Both candidates attended October 18th's Election Forum in Hollister. Photo by ohn Chadwell.

Anna Caballero and Rob Poythress are the candidates for State Senate District 12 in the Nov. 6 election.

A District 12 resident for 38 years, Anna Caballero has served as a Salinas City Councilmember as well as that city’s first female mayor, and currently represents the 30th District in the State Assembly. In a biography provided to BenitoLink, Caballero “has dedicated her working life to empower working families and to create opportunities for them and their children to be successful.”

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for State Senate?

CABALLERO: The biggest reason is that I feel that rural California is at a really critical point in our history. The 12th Senate District is a rural agricultural district and residents feel that we are falling behind the rest of the state economically. We are impacted by people moving into our counties with a higher income and it is creating a lack of affordability in housing and it is starting to put a strain on our infrastructure, such as roads and public transportation.

What I have realized is there is a disconnect between the rural and urban legislators. There are many more legislators from the urban areas, like the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and they control the votes and dialogue about policy in California. They don’t understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution that works in all of our communities. I have been a voice of reason and a fighter for rural California.

I have learned a lot about the needs of agriculture, land use and food processing. It has become more difficult for agriculture to be sustainable in California, because we are competing in a world market. Agriculture sequesters carbon and can be a great partner with the state to reduce the production of greenhouse gases. But the time to recognize this is very important because if we don’t do something now, we are going to drive agriculture out of our region and our area will look like San Jose and we will be a bedroom community.

What makes us special are the families and people that work really hard here and we need an economy that allows them to continue to contribute to the local economy.

What issues are most important to your district?

The big issues that people are concerned about are good-paying jobs, the increasing poverty, the price of housing and transportation. Our road system is not sufficient to take commuters and agricultural trucks at the same time. Additionally the high cost of health insurance and whether the progress California has made under Obamacare will continue. Families are committed to protecting law-abiding immigrants, regardless of status. And finally, water availability and quality are critically important. With the new rules that will affect how groundwater will be managed, some regions will need to make changes that can affect how we all use water.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Yes. When I got to the Legislature I asked the Speaker for a select committee on economic development and investment in rural California. I wanted to hear what kind of investments the state would help with to support our community. I thought I would be looking at agricultural tourism—bringing people into our communities to stay and eat in our restaurants. I think we have some assets in our region that are invaluable. The Pinnacles is underused and underutilized.

What I found is our biggest issue is a lack of broadband access. If you have ever driven in rural California, your phone service drops. There is a lack of access in these areas. For students it is important to have broadband access to be academically successful. It is a problem if they need the access but don’t have it in their schools and homes.

This is also important for the business community as well. They need the same access for their businesses to survive.

Agriculture is moving to robotics and apps for drip irrigation, harvesting machines, and tractors that require GPS capacity. Not having broadband access has really impacted rural communities in negative ways.

I am working to develop a cost-effective solution to this so that we can have broadband access in all rural communities.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

One of the challenges we have is there is a lack of understanding among policymakers, of how rural California can be a partner in efforts to combat climate change and how important it is to have farmers and ranchers at the table so that they can be part of the solution.

For every acre of land that is converted to urban purposes, the greenhouse gas that is produced is 58 times more. What that means is as we convert this open space we are creating more greenhouse gases. And so as we look at ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the state, electric cars are good, conservation methods are good, but we also need to look at the preservation of agricultural and ranch lands, and how the cultivation of nut and fruit trees and vineyards sequester carbon, at how other on-farm strategies can help as well.

If California could just focus on maintaining our open space by building up, increasing densities along public transportation corridors and focus on developing housing units that have a smaller footprint so that they are more affordable, people would be able to live closer to where they work so they wouldn’t have to commute as far.

What this requires is that we also start investing in mass transit to suburban and rural communities so that we start expanding the train services, light rail and bus services. BART needs to go way past Milpitas and come to Gilroy and Hollister if possible.

We are not doing the prevention that we need to do. That is the key. If we can create opportunities to get people out of their cars, we can greatly reduce our carbon footprint.

How do you plan to address these obstacles and challenges?

Part of it is education, and part of it is having a highly motivated advocate for rural California, which is a task that I love. The legislature has to delve into these issues and look at them from a different perspective. I think this new governor has an opportunity to chart a new path. There is an opportunity to look at new ways to address our complex, thorny issues.

It’s transportation, housing, and water. If we don’t do it right we will see the gridlock on the roads get worse, the lack of housing will see families moving further from where the breadwinners work, with long commutes, and water wars will produce communities where agricultural production is reduced or stopped and where the local economy suffers because of the lack of jobs.

Part of the solution is to create incentives and to encourage solutions that bring as many stakeholders to the table as possible. I believe in creating opportunities for cities, counties, water districts and businesspeople to access resources to take the steps necessary to craft local solutions to these issues.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

What I do currently is visit each City Council and County Board of Supervisors on a yearly basis to give a state of the state report. I have also done a series of town hall meetings at coffee houses and at people’s homes.

I used to do a newsletter which I think is a really good idea. I didn’t have the resources this year, but want to bring the idea back.

We have a main office in Salinas and satellite offices in Hollister, Watsonville and Soledad where we hold regular office hours. I think we did that successfully and we got really good feedback from the communities.

Would you consider writing opinion articles for BenitoLink from your position as an elected representative?

Sure. I would be happy to do that. I have done a little of that in the past and would be happy to do more.

What is the role of state government?

I think primarily the role is public safety and infrastructure; maintaining a civil society and providing education. The big one is public safety. People want to feel safe and if there is a disaster or need for assistance that the state resources will be there for them.

California also has to protect and continue to build its robust infrastructure system. We have an enviable highway system, water transfer system, airport and port system to move people and produce. We have a robust education system, with universities that are the envy of many countries. As the fifth-largest economy of the world and one of the nation’s premier agricultural exporters of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables, all of this infrastructure is critically important for the movement of goods. We take this all for granted, but it is really important to the success of our rural communities.


Rob Poythress is a farmer and small business owner, as well as a lifelong resident of District 12, except for the years he attended college. Poythress is a board member for multiple nonprofits and is currently a member of the Farm Bureau and on the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

“Being in policymaking is one of the best decisions I made in my life,” Poythress said. “I really enjoy working to improve the lives of others.”

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for State Senate?

POYTHRESS: I am running because I have a passion to serve others through the policymaking process. The State Senate puts me in the position to legislate for sound policy by getting out of the way of continuing to construct barriers to success. That seems to be the current mission of the State Legislature.

What issues are most important to your district?

I have five things: water, public safety, education, jobs and health care.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Absolutely, the regulatory burden. Hard-working families feel an economic crush but are sometimes unaware that owner’s regulations cost them more due to the burden put on businesses providing services for them. Businesses are forced to pass on their cost of doing business to the consumer.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Aging infrastructure, cost of housing, vocational education and water.

How do you plan to address these obstacles and challenges?

The first part would be working to make government more efficient. One example of this could be found in 2014-2015 California state budget. Matt Taylor, who is the state legislative analyst, said that Caltrans was overstaffed by 3,500 full-time employee equivalents at a cost of more than $500 million. So by becoming more efficient we can redirect these funds to, or instance, our road infrastructure. That is one example of how we can make improvements by becoming more efficient.

Housing costs can be reduced through reform of the California Environmental Quality Act. Also by the elimination of mandate requirements like sprinklers and solar that drive up cost. Also reducing regulations on suppliers of building materials.

For vocational education we can redirect funding to vocational programs that provide a path for those students with vocational skills that are in demand.

[For water], reduce barriers to storage and recharge efforts.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I would have regularly scheduled personal visits to all parts of the district, newsletters, office hours, and an intense district staff outreach effort. I live in the heart of the district, which makes accessibility to others very easy.

Would you consider writing opinion articles for BenitoLink from your position as an elected representative?

I would love to provide opinion articles. That would be wonderful.

What is the role of state government?

The role of state government is to ensure that the citizens of California are efficiently and effectively served through the development and maintenance of infrastructure, education, and social services. The state government should consider that the tax dollars spent to fund government be spent in a way that does not stray from a very defined mission and is spent as if it is their own personal dollars not as if there are no consequences for waste.