By Daniel Muñoz
The 78th Assembly District was crafted in the last redistricting that coincided with the 2000 census to create what was to be considered a safe Democratic district. The district was created with a Vince Hall victory in mind for 2002. But, as they say: sometimes the best laid plans can go wrong. The Plan for the 78th went wrong for the Democratic Party!
What went wrong was that Shirley Horton, ex-mayor of Chula Vista, decided she wanted to represent the district for the Republican Party. Horton, a popular mayor who had seen Chula Vista through the development boon in East Chula Vista, was able to surround herself with an eclectic group of supports, including leadership from the black community, with George Stevens who was able to rally the ministers behind her, to the Filipino community in the South Bay.
Horton won the seat with a 1.8% margin and she has successfully been re-elected ever since. Now term limits have caught up with Horton and she will be moving on, creating an open seat for the district. The Democratic Party sees this as their opportunity to re-capture this seat.
The Republican Party would like to hold on to this seat. The first step toward this end was to eliminate a tough primary contest by limiting their list of candidates to one, after a back-and-forth between John McCann, a Chula Vista city council person, and David Bejarano, a board member with the Chula Vista Elementary School District. First out of the block was McCann then Bejarano became the preferred choice of the Republican Party. When Bejarano changed his mind about running it was back to McCann who is now the Republican candidate.
On the Democratic side of the ledger there are four strong candidates with each seeing this as a golden opportunity to represent the 78th district.
The four candidates running for the seat include: Arlie Ricasa, Mary Block, Maxine Sherard, and Auday Arabo.
The 78th Assembly District is a large district that runs from South Chula Vista, east of I-805, north through Bonita, east National City, Skyline, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, Kensington, Allied Gardens, San Carlos and stops at Mission Gorge Road.
The 78th district is a diverse district that is heavily influenced by the Hispanic community in the South-East portion of the district, with a large Filipino community in National City, a strong Black community presence in the center of the district, and a more independent/conservative community in the northern region of this district. Equally as diverse as the ethnic makeup of the district are the issues of the district.
The candidates themselves are equally diverse and reflect the makeup of the district (the exception being no Hispanic candidate): Arlie Ricasa is Filipina, Maxine Sherard is black, Auday Arabo is Christian Chaldean, and Marty Block is Jewish.
Looking to stand out from the other candidates is Marty Block and toward this end he visited La Prensa San Diego to share his perspective on the issues and why he would be the best representative for the Hispanic community.
Question: Can you give us a little background on your career.
Block: For 12 years I was at San Diego State University where I was director of an office, Civil Rights Compliance, which handled all discrimination complaints, based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation.
Q: Speaking of San Diego State it has been in the news lately with the drug bust. As an Assembly member you will have deal with the issue of drugs. How do you see this issue?
Block: Actually one of the things my office did at San Diego State was to enforce drug violations in the residence halls. So I have a fair amount of experience in that arena. I think the most important thing to do is to increase prevention efforts, education efforts in the elementary schools. Also work with parents, similar to what David Valladolid does with the Parent Institute for Quality Education. I think education and enforcement go hand in hand.
Q: One of the reasons the drug issue is important, is because whenever we talk about the border the talk leads to drugs and Hispanics and we are painted with a broad brush. One of the main reasons given to build a border fence or to militarize the border is to stop the drug trade.
Block: It is a supply and demand issue. If there was no demand, drugs wouldn’t be coming across the border. We have to cut the demand for drugs.
Q: How long have you served on the San Diego Community College Board?
Block: I have served as president for eight years now. Before that I was on the County Board of Education for eight years as well.
Q: You have quite an educational background.
Block: I have the school board experience and 26 years at San Diego State. I am the only candidate in the whole state, as far as we know, that has leadership experience in all levels of public education, K-12, community college, and the university.
Q: Why did you decide to run for Assembly?
Block: The answer to that is rather long. When I was first elected to the College Board, in 2000, Augie Gallegos was Chancellor at the time and Augie orientated me to state budgeting. He told that there were 72 different districts in California and every district was funded at different levels. Los Angeles was getting $6000 per fulltime student, while San Diego was only getting $4000. So a hand full of districts was getting funded at the $6000 level, while districts in the San Diego area were being funded at $4000 level.
Nobody could give a good rationale as to the difference in funding other than political clout.
In 2002 we formed the Under Funded Districts Caucus. We got together with the San Diego districts, Imperial Valley, desert districts, rural area districts, all the under funded districts and we fought for our fair share of funding. I was the co-chair along with Constance Carroll our Chancellor, and three years ago the Governor signed a bill that all districts should be funded up to 90% of the top district. That meant for the San Diego College District $9 million more dollars in funding that year and that $9 million would continue for every year. For Southwestern College almost $3 million dollars in brand new funding, every year.
I must have made 20 trips to Sacramento advocating for this issue to help students, the power was in Sacramento. I could do what I could as president of Community Colleges, but being in Sacramento was where I could help more.
Q: What are the issues that the voters in the 78th care about?
Block: The issues the voters care most about in the 78th are education, the economy, health care, and the environment. But clearly education is the number one issue and that is where my expertise lies.
Q: In Chula Vista one of the big issues has been the lack of geographic diversity with the school boards, of equal representation. One of the ways of changing the make up of the school boards would be through legislation amendment creating trustee areas.
Block: I always supported that. Trustee areas are the way to go to get fair representation. I support election by trustee area.
Q: California is facing a budget deficit and education is taking the biggest hit in funding cuts. What is your view?
Block: Education is an investment and we have got to fight for it. We have to decide where the most important programs are. What the best investments are. And we have to protect them!
Q: In East Chula Vista one of the main objectives has been to get a college campus built. Do you support this effort?
Block: One of my main objectives is to get a campus for Chula Vista. My goal is to be chair of the higher education committee. As a leader in education, once I am in Sacramento, I can then combine what I know with who I know and make this happen and bring a campus to Chula Vista.
Finally it should be noted that Marty Block, a lawyer as well as an educator, in November of 2007 was recognized by the California Rural Legal Assistance group for providing free legal services and equal access to the law to the low-income and farm worker population since 1966. Recently he received the endorsement of the United Farm Workers in recognition of his work in education and social justice.
Block’s Hispanic endorsements include: Nick Aguilar, County Board of Education, Assembly person Lori Saldaña, Jill Galvez, Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, Gracia Molina de Pick, Alberto Ocho, Olivia Puentes-Reynolds, David Val-ladolid, and Alberto Valasquez to name a few.