Incumbent Assembly member Jim Cooper won election as the next Sacramento County Sheriff in June. The Elk Grove Democrat will exit the Legislature when his term ends in December.
The winner of the race for the 10th District will become one of the 80 members in the California Assembly. Members of the Legislature author bills, vote on the state’s budget — which this year topped $300 billion — and thousands of proposed laws during the legislative session.
Nearly one-third of lawmakers who began 2022 in the California Legislature will leave the Capitol by the end of the year — if they haven’t already — mostly due to term limits and redistricting. The once-in-a-decade political map redraw put some incumbent lawmakers in the same district and prompted others to seek higher offices.
The two Democrats cite homelessness and improving the local economy as top priorities. Nguyen has received campaign donations from law enforcement and business groups, and Guerra much of his funding from labor unions.
Guerra and Nguyen both highlight experience on their respective city councils to get things done. They each say they want to work with other elected officials in the region to improve homelessness, the cost of living and housing prices.
Both candidates also cite their humble upbringings as inspiration for seeking office and advocating for working families: Guerra grew up the son of migrant farmworkers and Nguyen is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees.
Last minute spending ramps up campaigns, attacks
The two have clashed on homelessness and campaign spending: Guerra blamed Nguyen and the rest of the Elk Grove City Council for blocking a planned affordable housing project, for which the council is being sued. Nguyen declined to comment on the lawsuit in an interview, but later called Guerra’s attack an “attempt to score cheap political points” and said the council’s decision stems from a land use issue.
In the remaining weeks of the campaign, outside groups have poured more than $2 million into the race, funding mailers, digital and TV ads in support of both candidates.
In October, a group funded by oil companies has spent nearly $1 million on ads supporting Nguyen, while a housing group spent more than $500,000 to boost Guerra.
Below are excerpts from interviews with the candidates about their positions and plans if elected to the Assembly. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Jobs, the economy, inflation are among voters’ top concerns. What do you think should be done to make California a more affordable place to live so that people aren't hit so hard during these tougher financial times?
Eric Guerra: Number one, housing affordability — both addressing the housing issue and our housing shortage. But also making sure we're increasing wages. One of the things I'm very proud of is working on building and expanding our jobs in the region.
If we're going to tackle our economy and if we're going to address inflation, then we have to one, build more housing that meets the needs of people — and not just four bedrooms, two and a half bathroom, three car garage houses — housing for working families. [And] also help people increase wages and address that issue. If we strengthen our economy and be an exporter of goods, we're going to be in a much better spot in the long run.
Stephanie Nguyen: I work with many community members who are low income communities and are struggling. Everybody's struggling right now with inflation. But a lot of these regulations that we're doing is what's causing the inflation rate.
For me, it would be advocating [that] if we're doing all these programs to help these working families, we need to revisit them. I help people apply for CalFresh and there's families that don't make it because they make too much — $5 too much, $7 too much. And so how is that okay that they make just a couple dollars too much to qualify for something that can really help them and lift them up? We're talking about giving rebates and helping these families — we need to really target these low income families.
As a member of the Assembly, how would you ensure that more Californians and residents of Sacramento County have the ability to buy a home?
Eric Guerra: Making sure we're increasing the skills, helping people go into construction trades, apprenticeship programs, higher education so that they have the income to be able to, one, afford a home. But second, if we're not constructing more homes that meet the needs of where our consumers are, then we're never going to meet that demand.
The other thing is other cities are not doing their part in building enough housing for their community. We saw an influx of folks from the Bay Area because the price of housing in the Bay Area due to their lack of construction impacted us and it created an inflated market. So, we need to make sure that we're making mixed-income housing.
Stephanie Nguyen: Well, one, it's the workforce range, so they need a job in order for them to be able to buy a home. And they need to be able to pay for these homes that they're buying — if they can't make their mortgage every month, that doesn't help them. My understanding is that the cost for developers to build is really expensive. There's a lot of red tape. They get stuck in CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] litigation, and that's what causes some of the prices to go even more than what we hope it to be.
I know we have some programs already in place for first time homebuyers and veterans. I think we need to change that perception, too, and say that your local teacher needs assistance in buying a home, your health care worker as well.
How do you propose the state get more people off the streets and into stable and safe housing?
Eric Guerra: What separates me between my opponent is I don't point fingers or make excuses or use fear mongering. The reality is cities and counties have to work together to address what is a regional problem.
The other piece is making sure that the state recommits to mental health and substance abuse … supporting the CARE Court — mental health and substance abuse diversion, court-ordered diversion – so that those people and folks who need help, who can't make a decision for themselves because of their current state, get the resources they need.
The last piece is if cities and counties and neighboring jurisdictions are working together, then we can most effectively as a state fund the appropriate housing with the wraparound services to make actual transition. I know this works because my work with Saint John's Center for Real Change has moved so many women with children off the street.
Stephanie Nguyen: I really am supportive of [CARE Court]. That's something that I think we needed and we needed it a long time ago. I'm a big person on resources and services; I understand very much so that folks need a hand up and they may need a hand up temporarily to get them to where they're at. And there are some folks sort of in it for the rest of their life, and that's okay. But it's giving them the treatment, the help that they need.
It's going to be a lot of making sure that there's a lot of mental health workers as well. We're going to really have to take a look at that industry and try to recruit more folks. There's a shortage in social workers, … so I think we need to put more money into that industry, make sure that it's a well-paying industry so that it attracts more folks.
What are your priorities when it comes to climate change and protecting the people who are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change?
Eric Guerra: Climate change has affected our forest fires and now we see these fires that affect our Sacramento region. In 2018, we had two weeks where we couldn't breathe the air. We have a responsibility to be involved in making sure that we're doing our part in that.
That means improving our public transportation system, finding ways to do more zero emission vehicles, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and doing it in a just transition way where we're actually also creating jobs and opportunity. I'm proud to have worked with the California Mobility Center and SacRT to start training people into the new technology we are assembling now. We've electrified all of Elk Grove and Sacramento's Twin River school buses.
Many of us live between two freeways. The Sacramento region has the fifth worst air quality in the region for many decades because of that. If you live between the 5 and the 99 or some major boulevards every day, our kids are exposed to ozone, which is known as smog and then particulates, and that affects kids’ lung development. If we want a healthy community, we have to be engaged in that aspect.
Stephanie Nguyen: I know climate change is a real thing. I've got two little kids. I want them to be able to live and walk outside without wearing a hazmat suit or whatnot. But I would say this: that the community that I work with, the community that I fight for, climate change is not on their radar. It is inflation.
Let's use the rebates for electrical vehicles, for example. Electric vehicles are not cheap and the community that I work with can't afford it, even with the rebate. The rebates are made to help those that are from affluent neighborhoods and the coastal white folks, not the communities where I'm from. That one rebate that's the same for everybody is not necessarily equitable, so I think we need to re-look at that situation.
What should the state be doing to conserve water during this ongoing and future droughts?
Eric Guerra: The fact is that we're having longer and longer droughts. I've worked as a regional leader on multiple boards to make sure that we manage our water on the American River, the Sacramento River, and that we're taking the efficiency requirements so that we're where we have water for not only for our environment, but that we have water for agriculture as well.
We feed not just California, but we feed America. Growing up as a farm worker and actually living at a time when my well collapsed and our families, we were without water for like four months. Understanding what that scarcity is. Addressing climate change is important because all of these things are interconnected. You need food, water and air to survive. If we're not managing our water and we won't have any food to eat for now, managing our air then we're going to have a poor health outcome in the future. But there is a way to do it.
Stephanie Nguyen: That’s definitely a huge issue. And I think we have to figure out how we can capture some of this water and store it. I'm not an engineer, but I know that there is a way to do that. And I would love to talk to folks to say, well, how do we do that? How do we make that work? That costs money and I understand that, so that's going to take some resources, but that's something that is going to help us out in the long run, because drought is a real thing. We had very little rain this year and it seems less and less every year. And so we need to take advantage of the rain when we get it.