by Jim Hight
Photos by Brandi Easter
OUR NEXT ASSEMBLYMAN will be a woman. Republican Margie Handley or Democrat Virginia Strom-Martin will be the first woman to represent the 1st Assembly District since it was redrawn to include all of Humboldt County in the mid-1970s. The victor will fill a seat held since 1982 by Democrat Dan Hauser, who was barred from another run by term limits. (Natural Law candidate Harry Wrench is running a low-profile campaign with no real chance of victory).
The two candidates agree on some key issues -- abortion rights, welfare reform and more money for the railroad and highways, for examples. But they express sharp differences on school funding, prison sentences and other issues.
They also come from very different backgrounds. Strom-Martin was an elementary school teacher for 23 years, is active in the California Teachers Association and several community groups in Sonoma County. Handley is a small-business owner from Willits. She ran a family gravel and asphalt concern and other businesses, and she's served on state advisory committees for transportation and economic development.
This election is Strom-Martin's first run for political office, while Handley has twice thrown her cap into the political ring, running close but unsuccessful bids for State Senate in 1990 and 1993.
The outcome of November's election will reverberate far beyond the 1st District's borders. Democrats may retake the Assembly majority by gaining as few as three seats across the state.
Journal Editor Judy Hodgson, staff writer Jim Hight and Humboldt State University political science Professor JeDon A. Emenhiser interviewed Strom-Martin and Handley about their priorities and their positions on a number of issues.
Handley emphasized her frustration with government regulation of business. "It got to the point where it wasn't fun to be in business any more ... the regulations and bureaucracy, all the competing agencies."
Her two top priorities: making the district "strong for small businesses," and working to ensure that the "timber industry survives."
"We are a resource-based economy, that's what's different from the rest of the state. I think I understand that. My father was a lumber man, I've been in gravel business. We're always going to be under attack from the environmental community, and we have to have a balance.
"Economic development is what I care about. We need to have good job-training programs to keep people working and living here.
"The railroad needs to remain open, the port needs to be developed, and certainly the airport, although I noticed that it's not very cheap to fly in here: $240 one way is outrageous."
Handley believes the death penalty laws should be changed to mandate execution for child molesters convicted of murder and for anyone who kills a police officer.
She supports the "Three Strikes" law that requires life sentences for three-time felony offenders and life sentences for child molesters.
"When I was a little girl, there were consequences for everything ... (Today) there's no responsibility. If you're on drugs, it's okay, you can get away with murder."
Handley supports a "safety net for people who are in trouble, who lose their jobs, for women who are single mothers and need some help to make a transition into the workplace." She said people who leave welfare for low-wage jobs should receive supplemental income and child care "until they can become self-sufficient."
She says job training programs often don't meet the needs of employers. "What (the state) should be doing is going to the employers and saying, 'We can provide a job training program, what do you need?'"
Handley does not support "voucher" proposals that would allow parents to use public funds for private schooling. She supports charter schools. "It's a choice within the public school system, and it returns control to the local communities."
She supports Gov. Wilson's recent dedication of funds to reduce class sizes in primary grades. "If you don't get the children on track by the time they're in third grade, they're probably going to be the next generation of criminals."
Handley prefers that bond measures, rather than local development fees, be used to support school construction and renovation. And she supports the existing law that two-thirds of voters must approve bond measures.
Handley embraced the "Community Economic Revitalization Team" process initiated with Option 9/Northwest Forest Plan. She served on the Mendocino County CERT and says she particularly valued the communication that occurred between government agencies with overlapping programs.
She mentioned tourism-boosting efforts in Del Norte County, business attraction in Lake County and a metal fabricator in Arcata as examples of solid economic development. "Manufacturing jobs are what you want because that's where you get your tax base. ... A lot of people who want to get out of the Bay Area and Los Angeles because of earthquakes or because no one speaks English (could be lured to the North Coast).
Handley opposes the Living Wage Initiative which would increase the state minimum wage to $5.75 per hour by 1998.
Handley supports current forest practice regulations. "Make these work and I think you'll have all the sustained yield that you could ever believe. ... I do support the salvage harvesting because our forest floors are becoming time bombs for fires."
Handley believes that drug and alcohol addiction are "at the base of a lot of our societal problems." She wants to see more programs like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) "but more intense." She supports expanded treatment for addicts in prison and boot camps for nonviolent offenders.
Handley opposes expansion of gaming in California. Acknowledging that Indian gaming is a federal issue, she would be in favor of the governor signing a "compact" with tribal gaming entities to recover police and road maintenance costs associated with tribal casinos.
Handley has no problem with legal immigrants getting MediCal and other health benefits. She also doesn't think that undocumented children should be barred from public schools. "I think we should be sending illegal immigrants home."
Handley supports Proposition 209, which would bar racial and gender preference in affirmative action.
Handley opposes changing state laws to recognize gay or lesbian marriages.
Strom-Martin believes it is important that the Democrats reestablish a majority in the Assembly. "There's no secret to the fact that the extremists who have control of the state Assembly now want to do away with public education and privatize it. They've been attacking teachers' unions and public education per se with vouchers (proposals).
"We need desperately to invest in education if we're talking about crime prevention ... investing in our economy and keeping California viable."
Regarding the conflicts between the timber industry and environmentalists, she is enthusiastic about Fish, Farms and Forests Community, a private association of agriculture, timber and fishing industries that's developing voluntary programs for fisheries restoration. "I'm interested in having all stakeholders involved. The only way you solve problems is bringing everybody to the table and hashing it out."
Strom-Martin said she recently decided to support existing California death penalty laws, motivated largely by the murder trial and conviction of Richard Allen Davis in Sonoma County.
She is opposed to "Three Strikes" laws, saying "I agree with the recent (California) Supreme Court ruling that judges should have discretion on (sentencing after a third felony conviction)." She supports alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.
Strom-Martin supports the federal welfare reform bill signed by President Clinton in September. She is glad that the welfare bill increased funding for child care for AFDC recipients making the transition from welfare to work, and she says "job training is going to be key to the success of this reform."
Strom-Martin opposes "voucher" proposals to let parents use public funds to pay for private schooling, while she supports the creation of charter schools "as long as teachers and parents are involved in setting them up."
She strongly supported the recent funding increases for smaller class sizes in primary grades. "I'd like to make sure it continues through sixth grade and beyond."
Strom-Martin favors abandoning the requirement that two-thirds of voters must approve a bond measure. She supports bonds and development fees to finance school construction and renovation.
Strom-Martin favors funding for low-interest, small-business loans. She would like to see highways, the railroad and the Port of Eureka developed, and she believes the North Coast can attract more tourists and businesses by "marketing our quality of life."
She believes that excessive regulation does "hamper some of our businesses," and says she'd be willing to "sit down with business owners and talk about ways we could ease some of these onerous regulations." But she adds, "I wouldn't want to ease any regulations in terms of health or public safety or anything that has to do with the environment."
Strom-Martin supports the Living Wage Initiative which would increase the state minimum wage to $5.75 per hour by 1998.
Strom-Martin supports spending more money on prevention and education. "I've taught drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention in my classes ... I think those programs are successful and I'd like to see more resources put into prevention."
Strom-Martin supports the concept of sovereignty for tribal gaming, but is concerned about the burdens placed on local law enforcement by tribal casinos.
Strom-Martin believes MediCal and other public health benefits should not be denied to legal or illegal immigrants. She also opposes attempts to deny public schooling to undocumented children. "I don't think we can afford to have people walking around unhealthy or uneducated."
Strom-Martin opposes Proposition 209, which would bar racial and gender preference in affirmative action.
Strom-Martin supports changing state laws to recognize gay or lesbian marriages.