California Senate’s 28th District seat up for grabs in hotly contested race

From left, John Schwab, Melissa Melendez, and Joy Silver. Valley News/Courtesy photos

California primary elections are fast approaching, and a slew of critical races are on the March 3 ballot, including a special election to fill California’s 28th Senate District vacated by Jeff Stone, who accepted position with the U.S. Department of Labor as the western regional director.

Stone was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump in October, leaving his seat in the Senate vacant and up for grabs. California 67th District Assembly member and Lake Elsinore resident Melissa Melendez, along with real estate broker John Schwab of Temecula and Palm Springs resident Joy Silver, who came within 3.1 percentage points of beating out Stone for the seat in 2018, are all jockeying for election to the seat.

Valley News reached out to all three candidates to gather information to help inform voters as they work through the tough job of decided for whom to vote to fill the seat. The following Q&A includes information on each candidate.

Valley News: Can you give me a little bit of background on yourself?

Melendez: When I graduated high school, I joined the United States Navy. I served as a Russian translator for 10 years during the Cold War as well as during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm with honor and distinction and received numerous awards for strategic operations in partnership with our allies.

After multiple tours in the Navy, I returned to civilian life and started my own transcription services company. After settling my family in Lake Elsinore, I served as a city councilwoman and mayor and worked to provide regulatory and tax relief for small-businesses. In 2012, I was elected to the California State Assembly for District 67.

I hold a bachelor’s degree in history and political studies and earned my master’s degree in business administration. I have five children with my husband, Nico, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and still serves today as a commander in an active naval reserve unit. Together my husband and I have served our country for 40 years.

Silver: I’m a cop’s kid from a working-class family, educated in public schools and a state university. I understand what it means to struggle just to make ends meet. I began my career in health care as a community outreach worker for a medical and mental health clinic serving 40,000 patients annually, working my way up to become an executive there over a 19-year career. Later, I built a senior living community from the ground up, became certified in senior care in California and ran my own consulting firm specializing in aging issues to help seniors retire in dignity. Today, I serve as regional director of Southern California for an affordable housing developer that has delivered needed services to thousands of low-income individuals and families since 1984, bringing much needed affordable housing to the Coachella Valley.

I’m incredibly grateful to be the candidate endorsed by the Riverside County Democratic Party and the California Democratic Party, as well as state Treasurer Fiona Ma, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, state Sen. Connie Leyva, SD20 and so many other notable leaders and organizations.

Schwab: I joined the Marines at the age of 18 and was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for boot camp. Upon graduating bootcamp I spent my first enlistment as a light armored vehicle crewman in Twentynine Palms. I deployed to Okinawa, Japan, and from there we were the 31st Marine Expeditionary Force who deployed on USS Fort McHenry to Australia for training. I crossed the equator and officially participated in naval traditions to become a crusty shellback while on ship. I reenlisted and spent the next four years at Camp Pendleton. I became an instructor at infantry training battalion and specifically at light armored vehicle company.

I finished my enlistment and signed up full-time for taking college classes to complete my bachelor’s degree. I also had a desire to get my private pilot license which I did while working and going to school.

Valley News: Why you are qualified to represent the constituents of the 28th Senate District?

Melendez: I have served in the California State Assembly since 2012 representing Riverside County over the span of those seven years.  Since being elected to the legislature, I have fought for lower taxes and wrote legislation to make it easier to build affordable homes. I have pushed efforts to stop high-speed rail funding and reprioritize it to fix our crumbling roads. I wrote one of the most sweeping workplace harassment reform laws in the last decade and led the efforts to restore the rights of independent contractors. I even helped pass campaign finance laws so voters know where campaign money is coming from and wrote bills to stop legislators from becoming lobbyists who seek to cash in on their time in elected office.

When I first ran for public office I made a commitment to serve my constituents and the people I represent by making myself accessible to their needs. Since being elected to the state Assembly I have hosted over 100 community town halls, written over 4,800 hand written constituent responses and have recognized over 96,000 constituents with certificates of recognition. If elected to represent the people of the 28th Senate District, you can be sure that I will continue to make myself available to their needs.

Silver: I’m running for state Senate to bring practical solutions for the challenges we face. I know how to get things done, because I’ve done it in the real world. I’m not a career politician. I’m an outsider who puts my business experience to work on local priorities: protecting health care, championing affordable housing, developing the renewable energy economy and fixing the Salton Sea. I’ll advance practical solutions, not extreme ideologies, to make a real difference for the people of Senate District 28.

My partner and I chose to make California, and specifically this district, our home because we love it. From the mountains to the desert to the wine country of Temecula, Earth’s beauty is especially exhilarating here, ever reminding me that it is my duty to serve and protect the environment and our diverse community, and to better the economy with renewable energy jobs. It would be my greatest honor to represent this district and fight to bring vital resources back here to serve our community’s needs.

Schwab: My qualifications come from early leadership skills achieved as a young Marine. I spent four years in Twentynine Palms training and learning from great infantry officers and senior enlisted Marines. I reenlisted to become an Instructor at infantry training battalion, light armored vehicle school located on Camp Pendleton. After spending multiple years training senior officers, senior enlisted and coalition forces it became clear that I was going to further my education.

After my service I enrolled into Mt. San Jacinto Community College and transferred to California State University Santa Barbara. I received my bachelor’s degree in business administration and continued to pursue my personal goals. After working in the corporate world for a few years as an auditor and accountant I realized I wanted to find a job helping others. My wife and I ventured out and opened an adult residential facility for individuals with challenging behaviors.

Valley News: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district and how would you work to combat that issue?

Melendez: California, the fifth largest economy in the entire world, is No. 1 in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income. Not Mississippi, not Alabama, not West Virginia. California has the most poverty. We have the most wealth and the most poor. This is unacceptable. Rising costs of living and rampant homelessness are problems facing our state and are the critical issues facing our communities. California is the fifth largest economy in the world, the country is experiencing record low unemployment rates and yet so many Californians are struggling to find affordable housing and their means of earning a living and having economic freedom are slipping away. These issues are causing people to leave California and a recent study clearly proves this outward migration. One million people left California in the last decade because they could no longer afford to live here.

As your state Senator I will be the voice that speaks on behalf of real people and tries to fix real problems. Our state is crumbling under the politics of a single party voice in the state Capitol and adding another voice from that single party to the chorus will only fail to solve our state’s problems.  I will continue my efforts to support law enforcement, protect Proposition 13 and California taxpayers and will work hard to return California to a place where everyone willing to work hard can afford to live.

Silver: There are many priorities, including increasing access to health care, building more affordable housing, investing in public education and infrastructure. But, if we don’t focus on the environment – specifically the Salton Sea – there won’t be a district to represent.

Years of inaction have resulted in an environmental and health crisis. Right now, the communities surrounding the Salton Sea face increased rates of asthma – especially among children – and dozens of other ailments and challenges as a result of the pollutants that are becoming airborne as the Sea dries up. I helped found the Salton Sea Coalition, a group of activists and concerned citizens who have studied various solutions and believe that water importation is the best path forward and have been steadily gathering support among the local governments throughout the Coachella Valley.

California has led the nation in addressing climate change, but much more can be done to reduce emissions. One of my priorities will be to build an equitable, renewable energy economy that accelerates our transition to zero emission solutions, while creating job opportunities. I have already been working with startups focused on storage solutions for renewable energy and manufacturing solar panels locally.

I have also drafted legislation – The Keep Our Skies Clean Act – an initiative designed to continue California’s ongoing commitment to reducing and eventually eliminating all fossil-based fuel use in a manner tax-neutral to the average consumer. KOSCA accomplishes this by requiring the user, in this case the airline industry, the second largest carbon polluter after automobiles, to switch its fleet to clean, renewable, eco-friendly, carbon neutral bio fuels or pay a user “carbon tax” as a disincentive for their continued use of petroleum-based fuel. Once collected, the taxes can be re-allocated in the form of an annual dividend to consumers or utilized for further investments in providing California with the clean, blue skies she so richly deserves. I will champion this legislation in 2020, elected or not.

Schwab: My issues are focused on problems affecting everyone in the 28th State Senate District. Traffic is my No. 1 priority for improving the quality of life for everyone on the road and in the communities. Public safety is my second priority for protecting citizens so they can be out enjoying themselves throughout the district safely. Last, but always an issue is fuel prices. I intend to try and find areas to help reduce prices for everyone.

I will work with industry experts and other professionals to address these issues and come up with solutions to help improve the quality of life in the 28th State Senate District

Valley News: The area that Valley News serves skews as a strong Republican base and over the years residents of the area have cited high taxes brought on by the democratic supermajority in Sacramento as being a major area of concern. If elected, how would you work to protect constituents from increases in state taxes which many believe are making the California way of life unsustainable?

Melendez: I am a strong opponent to any changes to Proposition 13 and will always voice my strong opposition to tax increases. I have received an A rating from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for my consistent votes opposing tax increases. I have wrote legislation that seeks to waive the minimum franchise taxes for new small-business owners. I have also wrote measures that would require every tax increase proposed by the legislature to be put before the voters. In each instance the majority party has opposed each attempt. California has one of the highest costs of living, and I have spoken to many friends and family members who are leaving this state because they just can’t afford it. If elected to the state Senate, I will continue to fight for everyday Californians.

Silver: Public spending needs to be focused on the things ordinary people rely on: education, public safety, health care and core state services. We need to work to refocus the state budget on those priorities.

Year after year, core services that Californians rely on are stretched thinner and thinner, while wasteful tax loopholes that benefit big corporations are left on the books. That has to change. I’ll support tax incentives that make sense, like those that are directly linked to creating good local jobs and supporting urgent needs in our community like health care, education and public safety. I’ll fight hard to eliminate waste and abuse that benefits the powerful and privileged at the general public’s expense. Companies that pay so little and offer so little in benefits that their employees qualify for Medi-Cal, are gaming the system and cheating taxpayers. We need to pass legislation that requires big employers to offer quality benefits and pay their fair share.

Schwab: I will work diligently to help prevent tax increases on my constituents if elected.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at