrats, and yet we teach our kids to work together. We as adults aren’t doing that.”

– Stephanie Nguyen

Guerra considers himself a “problem solving Democrat” who will prioritize solutions.

“At the end of the day, if we’re not working together to solve our problems, we’re all going to suffer.”

-Eric Guerra

Representation and problem solving

Nguyen closed her session talking about the importance of representation. Only 4% of Asians serve in the Legislature, she noted. Despite greater and growing population numbers throughout the state Nguyen noted it has been 16 years since a woman last represented the community.

“When we talk about making sure there is a voice for us, we don’t have that right now,” she said. With her special needs daughter at her side, Nguyen said she would fight for those children and families.  

“I’m a voice for the voiceless. That is the reason why I run. Not for the title or money. I will be your voice.”

-Stephanie Nguyen

Guerra said he found passion in working with communities to solve their issues. His experience is his strength, citing years in the political arena where he learned to solve problems. His primary goal is to use differing points of view to champion needs for the working family.

“If we’re not creating outcomes, we’re wasting the space that an elected official has for somebody who’s going to change the life for someone.”

-Eric Guerra.

A tough choice for voters

Edgar Calderon, a member of the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and APAPA, called both candidates “great, professional and polished.”

“This is good. We have a younger generation coming with new ideas and the desire to work for the community. For the people in Elk Grove, we want the best. And they deserve to represent,” he said.

About The Author

Tony Mercado

Tony is our News & Events Editor. Tony Mercado brings a decade of experience as a Bay Area newspaper reporter to the Tribune. He studied journalism and political science at San José State University and has written for such dailies as the Gilroy Dispatch, San José Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. By day, he’s a communications specialist for a San José water district and somehow finds time to dive into a Stephen King novel, get in the stands for San José Sharks and Las Vegas Raiders games and whoop it up with his family and rescue dogs.

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