Meet the candidates: 67th State Assembly District

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Jerry Carlos, left and Kelly Seeyarto, right

Spanning from Murrieta in the south, to Hemet in the east and to Temescal Valley in the north, the 67th State Assembly District covers a large swath of western Riverside County. The district was represented by Republican Assemblymember Melissa Melendez until earlier this year, when she resigned after winning the state Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Stone. Murrieta City Councilmember Kelly Seyarto, a Republican, and former Riverside County sheriff’s deputy Jerry Carlos, a Democrat, are now candidates for the seat.

Kelly Seyarto (R)

Kelly Seyarto (R)

Seyarto is a former firefighter and Murrieta city council member from 1997-2006 and from 2016-present.

What is the single most pressing issue you would want to tackle in the state Assembly, and how would you go about doing that?

Well, I think if you asked me that question a year ago it would be much different. But right now, the single most pressing issue is the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we tackle the economic recovery part of that along with the ongoing response to it. And one of the things that we need to think about is how are we going to be recovering from an economic perspective, because our businesses are being affected and we’re losing jobs, so I think one of the things we have to look at is, what are the impediments from a statewide perspective on the legislative side to help our businesses be successful? We have a lot of regulations on the business side, and we need to take a hard look at that and see if there are any regulations that we can roll back, and also encourage businesses to start hiring people. Those are a couple things that we really need to do to help our businesses recover, because a lot of them are not going to. If we keep the same onerous regulations that we have now, a lot of them won’t be successful recovering.

Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, how specifically would you use your power in the state Assembly to try to help those affected by it?

Well, you know actually, I think the coronavirus response has been tainted from the get go by there being a presidential election, and when you introduce a real issue like the coronavirus, a pandemic, when you introduce politics into the solutions then you have what we have, which is a lot of different rules, a lot of different instructions, a lot of different mandates, some of which don’t make sense at all and all of which lead to a very confused public about what they can do. It will be interesting to see if that changes after the election, no matter the result. But if we can get back to looking at the real issue and the real science of the risks, et cetera – because we’ve heard them. They’re all over the map, and nobody can believe anything we hear anymore. And that’s the problem, when you lose the trust of the public, then they’re not going to believe anything you say or they’re going to resist doing anything you say and for good reason. So, I think making sure that we just convey to the public that these are the things you can do to protect yourself and ensure that they understand the risks, and the risks to other people. And we really need to get our economy back on track because that’s causing a lot more pain in that respect, and whatever we’re doing doesn’t seem to be necessarily effective in stemming the coronavirus spread, it just seems to be going in cycles right now. And I don’t want people to think I’m saying we don’t need to be doing any of that stuff, I’m just saying people need to be told what it is – some of the stuff we’ve been told, how it transmits and all of that stuff, but we need the honest-to-goodness truth about what we can do to help mitigate the spread and protect ourselves and protect other people without shutting everything down in the manner that it was shut down, because people don’t know whether it was shut down for politics, so a lot of people think that, and I think there could be some truth to that, and a lot of people are upset because we’re not shut down longer because they think that doing that will make it go away. And we just don’t know, and we don’t know that because of politics.

On the pandemic issue, one of the most important things we can do as a legislative body is to ensure that we prepare appropriately for these events ahead of time. If our leaders are not addressing hospital surge capacity, supply chain readiness and accessibility and availability of personal protective equipment, we will not have a positive response to any future pandemics. We have to bring manufacturing and storage of critical components back to the U.S., and California needs to look ahead to ensure that if we are able to bring companies back to the U.S. that we will be competitive in being able to locate those companies here in California, supplying jobs and opportunities to people that we don’t offer now.

In short order, remove the politics, be honest with the public and give us the information we need to minimize our risks and understand how the coronavirus transmits and prepare for these events in advance so there is already a plan people can be confident in that isn’t tainted by political agendas.

On the recovery piece, it is important to not only help the existing businesses recover that have been affected, but it is also important to create a business environment in California that attracts new opportunities as stated before. Incentivizing companies and manufacturers to relocate to California into some of the areas that have large commuter populations can help reduce those commutes, which will help lessen traffic and environmental impacts and, more importantly, allow people to spend more time with their families. As it stands now, California is not a welcoming state for businesses, and you can’t fix the consequences of that with a bunch of mandated goals.

What is your governing style? What is your approach to working with members of your own party? How about members of the opposing party?

Well, I approach everything from – my whole life, I’ve been a pragmatic problem solver. When I see a problem, I don’t really attach it to an ideology. Obviously, there’s things I’m a conservative person, but there are problems out there that have nothing to do with being red or being blue or anything in between or to the right or left of those. What we have is a lot of issues that need to be addressed to make people’s lives better. And those mean, everybody’s lives need to be better. So we need to kind of make sure that we don’t lose the opportunity to solve real problems while we’re doing partisan politics. There certainly are issues that are partisan, but we need to focus on the ones that aren’t and not let our focus on the partisan part eliminate the opportunities to solve some of our problems like water infrastructure. Right now that’s off everyone’s radar, nobody really even thinks about it anymore. But you know, another drought will come and we still we be short of water and we still haven’t figured out how to send water to the Central Valley farmers and we still have the Bay Area issue and we still send a lot of water in wet years off to the ocean. And there are solutions to that, but people just don’t have the political will to address them and we need to do that. And the wildfire issue is another one. Those are real issues, they have nothing to do with partisan politics and everybody should be concerned about that, and if they aren’t, I’d have to question their leadership abilities because everyone should be concerned about these types of things. And working as a whole to solve problems would go a long way toward restoring some kind of confidence that the public might have in their government, because right now they don’t have any and I don’t blame them.

How do you plan to make yourself available to your constituents and keep in touch with their thoughts on the issues?

Well, one of the things that you look for when we have bad situations like COVID-19, is you look for some of the things that you can improve upon. And one of those things is, people have learned how to do – and I know everybody hates them right now – but they’ve learned how to do Zoom meetings better. They’ve learned how to communicate by social media better. And so incorporating both of those things into your outreach is a good thing. Having the right people on your staff in your district to help people is another thing because customer service is really important. And that’s what you’re there for, you’re there to help people. And obviously the Assembly person themselves has to be in session a lot of times, but that’s why they have staff members that help. But my plan is to be as accessible as I can possibly be to people, support their events, support their causes. We have a lot of charitable organizations out there that deserve our support and be out there so people are comfortable approaching and having you help them with their problems. That’s always hopefully how I’ve been as a councilmember in the past. People can email me or call me or whatever, and I welcome that because if they’re comfortable calling me that means I’m approachable for them. And that’s what I want. I want people to be comfortable calling me.

How important do you believe it is to listen to people who disagree with you?

Well, you know there’s two types of people that disagree with you. There’s the type of people that are screaming and mad at you, and the way I’ve learned to handle that – because I haven’t always handled that great in the past – is don’t take the mean parts personally but try to take out the parts that have some validity to them. And usually, no matter how mad they are, they may have some valid points there, but they’re just being lost in the message. And so you’ve got to just not get caught up in that part of it and try to de-escalate their anger and get them into a regular conversation so you can make some constructive headway into dealing with the issue and at least addressing the problem. You can’t always solve the problems that people bring to you, but at least you can come to an understanding about why it can’t be solved or what the hurdles are to being able to do that. So I think it’s just that, every message has some validity to it and you need to find those parts and not be offended by the parts where they’re mad. Because some people, they communicate with us and they’re just mad when they call, and a lot of times I’ll just ask them why are you mad at me? It’s one of those things you just learn to deal with that over the years and be able to listen and pull out the constructive parts of the conversation.

Well, and then there’s the other people who are very calm and constructive, and those are the easier people to have a discussion with. It’s the mad people, the people that are angry and a lot of times their anger is very valid, but still their message gets lost in a slew of name-calling, and you’ve got to try to talk them down so you can have that constructive conversation. That’s how it works; everybody lays their ideas out on the table and you try to figure out how to solve problems using everybody’s ideas in a collaborative effort to try to come to a decision about how you’re going to go forward. I think it’s a people skill that you develop over many years, and fortunately I’ve had that experience of going to the school of hard knocks to figure some of that out.

Jerry Carlos (D)

Jerry Carlos (D)

Carlos is a business owner and former Riverside County sheriff’s deputy.

What is the single most pressing issue you would want to tackle in the state Assembly, and how would you go about doing that?

I’m going to say divisiveness. If we can work together to solve problems, the solutions are going to be much better.

Let’s take an example. I think it was two weeks ago, right at the closing of this particular session in Sacramento. Different sides came together to work on an eviction moratorium. And originally the tenants’ groups had one extreme set of goals they wanted and the property owners had something at the other end. If either group would have had their way, their solution, it wouldn’t have been a very good solution. When you end up with a solution … that neither party is really happy with, or neither side is really happy with, that means it’s probably a decent solution. That’s kind of my thinking.

In particular with the coronavirus pandemic going on, how would you use your power in the state Assembly to try to help families affected by it, whether because of a death or because of economic impacts?

What I see for the people who take office in January, we’re going to have a huge economic problem in this state. Whatever happens from here on. Schools are going to be affected greatly. Businesses are affected greatly. Landlords are affected greatly. And all that means is that there will be less money coming into the state from taxpayers, and the state is going to have a hard time spending less money. My examples – how much are we going to be spending on fire that we weren’t planning to spend? It’s going to go way over budget. We have a lot of issues that have to be taken care of, and fire is one of them. You can’t stand around and say “Are we going to spend money on overtime for fire people?” That’s just a given, that’s going to happen. And it doesn’t matter when someone says, and I don’t know what the number is, but let’s just say it’s $10 billion. The bill for fire suppression is going over $10 billion, what do we do? Stop? No, we keep going until it’s taken care of. And now, we’re growing other problems that we were kind of getting a handle on, and that would be air pollution and our water. Those problems are going to be exacerbated as well. So Sacramento has a lot to do, and one of the ways it can be done is to try and set examples. We’re talking about COVID-19 in particular. As an old person – and I keep saying that, because I am older – I am trying to be safe. When I go out in public, I wear a mask and just as much for me getting something from someone else, the truth is it protects other people from me. To me, I look at that mask as a consideration of others, that I don’t want them to be getting sick from me. I could be asymptomatic; I don’t know. I’ve gone out very little but a couple of times I’ve had to get food, I’ve had to help my sister with some issues. Who knows? To me, it’s just a courtesy. So No. 1 is to set an example, educated your constituency and try to get them to understand that this is the right thing to be doing.

What is your governing style? What is your approach to working with members of your own party? How about members of the opposing party?

I’m a real big reader. I have probably about at least 6,000 volumes in my house, under the beds, in the closet, in the garage, in the casita, totally all over in my office. And I read a lot of history, and I read about Franklin Delano Roosevelt a whole lot. I have probably at least 4 feet of books on Roosevelt if you put them side by side. And Roosevelt, I look at as our greatest president, and I also look at him as probably the greatest misleader and liar to us of any other president that we’ve had. And I still put him at No. 1, more important than Lincoln was. Leaders, the people we elect, have two ways to go or maybe three. One is, they do what they believe in and don’t listen to the people that elected them. That may be a real leader. The other kind are the ones that only do what the people who elected them want to have done. That’s really not leading. And maybe the best kind is the one that has a combination of both. Once in a while I may believe something that no one else goes along with. That’s telling me, Jerry, maybe you need to rethink what you are thinking. If you have a split vote on things, that maybe makes it a little easier. If you only have 10% of the people going along with you, maybe you should be thinking that over, too. And maybe you need to be really looking as the leader at that group that is that 10%. We’re going to have lots of scientific questions and issues in Sacramento, and I really think the people that need to be listened to are the scientists and the experts. I’m one of those people that believes in science. And people that aren’t familiar with it are still going to have an opinion, that’s the way it goes. Do I give as much weight there? This is what an elected person has to be continually doing.

How do you plan to make yourself available to your constituents and keep in touch with their thoughts on the issues?

That’s really easy. I can be open in all kinds of ways. I don’t have to pursue a career to support my household. I do not have children that I have to be taking care of, putting through school or taking to school or helping with school or doing any of that. That’s an advantage of an elder statesman. And I can really devote all of my time to the half a million people in the 67th district, by phone, email, my office will be available also, and I live here as well.

How important is it to listen to those who disagree with you?

Absolutely. Sometimes it’s more important to listen to them than the ones who agree with me. I don’t know if you know, but I was in law enforcement for a long time. I’m used to people – usually when you’re arresting someone, most of them don’t agree with you. Once in a while, they might have been saying something that I wasn’t even aware of, and suddenly it made me think, “Oh, I didn’t think about that. I didn’t check that out. I didn’t know that person was there,” all kinds of things. And it makes you spend just a little bit more time to find that out, and maybe I’m not doing the right decision here.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.