California’s 29th Assembly District covers the entire coastline of the Monterey Bay as well as a good portion of southern San Jose. In this election, a four-term incumbent is running against a political newcomer.
Assemblymember Democrat Mark Stone has been involved in politics for more than 20 years. His opponent, Republican Shomir Banerjee, has never run for public office.
Mark Stone (MS): I started on a school board in 1998, so yeah, quite some time ago. Most electeds will tell you, stay away from school boards… they're contentious, they're long meetings, late nights, angry parents, angry teachers, angry kids, angry everybody. But, yet, (it) turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I had ever done because we were able to do policy that affected kids and their families in the school district directly.
Shomir Banerjee (SB): I present myself as an alternative. I am fiscally conservative. I have moderate viewpoints. I'm a physician. I'm a technology innovator as well. I'm a busy person. I'm an ordinary person in that sense as well, like most people in my community work and have a family… and so they want to have a voice.
KAZU's Doug McKnight (DM) asked both candidates what they feel is the most important issue facing voters in the 29th Assembly District.
SB: I think what's on people's mind is probably the social justice issues. I think in the long term, we can focus on education, improving our education system and improving our economy to support people developing a sense of hope and move between different social and economic classes. I think those two things have been eroded a lot in the past few decades and we need to start working on fixing that.
MS: A lot of people are very worried about being able to get insurance after the wildfires. We’ve had dramatic wildfires and those are results of our changing climate. The air currents are different. The humidity is different. The weather patterns are different. Our forests have long suffered because they were overcut and they were not allowed to grow back as naturally functioning forests. So, they become tinderboxes in ways that forests were not designed to be. Forests were designed to be able to burn and manage themselves. But a lot of these fires are showing us that because of our influence on those forests, they're not able to recover at the same level with the same ability
DM: How do you think California performed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS: I think California's response to the pandemic has been excellent. There's no playbook. There's no set of rules to go by. The administration is dealing with this as it comes up and trying to make the best decisions that they can. We saw what happened in June when they relaxed their requirements and infections started to go up again (and) hospitalization started to go up again. So, we had to kind of re-shelter and now we're moving back to where a lot of the infection numbers are going down, getting a lot better.
SB: I'm a doctor, so I'm (I have) a sort of the medical perspective on this. I think the social distancing, the closing of businesses, the mandating of wearing masks, these are all good ideas to handle a viral pandemic, especially when you have no cure, no therapy plan, no outpatient therapy plan. I think there's been a large abridgment of people's personal freedoms, and that's bad. But I think dying is bad, too.
Now, that said, we know a lot more about this virus now than we did six months ago. We should at least consider that people who are at low risk and who don't pose a risk to anyone in their immediate family can be a little bit more social, because that now is becoming a significant public health hazard. The social effect of having people socially distanced. There's a significant increase in depression and anxiety.
DM: Do you believe there should be more bi-partisanship in the Assembly and, if so, how would you reach out to the opposing party?
MS: I've worked quite often with Republicans. One of my Republican partners is now a Democrat, so that sort of changes that dynamic. He and I don't always agree and even as a Democrat don't always agree. And that's fine. You know, our job is not to always agree. Our job is to disagree respectfully. And through that disagreement, find the best policy.
As I move policy, what works best is if we're listening to all perspectives. Once you have all perspectives on the table, and you work through those, that's going to guarantee better policy. If all you have is (one) perspective on the table as you do policy, that will be flawed policy. So, it works better when you have that broader sense of collaboration.
SB: I believe in a two-party system or at least a civil discourse, and unfortunately right now in our California state government, we have limited dissent because the Republican Party is not very well represented. The point is that with a balanced perspective from both the Democrat and the Republican then you can have solutions that meet the needs of the community. And right now, we're lacking in that diversity of opinion.