Update: Rick Powell won the Republican primary and will face off against Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block in November.
EDUCATION IS KEY ISSUE IN THE RACE
May 27, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – Two military veterans square off in a Republican primary in the 78th Assembly District. Republican Emma Turner, a 27-year Navy veteran, is president of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board and says she’s running to fight for more funding forpublic schools, particularly K-12 education.
Col. Rick Powell, who also has a distinguished military career, thinks the answer to education is not more money for public schools, but instead providing vouchers and supporting charters that would let parents use public funds to send their children to private schools.
The winner in the GOP primary will run against Assemblyman Marty Block, an educator and former San Diego State University administrator who now chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Block has championed education causes, particularly efforts to help college students and their families.
Powell did not respond to requests for an interview. He previously ran for Congress in 2009, getting 2.7% of the vote in a four-way race won by Duncan Hunter. He served in the Marines and in the U.S. Army Special Forces reserves as a Green Beret and later served in the Middle East during the Iraq War, retiring in 2004 as a full colonel. According to his website, he earned numerous military awards. He has also served as a special agent for the U.S. Treasury Department and for the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (AFT). He is currently an independent national security clearance investigator for the U.S. State Department, his website states.
If elected, his goals include stopping wasteful government spending, promoting business and job growth, increasing border security and requiring higher education standards. His site notes that recent studies have ranked California’s education system 49th out of the 50 states, however he does not support restoring funding cut from public schools during the recent budget crisis. Instead he advocates a voucher and tax credit program and a pilot program for Pell Grants in K-12 grades to give parents a choice of “either homeschooling their children or enrolling them at a charter school.”
Emma Turner, by contrast, believes more funding for public schools is crucial to give kids a “good start in education”, particularly in grades K-12. She supports Marty Block’s efforts to help students but wants to see even more focus on the primary grades.
“There has to be a way to handle that budget to make sure people like our kids get their fair share,” says Turner. She differs with most Republican officials in that she refuses to take a “no new taxes” pledge. “Those people who say no to taxes shouldn’t be doing that,” she says bluntly. “We’ve got to go to the problem with an open mind…I believe the answer will lie in both revenues and expenditures.”
Asked what revenue increases she might consider, she noted that legislative analyst Matt Taylor has suggested a tax on certain services. She would also consider an increase on the vehicle licensing tax. “I know that Gray Davis got rolled out on a rail for that, but we need to look at all possibilities, to be honest with you,” she said.
As a school board member, she has seen the impact of education cuts first-hand. “For the last three years, we have not gotten the money that was guaranteed to us by Prop 98,” she said, adding that because of the Governor’s cuts, the district’s budget has shrunk from $105 million to around $85-90 million.
“That’s a huge cut,” she said, adding that 85% of the district’s budget is pay and salary. “Just this year, at the March 15 deadline layoff notices went out to 100 teachers; we have 21 schools. That was crushing to us,” Turner noted. “We trained these teachers, and this included some of our best and brightest.” Teachers without tenure were automatically terminated, but also some that the district has invested thousands of dollars to train had to be let go, she added.
Class sizes in K-12 have increased from 20-25 at some schools, with middle school classes rising from 30 to 45 students. “We don’t have bloating or overpaid teachers,” she said, adding that some higher paid teachers were offered early retirement to reduce the budget.
Turner has three daughters who attended public schools, including her youngest, a ninth grader at Monte Vista High School. Turner has taught school, including serving as a adjunct professor at the University of Phoenix.
She also serves on the Board of Directors of the California School Board Association and has advocated for education issues in Sacramento and Washington D.C. She spent 27 years in the Navy, including time as a Navy Prosecutor. “I have that legal experience, understanding how to read and write laws,” she noted. “I’m not a career politician, but I do have experience governing. That’s the difference between me and my Republican opponent—he has run for offices but has no experience governing.”
On other issues, Turner says she opposed offshore drilling even before the Gulf Oil Spill because environmental destruction from a spill off California could decimate tourism and the economy. She is inclined to repeal or reform AB 32, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but which she feels may be overly burdensome on businesses during the recession. She supports business but believes additional tax breaks may not be feasible with the present budget deficit. Her endorsements include LMSV board member Penny Halgren, former California State Senator Jim Ellis, and California School Boards Association member Bob Berkowitz.
Democrat Marty Block believes voters should reelect him because of his track record on education and his legislative efforts during his first term. “I was assistant majority whip under the previous speaker and now I chair the Higher Education Committee. These are important positions for San Diego to have,” he said, adding that he has the most extensive record in education. Block served as president of the San Diego Community Colleges District’s Board of Trustees and spent 26 years at San Diego State University as a professor and as assistant dean of the college of education. He also served eight years on the County Board of Education and was president of a statewide association of county boards of education.
“Education is 50% of the state budget,” he said, noting that his opponents’ military experience while admirable may make them more suited for federal office than state legislature.
In his first term, Block introduced several major education bills. He is most proud of AB 24, which called for a new California State University campus in Chula Vista. “It’s critical for the San Diego region to relax pressure on SDSU over-enrollment,” he said. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not sign the measure. Block is hopeful that with a new Governor next year, the bill may become law.
Two other education bills by Block are currently progressing in the Legislature. “I was horrified by SDSU’s decision two weeks before the application period began last September to changes its policy of admitting all CSU eligible local students,” said Block. “Now 1,740 of those local freshmen applicants who would have gotten in under previous rules have been rejected by the change.” He also faulted the process, which he said was decided by SDSU behind closed doors without public input.
Block’s AB 2402 would require any CSU campus to have transparency before making such decisions by going before local school boards and community college groups, also waiting one year before implementation. He says he’s received bipartisan support for the measure.
A second bill by Block, AB 2401, would require that CSU schools give preference to local students who meet admission requirements, unless such preference would negatively impact students or color or veterans.
He also authored AB 2272, which would help keep class sizes low in K-12 schools by removing certain penalties that currently force administrators to increase class sizes by large amounts to cover financial penalties associated with even small class size increase. “My bill will return $14 million in additional revenue to San Diego Unified Schools over the next two years,” he said, adding that it also helps other districts.
Block supports a compromise budget proposed by Assembly Democrats, which would cut in half the hefty fee increases proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger, who wants to hike up UC fees 15% and CSU fees 10% on the heels of already hefty increases in the past year. The Assembly budget would create a severance tax on oil (as all other oil-producing states except California currently have) and create $9 billion in additional revenues through securitizing bottle recycling.
Another Block bill, AB 1178, would close the “Cayman Islands loophole” that currently allows California corporations to stash money in offshore accounts and avoid paying state taxes. Block estimates the bill would return $120 million to state coffers, which would be used for both K-12 and higher education.
Other bills by Block would help people keep unemployment compensation while undergoing job training and require that Pedicab drivers have valid California driver’s licenses.
On other issues, Block opposes offshore oil drilling and says he wants to go through AB 32 line by line to see which regulations are working well and whether some may present burdens on businesses that need reform. “Clean air is crucial to minimize additional cases of asthma to kids,” he said. “Having said that, I am sympathetic to small businesses that find themselves overwhelmed.”
He supports moving towards clean energy including wind and solar power, which he sees as “a real growth potential for the San Diego and Imperial Counties region.
First and foremost, however, Block’s priority is to restore high quality, affordable public education for California students. “My job as Chair of the Higher Education Committee is to advocate for higher education and also K-12, because that’s what will fuel our future,” he concludes.