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June 5, 2018 — California Primary Election
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June 5, 2018California Primary Election

California State Assembly — ” Jovanka Beckles, Candidate for District 15

Photo of Jovanka Beckles

Jovanka Beckles

Democratic
Richmond City Councilmember
18,733 votes (15.8%)Winning
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  • Enact single-payer healthcare for all.
  • Expand affordable housing for everyone and addressing homelessness.
  • Reform criminal justice and prisons system.
Profession:County children's mental health specialist
Member, City of Richmond City Council — Elected position (20142018)
Member, City of Richmond City Council — Elected position (20102014)
Member, City of Richmond Planning Commission — Appointed position (20092010)
Member, City of Richmond Economic Development Commission — Appointed position (20072009)
University of Phoenix Master of Business Administration, business administration (2006)
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee Bachelor of Arts, psychology (1988)

As a counselor for under-served youth, I’ve seen how the lives of our kids and their families can be transformed. As a two-term Richmond, CA, City Council member, I’ve seen how neighbors can organize a city from hopelessness, violence, and systemic corruption to a much better future. Now I am running for the California State Assembly to help transform our state.

I attended Florida A&M on a full basketball scholarship, graduating cum laude. My story is the story of California. I was born in Panama City, Panama and immigrated to the U.S. with my parents in 1972. They taught me the critical value of respect for others as I experienced the challenge of adjusting to a new culture.

Basketball taught me how to work as part of a team and how to collaborate, and that a teammate’s success is the whole team’s victory.

As a long-time resident of Richmond, I could not sit on the sidelines and watch a vibrant community continue to suffer with crime, neglect, and pollution. I decided to help create a local grassroots movement, and I helped form a merchants' association on San Pablo Avenue as a community response to crime and violence.

With these experiences, I joined forces with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), ran for the city council, and was elected to office. When I ran for re-election, I received a lesson in how corporate special interests try to dominate the political process.

In 2014, Chevron spent over $3 million against me and my running mates because we insisted on strong environmental protections for our community. However, Chevron lost when thousands of Richmond residents re-elected me and voted for a progressive direction for our city.

I stood up to big real estate interests and helped Richmond become the first new rent control city in over thirty years. Big Soda spent millions as I campaigned to tax their deeply unhealthy products and invest the funds in nutrition and youth athletics. Working with law enforcement, I created the Richmond Municipal ID Program, which allows immigrants to safely identify themselves to the police. I introduced and led the effort to raise the minimum wage and "banned the box" (removed questions about former conviction) in job applications for city contractors and public housing applications in Richmond.

I want to represent Assembly District 15 in Sacramento as I have the people of Richmond at City Hall – no corporate donations, working with my colleagues and my constituents, based on people power not money power.

1.
Question 1

What do you think the State should do to encourage affordable housing for all Californians?

Answer from Jovanka Beckles:

We don’t suffer from a housing shortage crisis. We’re suffering from a housing affordability crisis. There is no reason for housing prices in the Bay Area or the rest of California to be so detached from what people can afford. Wages have not kept pace with what it now costs to own or rent a home. The game is rigged against tenants and single-home buyers by banks and investors.

Major investment institutions like Blackstone and Carlyle Groups control our residential real estate markets, not small local landlords with commitments to their communities. California needs to eliminate the tax credits, loopholes, and subsidies that benefit wealthy developers and property owners but don’t motivate them to contribute to the solution of the affordable housing crisis.

The big institutions and investors game the market by keeping homes vacant. Residential vacancy rates in some areas have skyrocketed because speculators take properties off the market to raise other properties’ prices. This drives up rents and sales prices. California and its municipalities should impose vacancy taxes or fees to cover actual and opportunity costs to communities when properties are left empty for extended periods.

Another problem is foreign investors who vastly over-bid housing prices to hide earnings otherwise taxable in their own countries or to launder illegal earnings. Cities including Toronto and Vancouver assess substantial taxes on property sales to people from around the world who have no intention of living in their cities. California should do the same. Such tax revenues could be used to build affordable housing.

Rent control needs to be maintained to protect Californians from the real estate speculator behemoths. I support the repeal of the 1995 Costa-Hawkins legislation limiting municipal authority over housing regulations which has been resulted in thousands of residents being driven out of their homes all across California.

Sacramento needs to promote the increase of housing stock, especially affordable housing.

We could create a state program that provides loans to single family homeowners with equity to build an in-law unit on their property, if they agree to rent the unit at a rate affordable by those with incomes up to 100% of the Area Median Income (AMI). Like an existing state solar installation program, homeowners can could pay back the loans through property tax credits.

California should help provide affordable housing to educators such as loan or grant assistance for rent, relocation, or down payment expenses as well as directly discounted home prices and subsidized teacher housing.

Additionally it’s time for us to explore alternatives to the traditional real estate development system. Many of our local communities have municipally-owned or district-owned properties that are grossly under-utilized. It’s time we partner with these agencies to build dedicated limited-equity, cooperatively-owned homes for our teachers and municipal employees. It’s time we work with our unions to do the same.

2.
Question 2

According to a "Civility In America” survey, 75% of Americans believe that the U.S. has a major civility problem. If you are elected what will do to address this?

Answer from Jovanka Beckles:

I think the best way to deal with incivility is to exemplify civility, and this civility needs to be an engaged civility, not abstract or distant civility.

I was sorely tested during my first term on the Richmond City Council, when I was viciously verbally attacked at public meeting because I am a black Latina who is lesbian. The attacks were probably motivated both by conviction and by pragmatism – that is, some people were really uncomfortable with me because of who I am, and others were out to get me because of my resistance to Chevron’s historical domination of Richmond politics.

I am devoted to uphold free speech in our political system. A politician should, I believe, exercise forbearance as an example for others and to enable a focus on the real issues that bear discussion. Richmond needed policy debates, not personal invective.

Vindicating my position, the Richmond community came to my defense in a beautiful series of actions and public statements. Author Steve Early, in his recent book “Refinery Town” (Beacon Press, 2017), described the events this way:

“In August 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story detailing the ‘taunts, rants and ridicule about her sexual orientation and race’...”

Two days later a strong editorial condemned the use of personal insults involving “racial and sexual orientation slurs,” Early wrote. Then, African-American ministers. the Reverend Phil Lawson and the Reverend Kamal Hassan

. . . spoke out at a packed city council meeting on September 15,2014, attended by local gay activists and out-of-town supporters.

That big meeting turnout for Beckles, seven weeks before the council election, threw her usual foes on the defensive. It also helped build public support for a new code of conduct and city harassment policy to curb disruptions and limit hate speech at Richmond council meetings. Both guidelines are now in effect. . . .

My detractors’ vitriol tested my mettle. My defenders’ generosity buoyed me up. I was touched and overwhelmed by their support and was reaffirmed in my belief that basically, deep down, most people feel sympathy for their fellow humans.

As lawmakers, politicians must strive to stay engaged with their constituents, even those who disagree and might sometimes viciously attack them, and keep coming back to the essence of public service: to help the entire community build a better society. That is the basis of a vibrant, caring democracy, and that’s why my politics are from the grassroots up, not from the top down.

3.
Question 3

Climate changes, and the shifting between very wet weather and drought, worry Californians. What strategies would allow that your district to both satisfy its water needs and protect the environment? Please be specific.

Answer from Jovanka Beckles:

The water question is embedded in the more cataclysmic question of global warming that is destroying the way that we live on earth.

Degradation of our environment and the need to establish environmental justice are the main reasons I entered politics and have served for two terms on the Richmond City Council. Corporations' influencing government and spreading public misinformation obstruct urgently needed actions to mitigate climate change. 

As a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance my primary mission was to wrest control of the city’s government from our largest local corporation – Chevron – and  to improve the lives of our residents and the health of our city. I have been deeply involved in repeated initiatives to bring Chevron into compliance with environmental and worker safety standards and  pursue remediation of the consequences of Chevron’s long domination of the city. (I have been endorsed by five environmental groups.)

As a corporate donation-free candidate, I am not beholden to any special interest groups, such as Big Oil and Big Water.

We should return power to local Air District boards to protect the public health and make them democratic: Air and Water District seats should be directly elected by their communities.

More money needs to be committed to maintain and restore California’s water infrastructure, as demonstrated by the 2017 Oroville Dam crisis. We should repair California’s existing water supply infrastructure before seeking to solve the state’s water supply problems by investing in huge new projects.

I oppose the Delta tunnels project. It threatens access to irrigation and clean drinking water for the Delta’s population and threatens wildlife, fishing and recreation. The project as planned promises massive environmental and economic harm.

Delta planning must respond to scientific evidence that demonstrates the need to reduce water diversions from the Bay/Delta estuary to save the West Coast salmon fishery and restore the health of native fish. State staff should help develop a plan to address catastrophic changes in Delta salinity. Coastal development needs to be limited and to take into account accelerating sea-level rise.

California should continue and expand fines for water waste at all levels. Those funds should assist programs that educate and advocate for ways that Californians can conserve our limited water supply. I support AB 885 requiring K-12 schools to install and maintain certified water filters, requires schools to replace lead pipes, and community water systems to periodically test water at schools.

I oppose AB 398 because Cap and Trade has turned pollution into a commodity.

I oppose transportation of fracking oil, tar (oil) sand oils, coal, and other hazardous materials through California.

In Sacramento I will urge passage of Senate Bill (SB)100 to achieve 100 percent renewable and zero-carbon electricity in California by 2045 and efforts to reach that goal earlier.

500 words is too little systematically to address California’s – and the planet’s – climate change challenges. The problems are enormous and we must base our policies on sound scientific advice embracing the precautionary principle before the profit motive.

4.
Question 4

What programs or strategies would you suggest to meet the educational needs of the youngest and most poverty stricken Californians?

Answer from Jovanka Beckles:

As a mental health professional I work with educators every day who dedicate their lives to helping underserved communities and students who need extra attention. 

California was once a global leader in public education from kindergarten through university. The “tax revolt” began a long slide that has now become a public education crisis. Charter schools and private university funding are not good solutions. After years of deteriorating funding, I will go to Sacramento pursuing a shift away from privatization and prison funding to improving and equalizing funding for public education at all levels.

I support implementation of Proposition 98 (constitutional funding guarantee for K-12 schools and community colleges), and AB 2808 for fair and full funding of schools.

We must reform or repeal the Proposition 13 legislation to close loopholes to generate funds for our schools at all levels.          

All Californians should have free pre-school, free childcare, and tuition-free access to community college, the Cal State and University of California systems.          

To set our students up for success we must expand career and technical education programs for all students, including a school-to-union pipeline to train our young people for green-collar union jobs.

Because I value neighborhood public schools above all, I advocate a statewide moratorium on new charter schools until and unless existing such schools are demonstrated genuinely to improve choice without damaging public schools.

I believe state loans made to community colleges when they were taken over by the state should be forgiven, i.e. Compton community college.

I support AB 204 (Medina) that waives enrollment fees for community college students.

I support SB-68 that would create an exemption from nonresident tuition for children of immigrants who cannot demonstrate California residency because of their immigration status (Dream Act students). I strongly oppose federal efforts that target undocumented students and faculty, or that undermine an inclusive vision of community colleges.

We need to improve coordination between community colleges, school districts, cities, counties and other agencies on the delivery of social, health, and mental health services.

Our schools can only improve if we respect and reward our teachers. In that vein, I advocate  establishing access to affordable housing for faculty. Our teachers are key to the viability of our society. I oppose merit pay/pay for performance for teachers.

California should have democratic elections for, rather than the Governor’s power to appoint, the statewide K-12 State Board of Education, the Community College Board of Governors, CSU Board of Trustees, and UC Board of Regents.

Throughout my political career I have worked closely with the local Teacher unions in Richmond to advocate for English As A Second Language for K-12 and Adult education, to improve the nutrition level of school meals, to raise teacher salaries, reduce the student-to-teacher ratio and fought Big Soda that spent millions as we campaigned to tax their deeply unhealthy products and invest the funds in school social programs.

I pledge to consult faculty representatives and local educators as I consider any decisions and policies.

Total money raised: $158,235

Top contributors that gave money to support the candidate, by organization:

1
SEIU California
$8,800
2
SEIU Local 1021 and employees
$7,850
3
Employees of 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center
$4,400
3
Employees of Bond Manufacturing. Company
$4,400
3
Employees of Holistic Healing Collective
$4,400
3
Employees of RPG Services, LLC
$4,400
3
SEIU United Healthcare Workers West
$4,400

By State:

California 93.12%
Washington 2.94%
District of Columbia 1.93%
Nevada 0.77%
Other 1.24%
93.12%

By Size:

Large contributions (81.70%)
Small contributions (18.30%)
81.70%18.30%

By Type:

From organizations (29.90%)
From individuals (70.10%)
29.90%70.10%
Source: MapLight analysis of data from the California Secretary of State.

My political philosophy is simple. Representatives of the people should represent the people, not the big corporations that have come to dominate America's politics.

I believe in people-powered, bottom-up politics. I don't take money from corporations and thus I'm not indebted to them. As a Richmond City Councilmember now, and a State Assemblyperson if I'm elected, my way of operating is to find out what my constituents need -- starting with the neediest among them -- and then work with the broad community to develop ideas about how to fulfill those needs.

When innovations in government or law prove necessary, I work with knowledgeable people and with my fellow lawmakers to craft solutions to the problems facing those constituents. 

 

A Healthier California

Summary

This paper argues for urgent progress toward a single-payer health system and a set of complementary health measures to retain healthcare affordability. enhance access, promote health provider coordination, and emphasizing preventive and community healthcare approaches. 

Aside from my service on the Richmond City Council, I work as a full-time children’s wrap-around mental health specialist for Contra Costa County. Every day I see the effects of poor health and rediscover the needs of our children and families in my day-to-day work. I will bring my ground-level experience to discussions and legislation in Sacramento aimed at improving Californians’ physical, mental, and economic health. I believe California needs to focus on five aspects of the healthcare problem right away: (1) working for a single-payer healthcare system, (2) retaining access and affordability even while working on single-payer, (3) preserving and enhancing healthcare access and delivery for all California residents, (4) promoting provider coordination, and (5) emphasizing preventive and community healthcare approaches.

1. Single Payer Healthcare

In April 2011, long before introduction of the current single-payer bill (SB 562 and its analogue in the Assembly), I co-authored a resolution adopted by the Richmond City Council supporting Senate Bill 810, the California Universal Health Care Act of 2011. In the intervening years, as single-payer has moved to the center of national debate and become supported by a majority of Americans, its urgency for California has only increased.

As a State Assembly member, I will do everything in my power to enact single-payer health coverage for all Californians as would happen with adoption and implementation of SB562. The Assembly should move ahead with its own hearings and draft legislation to implement a single-payer system. Few if any policy changes could do more to protect the health of our communities, lower costs and boost our economy than universal, single-payer healthcare.

If we instituted single-payer Health insurance coverage, we would not only reduce the costs of medical care, we would absolutely improve the health status of our communities. We could also begin to redirect money to prevent illnesses, rather than just waiting to treat people when they become chronically ill.  We not only have a moral obligation to heal the sick, we also owe it to ourselves to improve the health of all of our residents. As somebody who works with the mentally ill, I see every day the consequences of the Health disparities in our communities that could be dramatically improved with equitable health insurance coverage for everyone.  As the opioid epidemic claims and victims every day, we do not provide adequate funding for treating those with drug addiction disorders. Instead of criminalizing these victims, we could be providing appropriate and necessary treatment to help them overcome their addiction.

Physicians for a National Health Care Program (PNHCP), a physician-led organization, states, “We already pay enough for health care for all – we just don’t get it. Americans already have the highest health spending in the world, but we get less care (doctor, hospital, etc.) than people in many other industrialized countries. Because we pay for health care through a patchwork of private insurance companies, about one-third (31 percent) of our health spending goes to administration.”

PNHCP explains that single-payer

. . .is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands. Under a single-payer system, all residents . . . would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs. The program would be funded by the savings obtained from replacing today’s inefficient, profit-oriented, multiple insurance payers with a single streamlined, nonprofit, public payer, and by modest new taxes based on ability to pay. Premiums would disappear; 95 percent of all households would save money. Patients would no longer face financial barriers to care such as copays and deductibles, and would regain free choice of doctor and hospital. Doctors would regain autonomy over patient care. [http://www.pnhp.org/sites/default/files/faq_2018.pdf]

While I favor a national health-care system, California is certainly a large enough economic unit that we could embark on such a system even before the federal government does so. As in so many other areas, California could lead the country to better health. As the PNHCP says about the US as a whole, in a state system, “Replacing private insurers. . . would recover money currently squandered on billing, marketing, underwriting and other activities that sustain insurers’ profits but divert resources from care. . . .  Combined with what we’re already spending, this is more than enough to provide comprehensive coverage for everyone.” 

2. Retaining Access in Advance of Single-Payer

The Assembly and Senate will likely take some time to hone a single-payer system, and if experience with the current governor is any indicator, even passage would not guarantee rapid implementation. There are tremendously important things we need to do to retain broad access to healthcare for all Californians as we fight for, devise, and transition into a single-payer system (whether this takes place at the federal or state level).

Even as we seek improvements, our citizens are threatened by US Congress H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act, which seeks to repeal and replace President Obama’s effort to improve health coverage for Americans, the Affordable Care Act.

California can protect its citizens from these federal misdeeds. Rather than destroying Medi-Cal by underfunding it, as the federal government is attempting to do, we must preserve Medi-Cal. Legislators need to establish protections and continue to expand services regardless of federal proposals as we continue our statewide mobilization for a single-payer system.

While working for single-payer, I will fight to ensure that workers’ wages cannot be continually cut to make up for rising healthcare costs. Employers’ cuts to employee healthcare benefits highlight the need for single payer healthcare.

California healthcare workers are facing understaffed departments and are forced to work overtime, putting patients and employees at risk. We must make sure healthcare employers commit to providing safe staffing levels and paying competitive wages to prevent a healthcare provider crisis. Sacramento needs to pay more attention to conditions of and compensation for our healthcare workers, including helping healthcare workers to find and afford housing within reasonable distances from their workplaces.

Nurse/patient ratios are established for patient and nurse health and safety; they must be followed or people will die. Nurses put their lives on the line to save other’s lives, and they have every right to refuse unsafe assignments. I would initiate or support legislation that upholds and strengthens these standards by increasing the number of inspectors and mandating stiff penalties for facilities that violate them.

3. Preserve and enhance healthcare access for all California residents

Throughout California there are healthcare deserts, communities that lack access to vital healthcare professionals and institutions. We must establish and preserve clinics, hospitals and transportation options to make sure that all Californians have the healthcare access they need.

The consolidation and centralization of healthcare providers – one of the consequences of corporatized health systems – is part of the reason hospitals and clinics have closed down in rural and outlying communities and even in locations in major cities that, for some reason, the big health companies find undesirable. California needs to develop compensatory financing systems so that all its citizens are close to needed healthcare services including clinics, urgent care and hospital facilities. In my own district, I’ll fight to preserve Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley.

4. provider coordination

Especially because healthcare has become a profession of usually dispersed specialties that individuals have to figure out how to navigate just at the worst time – when they need help – I believe it’s vital to improve coordination between the institutions that come most closely into contact especially with our neediest citizens in helping to determine individuals’ healthcare needs and ways to serve them. Community colleges, school districts, cities, counties and other agencies need to develop coordination and cooperation routines for the delivery of social, health, and mental health services.

5. Prevention and community health

Beyond trying to fix our very flawed sickness care delivery system, we must think about individual and community health in a very different way. Let’s think about preventing illness and keeping communities healthy in the first place. Even then-Senator Barack Obama voiced concern in 2008 with these very stark words: "Simply put, in the absence of a radical shift toward prevention and public health, we will not be successful in containing medical costs, and improving the health of the American people."

So what would preventing illness actually look like? Here are two examples that California could easily implement if the political will was present:

First, a state-funded public health media and nutrition campaign to counter the obesity epidemic, much as HIV has been addressed in the past. The obesity epidemic is causing catastrophic premature illness and mortality but it is entirely preventable!

The elements of nutritional health are well known. Whatever the fad diets of the day, the vast preponderance of scientific evidence shows that diets rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, with substantial protein (whether meat or vegetable) and whole grains and nuts, consumed in moderate portions and without significant amounts of added sugar or refined carbohydrates reduces obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But on a day-to-day basis, many of California’s citizens don’t follow the experts’ advice. Advertising, ready and cheap availability of processed foods and sugar-laden treats are levying huge healthcare costs and individual suffering on our citizens. What can we do? Our schools can help with nutrition education; our state can adopt taxes that raise the prices of unhealthy foods just as they did with cigarettes; our healthcare providers can be urged to address their clients holistically and preventively, not just therapeutically. The state can help make Californians healthier!

Second, much as California has decriminalized marijuana, it should consider decriminalization of the use of illegal drugs. Drug addiction and use must be addressed as public health issues, not matters of criminal justice. This would improve outcomes and hugely reduce pressure on our justice and incarceration systems. Think of all the lives that could be saved, the needless victimization of addicts that could be avoided, and the billions of dollars that could be saved by dramatically reducing the prison industrial complex. With drug addiction considered a health problem within a framework of preventive healthcare built upon principles of benefit for patients rather than benefits for insurance companies and huge healthcare companies, drug treatment facilities could replace prisons for many people whose prospects now are being crushed by inappropriate punitive, rather than curative or maintenance approaches.

Corporate-free politics and California’s Health

Right now, legislation and legislative initiatives in California are dominated by lobbyists. These people have the expertise, the funding, the longevity in Sacramento and the dedication to delve deeply into their policy areas and to craft legislation that serves their employers. Unfortunately, their employers are mostly large corporations that have interests in legislation that protects their profits.

I’m running for Assembly District 15 as a corporate-free candidate. Having worked steadily in my day job as a mental health wrap-around specialist for children, spending much of my remaining time engaged in Richmond politics seeking to improve life in my community on the basis of grassroots, ground-level upward mobilization of people’s talents, I’m convinced that California as a whole could vastly improve its residents’ health by pursuing a single-payer, state-defended, highly accessible, coordinated and significantly preventive healthcare system.

These aren’t the innovations that the big corporations view as important to them. They aren’t necessarily profit centers. But for California’s people, they are vital and they are attainable. That’s what I plan to work on in Sacramento as a representative of Assembly District 15.

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