Melissa Bourbonnais and Debbie Walsh are running against Supervisor Kevin Jeffries to become the District 1 representative on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Jeffries first joined the board in 2013 after serving as a member of the California State Assembly, representing District 66 from 2006 to 2012.
Debbie Walsh is running against Jeffries again, having run against him in 2016. Former American government professor Melissa Bourbonnais is a political newcomer.
District 1 consists of the communities of Canyon Lake and Lake Elsinore, as well as parts of Riverside and Wildomar.
Valley News sent each candidate the same four questions and below are their responses:
What makes you uniquely qualified to hold the office you are campaigning for?
Bourbonnais: I will be that rare elected official who works hard to actually represent the constituency, not just talk about it on the campaign trail. Actions speak louder than words. I am not interested in building a campaign war chest for the next reelection; I am committed to taking care of District 1. My diverse scope of professional experience, coupled with my heartfelt passion for public service, makes me uniquely qualified for the position. I have a master’s degree in political science. I have taught American government classes at the community college and university levels for 15 years. Six years ago, I pursued a long-held ambition to join law enforcement and was hired by the sheriff’s department. This combination of real-life experience, along with my strong work ethic, will ensure that I represent the best interest of our community.
Jeffries: My wife and I raised a family in Riverside County; I’ve been a small-business owner here for 39 years. I was a volunteer firefighter for 29 years. I’ve invested my entire adult life to serve my neighbors and protect taxpayers in various levels of local and state government, and I’ve held the current office of supervisor for the last seven years. I have a lifetime of private and public sector experience, and I’ve always remained focused on my goal of improving services in our communities.
Walsh: I have 30 years’ experience working to improve the 1st District of Riverside County, and five years’ experience working directly with county Supervisor Bob Buster as a legislative assistant. I have a record of protecting the environment. I created a rural community plan and community trails system. As for education, I have a bachelor’s degree University of California Riverside and a master’s degree in public administration from California Baptist University.
What is the single most pressing issue facing the district you represent/hope to represent in the years to come?
Bourbonnais: The lack of a thriving job market in Riverside County. The main types of employment in Riverside County are government jobs or warehouse jobs. Neither pay that well, but warehouse employers, in particular, are notorious for offering part-time, barely above minimum wage positions that make up the bulk of employment opportunities in the county. It means many District 1 residents either piece together a full-time income by holding two or three part-time jobs or endure long commutes to work in other counties. Either way, this strain adversely affects our community.
Jeffries: Unfortunately, there are many critical issues that impact the quality of life in our region, including traffic congestion, homeless, public safety and the degradation of public services, but the source of much of those problems is the broader issue of how we manage the massive growth in our region without degrading the quality of life of existing residents.
Walsh: The single most pressing issue is balancing the county budget. The reserve funds are now at the minimum level and critical services are being severely cut. Last year the budget was balanced by reaching into the reserves and cutting critical services such as fire, code and animals services. More cuts to fire and other critical services are anticipated this year as well. Without any changes to the current policy, all services will continue to be cut and our quality of life will continue to diminish.
How do you intend to tackle/solve that issue?
Bourbonnais: Changing the job market is not an issue that any one person can solve. It is a multi-faceted problem that requires a coalition of elected officials, business owners, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement and educators to collectively address. During my 15 years of teaching, as well as my current work in law enforcement, I have developed a network of professionals and community leaders, who I will continue to collaborate with to develop workable solutions to improve job prospects in Riverside County.
Jeffries: Since joining the board of supervisors in 2013, I have been the most vocal voice for accountability and reforms at the county and for ensuring new housing developments will financially support the public services they need. I’ve fought for protections for residents who live on properties adjacent to proposed mega-warehouses, including pushing for “good neighbor” development guidelines for warehouses that are adjacent to homes and schools. I’ve also pushed hard for traffic and congestion relief projects in our district, paving dirt roads and widening key roads and freeways to make them safer and more efficient for residents of our district. I’ve been met with resistance on numerous fronts in these efforts, but I remain firm in my commitment to represent the people who live in our communities.
Walsh: I would balance the budget by making the county more efficient and ending costly pet projects. Do we really need to repave a community center parking lot or would we rather provide critical fire services? I would reduce unnecessary overtime that is costing the county millions each year.
What are some of your key objectives when/if you are elected?
Bourbonnais: To increase the number of well-paying jobs, tackle homelessness and improve fire and public safety services in Riverside County, while maintaining a committed focus on the best interest of District 1.
Jeffries: I want to ensure our public safety services – sheriff, fire, animal services and emergency services – are as strong and responsive as possible. I’ll continue to fight to find efficiencies within our county government and to assist people who aren’t being treated fairly by the bureaucracy. I want our county to help people who just want to make improvements to their property, build their small business or bring good jobs to the county, but I also require that projects proposed by big developments fully mitigate their traffic and quality of life impacts on their neighbors. I will also remain committed to the financial health of our county and continue to lead by example by refusing any pay increases or a taxpayer-funded pension.
Walsh: I would work to reduce crime and homelessness in our cities and rural communities that are destroying our quality of life, while providing more funding for law enforcement and fire so that they can continue to protect our lives and keep us safe. I would promote high paying jobs in Riverside County, increase after school programs and reduce traffic congestion and commute times by bringing in high paying corporate and manufacturing jobs so that thousands of commuters can work here in Riverside County. I would strive to protect our beautiful open space and habitat that makes Riverside County a beautiful place to live. As the widow of a Vietnam veteran, we must never forget what our veterans sacrificed to protect our freedom. I will make sure we have adequate programs to help our veterans.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.