California’s 38th District, which includes Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and Porter Ranch, is one of the few “purple” districts in the state. For that reason, November’s faceoff for state Assembly between Republican incumbent Dante Acosta and Democratic challenger Christy Smith is being viewed as one of the more closely fought contests and certainly one to watch.
Naturally Smith is confident, stating that she can deliver more to the community than her opponent. “As a member of a majority party, as someone with nine years of municipal government experience as a public education policy expert, and someone with a really long-term investment in the communities of my district, I’m ready to hit the ground running on day one, if I’m fortunate enough to win,” she says.
That’s great, though there are concerns from moderates and, of course, the right that a win for Smith would spell single-party dominance in California government. Smith is quick to calm those fears.
“Because of my municipal government experience, I tend to be more centrist on issues of finance, business and economic issues,” she says. “But at the same time, I bring to the table the advantage of having a strong environmental background, working for local protections. Again, I’m very strong on public education, and on supporting small businesses in our community.”
It’s fascinating to hear Smith refer to herself as a centrist. Acosta has spent much of the campaign positioning himself as a pragmatist, and his opponent as a pie-in-the-sky idealist.
“Actually, I’m a pragmatist and I think my record at the municipal level demonstrates that,” Smith says. “In my tenure on the Newhall School Board, we’ve experienced tremendous success. I was the leader on a bond measure which allowed us to have $60 million worth of infrastructure upgrades, $10 million in technology infrastructure upgrades. So what I promise, I deliver.”
In addition, Smith questions Acosta’s recent position as a moderate.
“It’s been a very interesting path to watch my opponent’s political evolution,” she says. “He ran for Congress — that’s originally how he got involved in politics. And he was largely positioned to the right. He was a Tea Party candidate, incredibly conservative, and even as recently as 2016 in his own campaign literature, he labeled himself as ‘conservative,’ ‘not politically correct,’ ‘proud to be extremely conservative,’ all of those kind of monikers. Now suddenly he’s discovered the need to be moderate out of political expediency, and I don’t know how much of that is genuine.”
After years involved in education policy at ground level, Smith was around for the beginning of the charter school movement. She admits that she was initially in favor of charters but her position has shifted somewhat.
“At the time I was a supporter because they were opportunities for innovation and ingenuity, freed from the constraints of what had been done traditionally,” Smith says. “What concerns me about the environment we’re in now with charters is I see some unsavory players coming to the table as a means of extracting public resources for their own financial gain and benefit. I am supportive of charters that are nonprofit organizations, that meet the mandates and the standards provided by the Charter Schools Act in the state, but their level and their measure of accountability needs to be the same as every neighborhood public school, in both their financial transparency and their service to their students. Those things considered, some of them are doing really worthwhile things and first-rate work.”
Smith is similarly pragmatic when we discuss the potential for a single-payer health care system in California. She likes the fact that the concept is being explored but doesn’t think the state is there yet.
“What I do think we need to start with is a systemic review of health care provision in California,” she says. “There are a number of places throughout the state where there are deserts of access to health care. We need to work out where those gaps are. Where it really is an issue of supply and demand. Along with that, we need to prioritize increasing enrollments in our health care provider programs from physicians. Beyond that, making sure that we have some type of public option available in California for people to purchase on the market. I would say that, regardless of what will happen with the Affordable Care Act, which I am afraid will go away at the federal level, that’s going to take some flexibility on the federal level on what we can do with our Medicaid dollars.”
Smith believes that any single-payer solution will have to come from Washington.
“I think systemically, for California to be able to achieve it on its own at this point, without any federal flexibility at all, would be incredibly difficult,” she says. “We are so interwoven with the rest of the private health care market in the United States, it would be at best challenging. I’m glad that we are continuing to study the issue, but first and foremost I think we need to start with meeting demand and having some sort of public option available.”
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When asked about her first act in office should she win in November, Smith talks about legislature for teaching teenagers about informed consent during mandated health education classes, particularly in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.
“I’ve talked to a number of teenagers in my district who have indicated that their health education course didn’t cover that in any way, and it’s a really meaningful conversation that needs to be had,” Smith says.
Finally, Smith says the key to getting voters fired up about elections at the local Assembly level is to talk to them about the things that affect them on a daily basis.
“Where their tax dollars are spent in their local community really is what impacts them most daily,” she says. “The roads they drive on, the schools they send their children to, the availability of public safety through fire, through law enforcement, those are all decisions that are made at the state level. So talking to them about that, about those things that matter, and really many of them do resonate with local people, I think that is exciting to them.”