On Jan. 4, it usually marks recovering from New Year’s Eve parties, but in Galt, it’s Election Day. Again. This time, it’s to elect a state senator to replace Republican Dave Cox, who died in July.
Jan. 4 is the day voters go to the polls, but vote-by-mail ballots, formerly known as absentee ballots, have already been mailed to voters. The candidates in the 1st Senate District are Rancho Cordova Mayor Ken Cooley, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.
On Nov. 2, Cooley, Gaines and Republicans Roger Niello of Fair Oaks and Barbara Alby of Folsom were on the ballot together. Since none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters — Gaines and Cooley — are battling in the runoff.
The 1st Senate District includes Galt, Herald, Elk Grove, eastern Sacramento County, the foothill counties of Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado, part of Placer and Nevada counties, and the entire Highway 395 corridor from Mammoth Lakes to the Oregon border (except for the portion in Nevada).
Despite the geography of the wide-ranging district, 42 percent of the district’s registered voters live in Sacramento County.
While qualifying for the Senate runoff in November, Gaines was also re-elected to his 4th Assembly District seat, which generally covers Placer, El Dorado and Alpine counties. He will serve in the Assembly for two more years if he loses to Cooley for the Senate seat. If Gaines beats Cooley, a special election will be required to replace him in the Assembly. Gaines is due to term out of the Assembly in 2012.
Gaines wears his conservatism on his sleeve — his campaign website reads, “No tax increases — period.”
Cooley paints himself as a moderate to conservative Democrat, focusing his campaign on reforming what he considers extremely poor governance at the state level. However, Gaines disagrees with Cooley’s self-assessment.
“Ken Cooley supports tax increases; I don’t,” Gaines said in a phone interview.
Cooley responded that he opposes any tax increase unless it’s approved at the ballot box, as required by state law.
Gaines said his solution to the state’s estimated $28 million budget deficit is to explore an across-the-board cut of every program in the state. He also said the Legislature should consider eliminating every program that isn’t mandated by the federal government.
“We’re looking at the model of New Jersey,” Gaines said.
New Jersey trimmed $11 million deficit without any tax increases by cutting non-federal mandates and instituting a nine percent across-the-board cut, Gaines aid.
Cooley said across-the-board cuts wouldn’t be a good idea.
“On it’s face, that’s not a thinking man’s solution,” Cooley said. “We need to re-examine what these programs are doing.”
The most important part of managing the state, he said, is to establish the highest and lowest priorities and incorporate them in the state’s fiscal decisions.
Cooley also sees a fundamental problem in solving the state’s problems.
“We have a governance crisis,” he said. “Our government is not working.”
Cooley pointed to a recent survey published in the Wall Street Journal that named California the third-worst state in being friendly to business.
“Why is it the third-worst? It’s because the government doesn’t work,” Cooley said. “The Wall Street Journal puts a frame back in that idea.”
With his consulting work in the Senate and leadership roles with the California League of Cities, Cooley doesn’t consider himself a rookie in state government. He’s also proud that Rancho Cordova’s credit rating increased by two notches despite the recession.
Cooley wants to get rid of the so-called Big-5 concept, where the governor and the Republican and Democratic leaders for the Assembly and Senate negotiate the state budget before bringing it to the floor for a vote. That leaves 116 of the 120 legislators without input prior to the vote, Cooley said.
If elected, Cooley said he would look at having informal weekly meetings with three Republican senators and two Democrats in addition to himself — without legislative approval. During these meetings, the group would invite a representative from a state agency and learn in detail what that agency does and what the agency’s priorities are.
“You can’t move forward if you keep this Big 5 mentality,” Cooley said. “My hope is that after a month, we’ll forget that we’re Republicans and Democrats.”
Legislatures from both parties fail to get anything substantive done, Cooley said.
“They battle by sound bite and press release,” Cooley said. “Legislators come up with new laws because that’s where the glamor is and where the campaign contributions come from.”
Gaines agrees that the system is broken, calling the Legislature a “three-ring circus.” He said he wants to work with local communities to create more private-sector jobs. The state should give local government greater authority, with cities working with local chambers of commerce on how to add jobs.
Gaines said he feels grounded because he puts in as much time as he can with his insurance company. A business partner runs day-to-day operations. Depending on how much state business Gaines must tend to as a sitting assemblyman, his weekly schedule at his company ranges for a couple of hours to a couple of days or no time at all.
“I get in when I can,” Gaines said. “I feel that is very helpful for a legislator to understand the impact on how government affects business.”