With her husband by her side, Sen. Melissa Melendez was sworn in to the California Senate by Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco Monday, May 18.
With the swearing in Melendez, the former Assemblywoman for California’s 67th District, is now the official representative for the 28th Senate District, representing most of Riverside County at the state capitol.
With only 1,000 ballots left to count as of press time, Melendez easily defeated Riverside County Board of Education member Elizabeth Romero for the seat by nearly 20,000 votes. Romero conceded the election Sunday, May 17, congratulating Melendez on the win.
“I congratulate Assemblymember Melissa Melendez on her victory and wish her the best in the state Senate,” Romero said in a social media posting. “Looking ahead, I will continue to fight for our values and advancing the issues we brought a voice to during this campaign, issues like access to quality health care, high-quality and affordable child care and education and ensuring a strong economic recovery for our Golden State.”
In a Friday, May 15, phone interview, Valley News took some time with Melendez to discuss her plans for the 28th District during her time in office.
Melendez said her top priority was balancing the state budget. Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed $14 billion in cuts recently to offset the loss of state revenues attributed to his shut down of nonessential businesses during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I certainly want to continue what I have been doing in the Assembly, but right now, our most immediate concern is the budget,” Melendez said. “Because of what happened with the coronavirus we have a lot of decisions on our plate with the budget.”
Melendez explained that the rainy-day fund set aside is now depleted due to the coronavirus and that while she understands cuts are going to have to be made, it’s just a question of where within the budget to make those cuts.
“It’s good that we created that fund which we did when I first got to the Assembly, but now that’s gone so we are going to have to fill those holes in the budget,” she said. “That’s going to mean some cuts somewhere. I don’t know where those are going to be yet, but there are going to have to be cuts.”
Melendez said she knows the governor is hopeful that the Trump administrator will help with bailouts for the western states, but she said she is not “entirely convinced” bailouts would happen.
“We have an entire country that has been suffering and is in lockdown,” she said. “I think the best way for California to recover is to open up for business.”
With more than half of the cuts proposed by Newsom coming from the public school system, Melendez took a firm stand against that proposal.
“My teacher friends are just terrified about what’s going to happen,” she said. “Their funding is always lacking. If you ask a school district, they say they can always use more for what they need to accomplish with their students. I don’t think that the brunt of the burden should be borne by the school districts.”
Melendez said that she thinks California has a spending problem, but the reality is the state needs to deal with the crisis at hand, which is how to cut the budget.
“I’m not going to just sit there and let them slash education funds and keep all the stuff we don’t necessarily need or don’t need to be spending as much money on,” she said. “It’s going to be a battle.
Also on her agenda is the repeal of Assembly Bill 5 which was signed into the law in September 2019 and went into effect earlier this year. AB 5 clarifies who is an employee and who is an independent contractor but is controversial due to the restrictions it placed on independent contractors, limiting their ability to earn a living.
“That law needs to be repealed,” she said, adding that she knows it’s not going to be an easy task. “I know that author has been trying to mollify the interest groups and make some changes, but it’s just not enough. There are millions of Californians who are suffering because of it.”
Melendez, who earned her stripes in the Assembly, said the most important thing to her is her constituents and representing them in Sacramento in the manner they deserve to be represented. She plans to hold her popular town hall meetings with constituents and increase her social media presence to keep voters informed of goings on at the capitol. She said she was proud that voters put their trust in her and plans to do everything in her power to keep that trust.
“It’s hard these days to put your faith into your elected leaders and the fact that voters put their trust in me and that really does mean a lot to me,” she said. “I’ll tell you, it’s just very humbling.”
Melendez will finish out the term vacated by state Sen. Jeff Stone who resigned in 2019 to accept a presidential appointment as regional director for the Department of Labor. Her seat in the 67th Assembly District will remain vacant until a winner can be decided in the November general election where Democrat Jerry Carlos will face off against Republican Murrieta City Councilmember Kelly Seyarto.
Kim Harris can be reached by email at email@example.com.