By Janis Mork
May 30, 2012 (San Diego)- One of four candidates will succeed Nathan Fletcher when he leaves the Assembly. Republican Dustin Steiner is one candidate who hopes to represent the newly redrawn 77th District, which includes inland communities such as Tierrasanta, Scripps Ranch, Poway, and Rancho Bernardo, as well as coastal communities in Del Mar. View a map of the district: http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/voters/Eng/maps/AssemblySDCountyMap.jpg
Other candidates vying for the seat are Democrat Ruben “R.J.” Hernandez, Greg Laskaris, who listed no party preference, and Republican Brian Maienschien.
One bragging right that Steiner has is that he has received substantial donations from developers, tribes and real estate interests. He currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Chairman of San Diego County Board of Supervisors Bill Horn. Steiner is Chairman of the Miramar Ranch North Planning Committee and an alternate for the County Republican Party.
Born and raised in Santa Paula, California, a small agricultural town, Steiner has been involved in politics for much of his life. He spent five years in Washington D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives from the front desk to the senior staff for three Members of Congress, including Brian Bilbray and Randy "Duke" Cunningham. In 2006, he moved back to California and started work for the County of San Diego. His education includes a Bachelor’s in Political Science from U.C. Santa Barbara and a Master’s in Public Policy from American University in D.C.
Below is a Q and A on his candidacy:
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: “I am running for the State Assembly because I believe we can make California the Golden State once again. As the father of a young child, I want my daughter to grow up in a place that puts children first in the classroom and rewards businesses for creating jobs and growing our economy. I will fight new taxes and sweetheart union deals. I will work closely with the innovators and business leaders in our community to reduce barriers and incentivize growth. And, I will look for ways to allow our world class university system and cutting edge technology sector to prosper without onerous regulation …I see a disconnect between the national and local level and largely that’s Sacramento. I’d like to work to increase local control and stop unfunded mandates.”
Q: What do you view as the most important issue(s) facing this district?
A: I have three priorities. Jobs and the economy, public safety and education/tuition.
Q: Unemployment remains high in California, though it’s improved somewhat. What plans or ideas do you have to create jobs, particularly higher wage positions for our region?
A: The government’s job is to reduce barriers and get a private sector to create jobs. In California, we have Google, Facebook and Qualcomm. We need to help these companies grow. I want to foster high tech and bio tech. I’m always concerned about government creating jobs, for instance there was a bill that mandated retrofits and said it would create thousands of jobs. Did we need the jobs or did we just shift money around?
Q. What are some specific examples of regulations you would change to make California more business friendly? What other plans do you have to improve the economy?
A: I would work to change land use and extreme environmental regulations. Land use decisions should be made at the local level, but lately we’ve seen a disturbing trend in our state. Sacramento, in an effort to exert more control, has begun passing legislation like SB 922, which cuts off state funding for projects in municipalities that have passed so-called bans on Project Labor Agreements. This is a heavy-handed nanny-state regulation that undermines the will of voters who overwhelmingly passed a fair and open competition measure in the county (Prop A) and in the cities of Chula Vista and Oceanside in 2010. In addition, this very legislation is now being used as the basis of opposition to the City of San Diego’s similar proposal (also Prop A) on the ballot in June. I am also interested in CEQA reform. I believe we need tort reform in our CEQA process. Extreme environmentalists have hijacked the CEQA process and have made entire careers out of suing things like an EIR, which was meant to be a disclosure document. Recent examples include numerous lawsuits against the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the ongoing seal debate in La Jolla and fireworks displays and other events in public spaces. These environmental regulations put a stranglehold on development and continue to put California on an uneven playing field.
Q: What steps would you take to help farmers and support agriculture?
A: Water is the biggest threat to farming. It’s a largely political problem, not availability. Politics gets in the way of moving water from one end to another. So potentially a Peripheral Canal is needed, and we could take a look at the Delta Smelt [which a federal judge has ordered protecting, limiting pumping].. Land use is also an issue. The county downsized a lot of land and it’s going to cost a lot of farmers their livelihood. The state has become involved in land use decisions and local issues; I want to fight back on that. For example SB 922. if a county or city approves a project labor agreement, they lose state funds. I oppose that.
Q: You state on your website that you believe the biotech industry has been under attack. In what ways do you believe that it has been under attack by the state government and what would you do to fix it?
A: The BPA-free campaign, for example. Small changes are making a big difference. The State legislature passed a bill, the [Toxin-Free] Infant and Children’s Safety Act. No BPA in anything for children under age two. My concern is going above and beyond what the EPA requires. Biotech like BPA because it ‘s safe and protects from contamination. I am concerned that we’re putting ourselves at risk; there’s always a risk assessment.
Q: What are your views on climate change and energy policy for California? How supportive are you of emerging the green-tech industries in San Diego County?
A: I fall in the camp of..natural trends [in climate fluctuations] and I’m undecided on that. In California, we’ve always done a good job on recycling and reducing our carbon footprint, but there is evidence of ebb and flow. Renewable energy is a growing industry in our state. I am interested in green jobs. The County of San Diego is currently seeing a boom in solar and wind energy proposals. A few years ago, I worked to reduce bureaucratic barriers for siting wind test poles in the county and I have helped to navigate a peaker plant through the local process. However I believe that energy policy needs to make sense financially. I oppose efforts by the state government to pick winners and losers in energy and instead believe the free market should play a large role in the future to meet our energy needs.
Q: As a fiscal conservative you’ve taken a no-new-taxes pledge. Despite deep cuts impacting education, health and safety, you’ve said that you don’t think California has a revenue problem, but that the state has a spending problem. What are some examples of areas in the budget that you would cut?
A: I believe we have too many regulations in this state. Sacramento licenses 177 different occupations. Each regulation carries its own bureaucracy and administrative costs. Prop 29, which is on the ballot in June, is a good example. Voters generally support taxing tobacco (I oppose Prop 29), but the result of this new tax is a new state bureaucracy, which will largely be unaccountable to the voters. Much like the high speed rail that has gone from what the ballot measure set as a total cost of $33.5 billion to today’s estimates, which are 200% higher at over $98 billion. The voters were fleeced and I will work to end this costly boondoggle. Another area of high cost in need of reform is our state prison system. I do not believe the “solution” to our prison overcrowding is releasing state prisoners to local authorities who are not necessarily equipped to handle this influx, nor are they funded adequately for this new burden. I support more public-private partnerships for housing prisoners. There are also far too many stories like the nurse in our state prison system who gamed overtime to “earn” $269,000, almost triple her annual salary. In 2010, California’s public workers collected $1.7 billion of extra pay, more than half of it in overtime, state payroll data show. Overtime and pay differentials are union-negotiated benefits that are complex and often buried in the budgets. I believe that with state unemployment around 11%, we do not need to be paying triple salaries for overtime work. I also support pension reform because I believe short-term fixes have led to long-term problems and political expedience has taken the place of sound public policy. We have an unsustainable pension obligation and it’s past time to do something about it.
Q: How would you address affordability issues for higher education in an era of repeated state budget cuts to CSU and UC?
A: I’m a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara.The UC system is a tremendous resource, same with CSU. Six UCs ranked in the top 50. We need to foster high ranked universities. Research is important…Higher education has taken its share of budget hits over the past several years and costs have naturally gone up for things like room and board. However a recent report by California Common Sense also identifies another concerning trend—the increase in management costs. According to the report, since 1993 management growth has outpaced student, faculty and overall employee growth. Also, according to the report, management salaries… are growing rapidly. These costs are not easily associated with a clear benefit to compensate for this level of spending. What are we paying for and is it valuable, and are we getting our money’s worth? I am also an advocate for greater innovation in the classroom. Technology has changed dramatically since I was in school. When I grew up there were no iPods or iPads. The high cost of books and materials could be offset by moving toward digital learning. Online courses and iPad-based textbooks could all help to reduce costs of higher education.
Q: K-12 schools are feeling the pinch of budget cuts with increased class sizes and teacher layoffs. If you don’t support tax increases for more funding, what is your solution?
A: That is a tough question. We’re looking at that now; my daughter is two so we are starting to look at preschools. My mother is a kindergarten teacher in public schools. I’ve seen what she goes through with testing…She says No Child Left Behind is really No Teacher Left Standing. My mother feels it takes the fun out of learning. She used to do Dr. Seuss Day…now you can’t because there is no time…Kids are being told you can’t bring cupcakes to school for a birthday, bring muffins instead. I think we’re focused on the wrong things.
Q: So you want to see curriculum changes. But how does that address the budget shortfall?
A: I do think it’s something to look at, such as waste in employees’ overtime, and look at how we prioritize that. In the last 30 years we made a push to go to college and get a four year degree. We trained a lot of Social Scientists and I’m one of those. But we also need more vocational training; a kid who works on repairing cars may not need a four-year degree. We need to teach workforce skills and training high-tech employees. We’re largely important them because we’re not teaching in schools, maybe we should bring that into the high schools.
Q: Nathan Fletcher crossed party lines by supporting gay marriage and saying he is pro choice. What are your views on these social issues, and also women’s access to birth control and other health services?
A: I believe in small government and personal liberty. I am a social Libertarian. I am a strong family man. My wife and I have been married for nearly three years and have a 22-month-old daughter. That said, marriage as far as the state is concerned is a legal contract. I don’t oppose gay marriage, but I do believe churches should have the right to do as they choose. Personally I’m pro life, but I generally believe health decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor. I would keep it legal, but I would support parental consent and oppose public funding of abortion. On birth control, to me it’s a negotiation between an employer and a healthcare provider…If birth control is a negotiated benefit, then so be it—but again, I do not see a role for state government here.
Q: Do you favor changes in gun carry laws?
A: I support the second amendment. I generally believe in local control when it comes to public safety. While I support the right of law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon, I do not oppose having a process in place to get there.
Q: There is a push to put many industrial-scale wind energy and solar energy facilities in San Diego County. What are your views on these types of projects?
A: The state has mandated renewable energy goals, the push is to get to those goals…The government is trying to pick winners and losers. My concern is mandates or subsidizing big projects.
Q: Would you support or oppose legislation to allow homeowners and business owners to sell back surplus rooftop solar power into the power grid?
A: We could look at incentives to private homeowners to install solar if they choose. We need to look at the right kind of energy production, not what the state mandates.
Q: Do you support or oppose the fire parcel tax?
A: No. It’s another tax for people who are already taxed on this. The parcel tax is a ruse, not going to fire protection, but to board of equalization for administrative costs.
Q: How long have you lived in the district?
A: We bought our house in Scripps Ranch in June 2007, just before the 2007 wildfires. I had to evacuate our home while my wife, a nurse, was at work.
Q: How secure is our region from wildfires? Do you support the state fire parcel fee? If not, how would you assure adequate funding for Cal-Fire, which has cut engines and staffing?
A: I believe we can always do more when it comes to fire response. Public safety is one of the core services that government should provide. Improved communication and coordination are key to any emergency response and I believe our region continues to make strides in these areas. I believe in brush management and dead, dying and diseased tree removal to help reduce our risk of wildfire. I oppose the state fire parcel fee. This is yet another tax on top of what is already paid by these homeowners. The County contracts with Cal Fire to keep the fire stations in these areas open and staffed year-round. I am also concerned about the return on investment. The current proposal will send a lot of money to the State Board of Equalization to administer this fire prevention – not protection – grant application with no guarantee that San Diego County will see a dime. I think a better way to improve fire safety in the backcountry would be to allow homeowners to clear more than the “allowed” 100 feet.
Q: How are you getting word out on your candidacy?
A: We’ve done a lot with Twitter, Facebook, Social networking. Those traditional mailers that fill your mailbox around elections—do people still read it? We’re doing ads targeted by zip codes on Social media, and targeted by people who have self-identified as Republicans or Democrats or independents.
Q: How do you differentiate yourself from the other Republican in this race, former Councilman Brian Maienschein?
A: I’m the new guy. Brian spent eight years on the Council. I have a new approach. I’m not tied down the past. I have new energy. I’m a candidate working to serve the public good, not a politician looking for a job.
For more information on Steiner, visit http://dustinsteiner.com/
East County Magazine has previously interviewed Democrat RJ Hernandez. Read our interview here: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9702. ECM has requested interviews with the remaining candidates.
For more information on Steiner and all candidates in the race including their issue positions, campaign contributions, biographies, and more, visit http://votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/138426/dustin-steiner