SAN LUIS OBISPO – Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham received 1,424 responses from a mass mail survey dispersed throughout the district, from San Miguel to Lompoc. The top five issues to respondents, according to the results, were: lowering taxes, balancing the state budget, improving the economy and creating jobs, fixing the roads and improving the water infrastructure, respectively.
The survey, sent out the end of April, did not ask the age of the survey-takers, but did find that 328 were business owners, 424 were veterans, and 608 respondents commute to work.
Cunningham felt the survey results were in line with what he already thought people in his designated region cared about, noting that improving the climate for small business was also pretty high on the list. In support of local economic prosperity, Governor Jerry Brown signed Cunningham’s AB 657, the ‘Small Business Liaison’ Bill, requiring any agency that significantly regulates or impacts a small business to prominently display the name and contact information of its small business liaison on its website. He said the bill will help “navigate the bureaucracy.”
“A pretty sizable number of people focused on pocketbook issues, fiscal issues — what we can do to create more job growth,” he said.
Cunningham has been busy passing bills in the California Legislature since he took the oath last December. He remains steadily devoted to the children of Paso Robles and Atascadero. His top priority remains funding career technical education as a ladder to the middle class and he has taken a bold stand on youth-related issues: from supporting STEM programs such as the Atascadero High School Greybots Robotics Team, to raising awareness and combating child trafficking in San Luis Obispo County.
Cunningham has modernized his approach to “taking the temperature” of the voters in the electorate and his constituents by rolling with the times. He said the survey was one of the many ways he gathers input from the people he serves. His approaches open communication by making use of all available forms of media to reach across the generations.
“In terms of getting feedback in the community, it’s Facebook messages. It’s Twitter. It’s phone calls. It’s emails. It’s TV. It’s radio.” he said.
Of the respondents, 24.7 percent of people said they go to cable news to learn about what is going on, while 23.7 percent said they get their information from the nightly local news. Of course, his office takes into account that those who might not respond to a survey may be those who get their news from social media. Still, Cunningham said he was surprised the survey found a high percentage of people gather their news from cable and local evening news.
What did not surprise Cunningham was that 64 percent of survey respondents opposed the gas tax, the Legislature’s recent move to fund road repairs by raising fuel taxes and registration fees by $5.2 billion per year.
“I get that,” he said.
People were also in support of more public safety funding.
“That was very popular, so that was very validating,” he said.
Cunningham’s AB 1339, sponsored by the State Sheriff’s’ Association, has just been signed into law. The bill requires that anyone applying for a position within a law enforcement agency who isn’t a peace officer, must be required to go through a routine background check. This would include non-sworn positions such as dispatchers or evidence room employees. Apparently San Luis Obispo is a county among other counties that have problems with evidence and cash disappearing from evidence lockers.
“It’s one of those common sense things,” he said. “We want to give law enforcement agencies the ability to do full background checks on all potential personnel. I’m excited about that.”
Other notable bills Cunningham has been working in are AB 522, which allows nonprofits to raise money from donated alcohol ‘prizes’ from winegrowers, beer manufacturers, and their agent or importer. The bill passed the Assembly with no opposition and should be voted on by the Senate after summer recess.
He also introduced AB 996, which allows consumers to check the status and progress of successfully filed worker’s compensation renewal applications.
Cunningham’s bill, AB 484, adds two legally defined types of rape (rape by threat of deportation and rape by trickery or fraud) to the list of offenses that qualify for the sex offender registry, and AB 555, which appropriates money to the Air Resources Board (ARB) to retrofit any school buses that still need to be compliant with ARB requirements.
Cunningham spends at least four days a week at the Capital. When away from his wife and four kids in Templeton and his San Luis Obispo office, his housemate in Sacramento is Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong, representing Kern County. The two assemblymen have worked together and collaborated on committee-driven challenges, including number four most important issue from the survey: fixing the roads. Four of the six victims of the fatal collisions on the Highway 41 and Highway 46 were from Fong’s county. Cunningham said Fong’s position as Vice Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee is vital. Fong helps gather people together to make policy when trying to work with Caltrans and other transportation point people.
Cunningham said being an assemblyman has been interesting.
“You know, I grew up here,” he said.“I’m from Atascadero. So being able to represent my home in the state legislature is a real honor. It can be frustrating because politics is so petty.” “If you’re there to do policy,” he added, “there are people who are in it for that and there are people that aren’t. They’re in it for other reasons. So you’ve got to be patient.”
He said being patient in politics means being able to persuade people, and to be able to work on changing things over time.
“Look, it’s the sixth biggest economy in the world. It’s the biggest state in the country. There are only 120 of us. Eighty in the Assembly. Forty in the Senate – that are trying to figure out which direction to take the state. From my perspective, in a lot of ways, we’ve been going in the wrong direction. So we’re trying to slowly turn the ship around a little bit. And it can be messy at times.”
But Cunningham has not lost sight of the ideal. He said if he had a magic wand he’d change quite a few things.
“I’d fully fund career tech ed,” he said.”I’d have college and career pathways. I’d prioritize transportation higher in the budget.”
The assemblyman’s biggest focus for next year is, by far, continuing the momentum behind extending the grant program for career technical education in California high schools. He will have to convince the Governor that the program needs continued funding, matching state dollars for local school districts to invest in career tech classrooms and equipment modernization.
“We got it through policy committee,” he said.It got held in appropriations. Then we made a budget to have it funded.The funding ends after this school year. “So between now and next year we’re building a huge grassroots coalition of all the different people in the trades and agriculture. This is FFA. It’s SkillsUSA. It’s plumbing, electrician work – carpentry. It’s all the trades.”
He said, “When I did my small business tour on the campaign last year, that was one of the number one things I heard from people. ‘It’s hard to find skilled labor.’ And that’s across all industries.”
When Cunningham served on the Templeton school board for a while, he started to think about the “vast chasm between the education world and the business world.”
“One way of connecting them,” he said, “is to make sure education is practical. We’re getting exposure to kids that maybe aren’t college ready at 18, maybe aren’t ever going to college, but can make a great living as a welder or a plumber or something like that. We have huge shortages in those fields. So the time’s right for it...Without that grant program we’re going to shortchange an entire generation of kids.”
Number five of the most important issues to the survey respondents was improving water structure. “It was nice to see that because we spend quite a bit of time and energy pushing legislation, but also working with our local cities and water districts,” he said.
One of the bills Cunningham has been working on relating to water structure is AB 457, which authorizes a study to understand the viability and cost of utilizing Diablo Canyon’s existing water desalination plant for future use.
Cunningham has had success securing money from the State Proposition 1 to fund projects for the City of Paso’s wastewater treatment plant. “We’re working on a similar project with Pismo beach. He said to be “masters of our own water destiny,” the key is in recycling water. As far as the desalination component to his plans, he said, “We have tremendous agriculture on the Central Coast. It’s a huge economic engine for us, but it’s water-intensive. We’re sitting by an ocean. We’ve got lakes. We’re just coming out of the longest drought in my lifetime, and the last two counties to come out of extreme drought conditions in the entire state were San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. So I think we need to be thinking ten years ahead about what we can do with water, infrastructure, and supply.”
The challenges San Luis Obispo County face during Cunningham’s term may take some big picture thinking to solve. The assemblyman said he tries look forward into the future. “You’ve got to kind of play short-game, mid-game, long-game a little bit. One, perhaps, drawback of our system right now – people are chasing the new cycle and they’re just kind of playing politics – small-ball – like one issue at a time. And you know I think somebody’s got to step back and go, ‘Okay. Where do we need to go as a district, as a state, one decade, two decades from now? Are we investing in our kid’s education, giving them practical skills, or not? Are we setting them up for a lot of failure or debt, and no job at the end of it? Are we building up our water infrastructure? Are we being intelligent about how we use transportation, funding and infrastructure funding of it?’ That sort of stuff will leave a bigger mark if we do it right and will have bigger consequences if we do it wrong. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected]