With the June 5 primary election only a month away, the race for California’s 30th State Assembly district is set to come to a head.
Current Assemblywoman Anna Caballero will term out of the 30th district in November, which leaves the seat open for a contested race between multiple candidates, including San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas, Gilroy City Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz, Watsonville City Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez, real estate investor and property manager Neil Kitchens, and policy manager Bill Lipe.
The state assembly is the lower house in the California State Legislature, similar to the House of Representatives in Congress. There are 80 members of the California State Assembly, each representing a single district. Similar to congressional representatives, a state assemblymember is responsible for drafting and voting on bills that could become state law.
The 30th State Assembly district is geographically large and encompasses all of San Benito County, as well as the cities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Watsonville, Salinas, Gonzalez, Soledad, Greenfield, and King City.
After eight years on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, Robert Rivas is setting his sights on a higher office: California’s 30th State Assembly district.
Rivas, 38, has been active with the Democratic Party since attending San Benito High School. He worked for then State Assemblyman, now Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas from 2003 to 2006, and went on to be field director for current Assemblywoman Anna Caballero. Rivas held the title Clerk of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors two years prior to getting elected to San Benito County District 3 Supervisor in 2010.
The Hollister native has received numerous endorsements, including civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, Hollister Firefighters Association President Vince Grewohl, the California Nurses Association, California Teachers Association, Service Employees International Union, and Assemblywoman Caballero herself.
“I’m proud to have Caballero’s endorsement, as well as [State Senator] Bill Monning, and [State Assemblyman] Mark Stone in the neighboring district,” Rivas said. “I’m proud to have their support because they understand I’m the only one in this race to go to Sacramento and fight for issues in our community and for the values important to this district.”
Top focus issues for the Rivas campaign include education, the environment, housing/health care/tuition affordability, and jobs.
“Our issues are just as important as urban areas and deserve just as much attention,” Rivas said.
Education hits close to home for the candidate, who works one job as a communications professor at Gavilan College and another job in special education at San Benito High School. His mother and three aunts are also educators.
Rivas said he was inspired to run by his grandfather, who immigrated to California from Mexico in the 1960s and spoke to a young Rivas about the importance of hard work. The candidate is also motivated to run because of his two-year-old daughter.
“I’m concerned that the state we are in in California with the lack of affordability when it comes to housing, the issues and challenges we face, I don’t know if I can tell her that hard work is going to be enough to enjoy the same opportunities I’ve had,” Rivas said. “I want the same things my family wanted for me: more opportunities to succeed in life. That’s why my campaign is about creating opportunities for future generations and millions of Californians that need opportunity right now.”
As the sole 30th State Assembly district candidate from San Benito County, Rivas said he knows the district well. He said he intends to tackle the challenges facing the region by creating a network of working groups to meet with on a monthly basis in order to make sure every community’s issues are represented in Sacramento.
“I feel rural communities lack representation in Sacramento,” Rivas said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to represent Assembly District 30. I’ve worked in government and politics long enough to understand how government works and the process to get things accomplished.”
Peter Leroe-Munoz, 38, is a candidate with experience in both the public and private sectors.
“Having that unique blend allows me to bring knowledge and insight to some of the challenges we’re facing as a district,” Leroe-Munoz said.
The Harvard Law School graduate spent several years as a criminal prosecutor and deputy district attorney in San Benito County before being elected to the Gilroy City Council in 2010. In addition to his ongoing public service on the council, Leroe-Munoz is chief legal officer and vice president of technology and innovation policy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
“I look at our district and we have so many incredible resources,” Leroe-Munoz said. “We have a wonderful location near the Bay Area, Central Coast, and Central Valley. We have terrific weather and wonderful cultural diversity, as well as agricultural resources. But we have some real challenges. It’s those challenges I outlined that really inspired me to run and represent our district in Sacramento.”
Leroe-Munoz is endorsed by Gilroy City Councilmembers Fred Tovar, Cat Tucker, and Dan Harney, as well as Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, Retired Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner, and the Gilroy Police Officers Association. The candidate’s top three focus issues are public safety, improving roads and highways, and economic development.
“[Public safety] is far and away an issue that’s important in all parts of the district,” he said. “It impacts the community, the safety of students, and has a real business impact. Public safety is a top priority.”
While speaking about long commutes throughout the 30th State Assembly district, Leroe-Munoz also talked about the challenge of road conditions scarred by cracks and potholes.
“That condition of the road puts a tremendous strain on our drivers and vehicles,” Leroe-Munoz said. “In many cases it’s like a hidden tax; we have to pay as drivers for car repairs brought about by the poor conditions of our roads.”
While such a geographically large district encompasses various communities and issues, Leroe-Munoz said he plans to represent the region similar to how he has campaigned for the open seat in the 30th State Assembly district.
“Being involved in the communities, meeting with a whole host of community groups, and walking the precinct, being physically present in those districts,” Leroe-Munoz said. “It’s about being present and for me that’s the promise I make to voters and to all of our constituents: I will be an active part of our regional community. People will have access to me where people can reach out anytime to meet and I’ll be an active participant in attending meetings in all parts of the region.”
Trina Coffman-Gomez was born and raised in the Salinas Valley, and has spent years advocating for issues affecting the region.
Coffman-Gomez, 54, first got involved with local politics by serving on the personnel and planning commissions in Watsonville. She was elected to the Watsonville City Council in 2012, is a founding board member of Monterey Bay Community Power, and is on this year’s executive committee for the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.
“We have a lot to work on for this area,” Coffman-Gomez said. “My experience is to know a little about a whole lot of things.”
The Watsonville councilwoman’s top focus issues are housing, transportation, water, and social justice.
“We know that throughout the state of California, we’re in a huge deficit in what we need to build for the population we have here,” Coffman-Gomez said of the current housing crisis. “I’m actually in finance for real estate and have been in finance for a couple decades. I understand the kind of problem our housing market has and being a policy leader to make sure the policy lines up for people to get a home is important.”
When it comes to transportation, Coffman-Gomez said the state needs to keep Senate Bill 1 active. The 2017 bill increased the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees in order to collect money for local transportation projects like road repair and maintenance.
“I think it’s a slow process to work on our transportation system,” Coffman-Gomez said. “It’s not an overnight fix because it took decades to get to the problem we’re in now. We need to continue to invest in infrastructure for all transportation components.”
She continued on social justice.
“We need more women who have an understanding that policy is being set. I think we’ve overlooked that for generations and we need more women legislators at the state level.”
Additionally, the candidate said she’s looking at working on policies that won’t be completed when Caballero terms out in November.
“We talked about continuing policies for rural communities in our corridor,” Coffman-Gomez said. “I want to continue that road map of things that won’t be finished.”
Coffman-Gomez said she decided to run for the 30th State Assembly district last year after speaking with people who saw what she was doing on the city council.
“They see that’s the value they want in someone at the state,” she said. “Someone who can understand the information, explain it, and turn it into policy that will benefit the community.”
As for covering the district, the candidate said it could be done with satellite offices.
“Sixty-five percent of the district is in Salinas,” Coffman-Gomez said. “Making sure local jurisdictions, city council, and board of supervisors know when there’s a rotation when I’m down from Sacramento so they’d know when I’d be in their neighborhood. I’d set appointments to hear concerns to work on funding for things that are problems in the area.”
Neil Kitchens first got interested in politics as a child when he heard his father talk about it around the dinner table. Yet 2018 marks the first year he is seeking elected office.
“I’m not a politician,” Kitchens said. “I can’t say that forever.”
The candidate said he has held numerous jobs over the years, including being a professional forester, rancher, lawyer, criminologist who worked with cops to deal with people in crisis, real estate investor, and residential property manager.
Kitchens, 50, grew up as a fifth-generation farmer in the Bible Belt and split his time between two farms in Arkansas and Georgia that are still in the family today. He moved out west to California in 1986.
“I moved out here when I was 19 with nothing,” Kitchens said. “I made it big because of opportunities in this state that are no longer here.”
Kitchens was encouraged to get involved in politics by his fiancee in 2016. He became a national delegate for the Republican National Committee, which sparked the idea to run for the 30th State Assembly district.
“I decided that I needed to get involved and give back,” he said. “This is the most amazing state in the world.”
But that doesn’t come without challenges.
“Our politicians are running this state into the ground,” Kitchens continued. “The middle class is leaving. Businesses are leaving and the jobs with them.”
Kitchens’ campaign for the 30th State Assembly district is focused on homelessness and mental health, infrastructure, and housing affordability. He said he brings experience from outside the world of politics.
“My experience outside the world of politics is dealing with bureaucracy, onerous regulations and taxes, with housing, and crime,” Kitchens said. “I’ve been on the frontline of all those things. I see the hindrance that bureaucrats bring to businesses. I’d be somebody on the other side to go up to Sacramento. That’s where the problems are coming from. I can explain to my colleagues up there that the policies and laws they’re making are the reasons why we have mass homelessness, broken infrastructure, all the problems we have.”
If elected, Kitchens said the best way to cover the large state assembly district would be to work with the various county boards of supervisors.
“I plan to work with the local politicians and not only find out what plans they have, but basically to educate them on some of these issues,” Kitchens said.
Bill Lipe has worked in the private sector his entire life, but is out to make a difference in the public sector with his campaign for California’s 30th State Assembly district.
“If there’s ever going to be a time to do this, this is it,” Lipe said. “I’m at a good point in my life where I can afford to take on some of these bigger issues, and California has some big issues to solve.”
Lipe, 49, grew up in Salinas and went to high school outside of Sacramento. He worked in the information technology sector in the Bay Area for 14 years before moving back to Salinas in 2007 to work with his family’s fertilizer company, a fourth-generation business. He started handling water, labor, and government policy for Fresh Foods, Inc. in 2016.
While Lipe has never been elected to any public office, he has been appointed to boards like the Monterey County Farm Bureau.
“I felt it was time to stop this crazy train going on in our legislature and bring some common sense and real world, practical solutions to fixing these big problems we have like housing, health care, and water security,” Lipe said.
The top focus issues of the Lipe campaign include immigration, water security, health care, and housing.
“The cost of housing is high and consumes an abnormal percentage of a lot of our community members’ budgets to keep a roof over their heads,” Lipe said. “I happen to believe a stable, healthy home goes a long way toward addressing other issues like crime.”
While the 30th State Assembly district has a few large cities like Salinas, Lipe said the district is by and large a rural community.
“I feel what’s being done up [in Sacramento] isn’t tangible or relatable to those of us in rural communities outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Lipe said.
He spoke of his business experience and what he could bring to the table.
“I was minimum wage earner for years in Tahoe, and a union member for a while stocking grocery store shelves,” Lipe said. “I understand what collective bargaining is about, but I also understand from the business ownership perspective the challenges of maintaining a viable business model. It’s a constant conversation between the owner and employees over what is best. Neither side is completely right. Coming and working together, that’s the only way we’ll solve these problems. We all have to give a little to get a little.”
Lipe said he would cover the 30th State Assembly district by staying engaged with the public.
“Talk with real people and identify what their problems are,” Lipe said. “Their issues are my issues too. It’s wanting to find specific things in their areas that I can bring a voice to and bring meaningful, practical legislation to help fix it.”
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