Candidates for the 14th State Assembly District seat outlined competing visions on education and sparred over experience during a debate in a UC Berkeley political science class Wednesday.
“We must rebuild what we had in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Loni Hancock, former Berkeley mayor, “a public education system that was the best in the country.”
Hancock pushed for universal early childhood education, more reading programs at the lower grade levels and a boost in after school programs to combat violence and teenage pregnancy.
Hancock, who headed the Western Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration, also focused on higher education, saying she would work to minimize student fees and improve student housing.
Charles Ramsey, a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School Board, tried to make a direct connection with students.
“I have sat in your shoes,” said the UCLA graduate, “I was a UC student myself.”
Ramsey focused heavily on student housing.
“Paying that monthly rent is a bear,” he said, arguing that he would push for more money for student housing.
Ramsey also called for a modification of Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978, which would make it easier for communities to pass local parcel taxes boosting K-12 education spending.
Dave Brown, former chief of staff for Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, said he would focus on providing literacy support for low-performing schools. He added that class size reduction and higher pay for teachers would also be top priorities.
Some of the students in the class said they were unimpressed with the candidates. “It seemed really disingenuous on the part of the candidates to say we really identify with the students,” said Ian Chaffee, a senior at UC Berkeley, singling out Ramsey in particular.
Professor Alan Ross, who hosted the event in his “Election 2002” class, said voters are not paying attention to this year’s races, with the possible exception of the gubernatorial contest.
“Beyond that, if you go lower down the ticket, no one that I know could even name the candidates,” he said, “and these are people in the know.”
Given that reality, Ross said, the State Assembly race will come down to name recognition and candidates’ ability to get out the vote.
“Loni, obviously, has a base in Berkeley,” Ross said, but he noted that much of the district is in Contra Costa County. “I don’t think Loni’s name identification is very strong out there.”
The candidates also sparred over experience Wednesday afternoon, with all three claiming they have “rolled up their sleeves” and achieved results.
Ramsey left the event early to attend a school board meeting, but with the younger Brown still in the room, Hancock said she has more experience in politics and better connections with key players.
The former mayor said that, with term limits for Assemblymembers in effect, experience and connections will be vital in getting anything done in a short period of time.
Brown said he would bring energy and focus to the job, and hands-on education experience as a former classroom teacher in Richmond.