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Smyth, Shaw vie for seat

Politics: Two-term Republican and first-time Democrat candidate pursue Assembly office

Posted: October 3, 2010 9:44 p.m.
Updated: October 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Both Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and challenger Diana Shaw agreed there’s a mess in California that needs cleaning up; they just have different takes on how to do it as election day draws closer.

Smyth, a 39-year-old Republican, is finishing up his second term representing the 38th District, which includes Santa Clarita Valley and portions of the San Fernando and Simi valleys.

This is the first major race for Shaw, a 63-year-old Democrat who has long been involved in local political groups.

Both are seeking votes in a district typically dominated by Republicans.

“I’ve always been interested in politics,” Shaw said of her decision to run. “It’s one thing to be someone who is just interested, and it’s another thing to really assume the responsibility.”

A front-row seat
A Santa Clarita native, Smyth was twice elected to the Santa Clarita City Council before he left at the end of 2005, when he was elected to the Assembly.

After two terms that have coincided with a state budget crisis, he still wants to stay in the fight.

“I have a front-row seat for a lot of the damage that’s being done to the state,” he said. “I spent my first two terms fighting to turn things around. I have two more years left.”

When it comes to breaking the budget deadlock in Sacramento, Smyth said pension reform needs to be at the top of the to-do list.

“I appreciate that the governor has held firm on not raising taxes,” he said. “The key component is the issue of pension reform.

“I think for the long-term health, Democrats need to look at pensions.”

He pointed to recent pension rollbacks for new hires agreed to by the union representing the California Highway Patrol, and said others need to follow that lead.

Indeed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been demanding rollbacks in pension benefits in exchange for his signature on a budget bill that would close the state’s $19 billion deficit.

Smyth, who has been lauded for making attempts to work across the aisle in Sacramento, said Republicans also need to be willing to give a little in getting California back on track.

He cited Schwarzenegger’s proposal to eliminate CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program. CalWORKs provides financial assistance to parents with minor children, provided the adults are searching, for and obtaining, employment.

“While there need to be reforms, eliminating it altogether is not something I would support,” Smyth said, and added it’s vital to have a “temporary safety net” to help people.

While not pushing for a part-time state Legislature, Smyth did say he’d like to see reforms that give elected officials more time in their districts.

Currently, Smyth said, he spends about eight to nine months in Sacramento and three to four in his district.

“I would support kind of flipping what we do now,” he said.

When it comes to campaigning, Smyth said he has not yet started walking the precincts in his district, but as sample ballots are going out, his intent is to spend more one-on-one time with voters.

“It’s important to talk to voters in smaller groups,” he said.

Going to the next level
A resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1988, Shaw was a founding member of the Democratic Alliance for Action.
She said she decided to run for the Assembly after being asked by several people.

“I live in the Santa Clarita Valley and that means, obviously, I want to make it a good place to live,” she said.

Having worked in legal counsel for the film industry, Shaw said she understands how vital it is to bolster Hollywood.

“I understand runaway production (filming done in states or countries with better tax benefits),” she said. “I would work with (Santa Clarita) to maintain Santa Clarita as a place of production.”

Discussing the state budget crisis, Shaw said there needs to be a simple majority vote, versus the current two-thirds requirement.

Asked about pension reform, she called it “such a broad issue.”

In addressing pension, “the rank and file” need to be kept in mind.

“Down the line, what happens if blocks of people don’t have money?” she asked.

“I have been an attorney that has spent a lot of time in negotiations for management and labor,” she said. “People don’t understand that you can’t just blame labor.”

Shaw said her goal as assemblywoman would be to connect with the constituency.

“I have gone all over the 38th district ... (and) everywhere I go, I notice there are little problems,” she said. “Nobody in Sacramento is connecting with these people ... until a few months into the campaign.”

She pointed to Granada Hills and Chatsworth — which are also part of the 40th District — where residents were upset over advertisers parking mobile billboards.

Democratic 40th District Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield pushed Assembly Bill 2756, which would ban the mobile billboards.

“(Smyth) voted against it. He voted against his own constituents,” Shaw said. “Representation is not a partisan issue.

You’re representing the interests of people paying your salary.”

As far as campaigning, Shaw said she has been focused on precinct walking and meeting voters.

More of the same
Does a first-time Democratic candidate have a chance in a strong Republican district?

“No. Probably a third-time Democratic candidate doesn’t have a chance,” said Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, who has covered Sacramento politics since 1975.

Gerrymandering to preserve the status quo in districts has been remarkably effective, he said.

Smyth, he said, “appears to be a cut above the usual. ... He seems to be intelligent and thoughtful and not just rote.”

No one can tell for sure, but Walters said he expects little change in the November elections.

“The Democrats will still be in control of both houses,” he said. “The macro climate will not change.”

While it still remains to be seen how the lines will be drawn, he did point to new districts in 2012.

Depending on how voters decide on Proposition 27, elected officials’ district boundaries will be decided either by a citizens’ commission or elected officials themselves.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Walters said. “(Sacramento) lurches day to day. .. Blame term limits, blame gerrymandering — that’s the way it is.”

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