"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth, who is seeking the Republican nomination for 38th Assembly District in the June 6 Republican primary election. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: It looks like you're finally get what you've wanted basically your whole adult life, and it's being handed to you on a silver platter.
Smyth: Well, I think they may say, "Be careful what you wish for." If you have been watching Sacramento, things aren't the best of times for the Republicans.
Signal: So Arnold is going to lose?
Smyth: I hope not. Then I might have to really reconsider, if the governor loses. But we have worked really hard, and that's one of the misconceptions about this race. This is something that we have worked hard for, for a long time. And just because we're in a position where it looks like we have a good shot at winning, this hasn't been handed to me or the campaign, by any means. It's something that takes a lot of work over a lot of time, and now that puts us into a position to win.
Signal: You are going to win the Republican primary on June 6. You've got a challenger by the name of Mary Barrientos who hasn't raised a lot of money; she's in the San Fernando Valley, and the Assembly district is centered around the Santa Clarita Valley. How did it come about that this seat was essentially made for you, as Keith Richman leaves it?
Smyth: Thanks for the redistricting, when they redrew the seat. Up until 2000, Santa Clarita Valley was split in two, between the 36th Assembly District and the 38th. The city portion was in the 36th, linked with the Antelope Valley, and the unincorporated portion, the 38th, was linked with the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley.
So in one sense, redistricting in the last Census actually did a good thing in that it kept the Santa Clarita Valley whole. That made sense. It took a big chunk of the San Fernando Valley, where there is still a lot of synergy, and then most of Simi Valley, which is a city that is very similar demographically to Santa Clarita, and it put that together.
Signal: And the bottom line is that because it is a Republican district, come November unless there's a really weird skeleton in your closet that nobody knows about you're going to be the Santa Clarita Valley's next assemblyman. So let's talk for a minute about who Cameron Smyth is.
Smyth: Before you do that, I just want to say that despite the way the district is drawn and the way things are looking in the primary, I think it's important for people to remember that the first time I ran for office, I lost. And that is a very
Signal: For City Council.
Smyth: Correct. Thank you. For City Council. And that is a very humbling and a very awakening experience, when you lose. So despite how we feel now, despite (how) the districts are drawn, I am going to run hard all the way through June, and if I win in June, then we're going to run hard all through November. Once you lose, you don't want to take anything for granted again, so we're going to work really hard all the way through the end of the year.
Signal: In other words, you still need people to donate to your campaign.
Smyth: Well, I need people to vote. Certainly that's what you need. You need people to check the box on June 6 and then on Nov. 7.
Signal: Let's go back a couple years obviously not that many years but let's go back. You graduated from U.C. Davis and then worked for (Assemblyman-Senator) Pete Knight, who was perhaps best known as the author of Proposition 22, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Smyth: Some may say he is best known for being the world's fastest man. But politically, I will give you that, yes.
Signal: What have you drawn from your experience with Pete Knight?
Smyth: What I learned from Pete is really a degree of accessibility. Pete Knight was a war hero, an astronaut, yet his door was always open. He answered the phones. If he was (in the district) and the rest of us were on the line, he would take the calls. If he didn't have a appointment and you wanted to meet with him in Sacramento or in the district, anybody was welcome. I think he really brought that "citizen legislature" aspect back, and I hope to take that attitude with me. I hope I brought that to the City Council and want to take that same attitude with me to Sacramento.
Signal: You were still working for Pete Knight when you were first elected to the City Council, right?
Smyth: Correct. I was working for Pete, right until June (2000). I got elected in April and left his office in June.
Signal: After you left Pete, you went to work for Shell Oil.
Smyth: That is correct. I worked for Shell until 2005. I have been kind of out on my own since then.
Signal: So tell us about those climbing gas prices. If you're up in Sacramento, would you support legislation that would go after the oil companies for price gouging?
Smyth: What has happened at least when I worked for the company, there were numerous inquires by attorney generals throughout the country, and never had they found any instance of price gouging or price fixing.
So if that's the will of the Legislature or the government to continue to do those investigations, I support that, because certainly I have to pay those gas prices just like everybody else. I want to make sure that everything is fair and equitable.
Signal: Who are you working for now?
Smyth: Kind of myself. I have certainly taken my most of my time in the last several months focusing on the campaign, particularly since the first of the year. But prior to that, I have had a couple of clients.
Actually one of my clients is Shell Hydrogen, which is the alternative fuels division. We're working on putting hydrogen stations into some gas stations to provide a fuel alternative to gasoline. That's been an exciting project. You go from meeting with environmental groups that usually oppose you, but now are very much in support with what they are doing on this side. So it's a good trade-off.
Signal: Six years ago you were the youngest person ever elected to the City Council. How have you grown and changed?
Smyth: It's really been a experience. Aside from the council but also personally, most profoundly, I think, is I have two children now. Nothing changes you more than having kids. So having a 2 1/2-year-old and a 2-month-old right now, that really changes you.
But also having the experience in actual governing and moving from a campaign prospective to policy and passing balanced budgets and talking and bringing communities together on issues it really has given me some good experience.
That's one of the reasons why I feel I am the most qualified for this seat: I have experience as a elected official, as a private businessperson, and (from) working in the Legislature. When you have term limits, you don't have time to get up to speed; my goal is to hit the ground running.
Signal: Looking back at your six years on the City Council, what do you take pride in? What can you point to and say, "Hey, I did that"?
Smyth: For me, the most relevant issue is the trash contract, and leading the effort to put our trash contract out to bid. The net result of that was a $30 million savings to the businesses and residents of Santa Clarita over the life of the contract. I point to that as something that I really took a leadership issue in and faced some challenges, but it was in the best interest of the residents, and has certainly paid off.
Signal: What is your big goal in your first two years in the Assembly?
Smyth: Ill be voting "no" a lot. I think that's probably one thing
Signal: Whenever Arnold introduces a budget you will be voting no?
Smyth: No. It's 48-52 Democrats-Republicans right now, so I think I'll be opposing a lot of legislation.
My goal the first term ... aside from starting to move some legislation and getting some legislation passed, mostly it is to get the folks within the 38th Assembly District to get comfortable with me, particularly the residents in the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley, to know that although I am a Santa Clarita guy, I still have that same accessibility that I have to all the residents, and that they will be represented. So the first goal is to just kind of get my hands around everything.
Signal: What really interests you? What do you want to do?
Smyth: Certainly I do have some ideas legislatively. One of the first bills that I would like to introduce is the breakup of Los Angeles Unified (School District). I know that Assemblyman (Keith) Richman and Sen. (George) Runner have bills going right now, which I support wholeheartedly. If they aren't successful this year, I am going to take up that mantle.
Santa Clarita is very fortunate. We have almost every school just in my mailbox today, I have five different invitations for schools being named a distinguished school, because of their efforts. You're very fortunate here. In a community with 250,000 people, we have five school districts. And then you get to L.A. Unified. If the superintendent wanted to have an all-staff meeting, he could not have it in Dodger Stadium because it's too small. You need to break up L.A. Unified to give those kids in the (San Fernando) Valley the same opportunities that the kids here in Santa Clarita or the kids in Simi have in terms of a good, quality education.
Signal: It's understandable how that could benefit people in your district. But as a state legislator, if you're supposed to be looking after everybody in the state, how does breaking up LAUSD help the kids in South Central L.A. who may not have the same opportunities as kids in the San Fernando Valley?
Smyth: South Central is part of LAUSD, so they would in my vision, that area would have their own district, as well, so it brings it out. But from statewide perspective, L.A. Unified takes up so much of the funding for public education it drains the other school districts because of how much it takes. You break that up, that's going to allow more dollars to flow to the Hart district or Simi Unified or other districts throughout the state. That frees up more dollars for them. So it does actually have a net benefit for the entire state.
Signal: Ultimately you want to give less money to LAUSD?
Smyth: I want to break up LAUSD. I want LAUSD to end as we know it.
Signal: So you break up LAUSD into five or 10 or however many separate districts; ultimately, you want to take money away from them as a whole?
Smyth: In theory; only it's taking money away from the conglomerate. The money is still going to go to the smaller districts, but it's not the behemoth that L.A. Unified is.
And look. It's not about the dollars. It's not about pure sending dollars to a school district. It's dollars getting to the classroom, and making sure that teachers have the resources they need, that local school boards have the funding to do the programs they need. Right now, it just gets drowned in the bureaucracy of L.A. Unified. It doesn't get to the kids in the classroom.
Additionally, 60 percent of the teachers in L.A. Unified send their own kids to private school. I don't think anything more needs to be said.
Signal: Two years from the day you walk into your Assembly office, what do you want to be able to point to and say, "Hey, I did that" besides breaking up LAUSD?
Smyth: There is other legislation. Proposition 42, which was the gas tax that we all voted for ourselves, because we were told that money would go toward building roads and freeways well, what happened is, that money just got drowned in the state's general fund. I want to protect that money and make sure that it goes to what we, as taxpayers, agreed to.
Setting up a it will likely take a constitutional amendment that will guarantee protections of Proposition 42 funds. I know that there is a initiative that may be on the ballot in November that does very similar things. But I am ready to come from behind with that (with) legislative support if it doesn't pass by the voters.
Signal: Speaking of initiatives, there will be bond measures totaling $37 billion for infrastructure on the November ballot. Are you in favor of those? Can we afford to issue more bonds?
Smyth: Not being privy to all the negotiations and discussions, my feeling initially was to support the Assembly Republican Caucus (position) of a pay-as-you go system. I think that is probably a more prudent way. First of all, fully fund Proposition 42; then that creates transportation dollars right off the bat. That identifies a funding source. Then you pay as you go.
Signal: Like toll roads?
Smyth: No. I mean like you build it, you pay it, and you build it as the funding becomes available. I don't necessarily oppose some bonding out of hand, but it needs to be very tangible and shown immediately. Because also, you know, it's not going to be $37 billion by the time it's done; it's going to be $50 billion. That's money that we're saddling everybody else with, and I just have hesitations, again, on whether or not it's going to actually be effective or not.
Signal: Assuming the Democrats allowed you to cut anything, what would you cut?
Smyth: There are numerous boards and commissions that don't need to be duplicated
Signal: Like the avocado board or something?
Smyth: Right. That's a start there. I think if you can look at other again, you get Proposition 42 money, so that's going to come away from the general fund. But I do think that there is plenty of room for us to trim.
Signal: Library bonds are on the June 6 ballot. What do you think about that?
Smyth: For me, to support a bond, I have to really be certain that it's going to be tangible and it is actually going to do what it says it's going to do. So if it's going to actually cause the construction of libraries, maybe it's worth looking at. But I also think, is it not the county's responsibility to build libraries? Where is their funding going? Why are we saddling taxpayers across the state when actually, libraries are already taxpayer-funded?
Signal: If you listen to Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the county's money is being spent on medical care for illegal aliens.
Smyth: Right. Which brings me to another issue. It's funny; I was at the Simi Valley Street Fair over the weekend, and every single person who stopped and spoke to me over the eight-hour period, their first question, or maybe their second, was: What are you going to do about illegal immigration? It's very interesting: People don't care whether you're federal government or state or local. They want to know what you're going to do.
Fortunately, I passed a ordinance here in the city that says if you want to contract with the city of Santa Clarita, you need to verify that all your employees are properly documented. That's something that I am going to take to Sacramento, as well. If you're going to contract with the state and be paid by taxpayer money, you need to verify that your employees are documented.
Look, the employers who are hiring the illegals, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing to exploit them, in most cases, and to save a buck. If you are being paid by taxpayer money, you need to make sure that you're not exploiting workers and that you are actually charging what you are being paid, and that's what the work is going toward.
Signal: Is it worth it, if the state ends up having to pay, to send National Guard troops to the border?
Smyth: The cost of illegals in the state of California right now is $12 billion. That's the cost that we are incurring right now. That's our annual cost. So yes, I think before we have any discussion about anything else, securing the borders needs to be the No. 1 priority. If the federal government has been unable or unwilling to live up to their constitutional obligation, then states need to look at stepping up.
You saw New Mexico (and) Arizona declaring states of emergency on this issue. California certainly has the biggest share of issues. That is something that we have to secure before any other discussion moves forward.
Signal: What do you think about President Bush's guest-worker program?
Smyth: I am not going to dismiss guest workers off-hand, but again, until the border is secure, I don't think we should be having any other discussions. That's the priority.
Signal: Did you support Proposition 187, which would have denied illegal aliens access to education, health care and welfare?
Smyth: I did.
Signal: The court shot it down; what do you want to see Sacramento do in that regard?
Smyth: One of the first things we should be doing in the state is (deal with) the 20,000 or so illegals who are in the California state prisons. These are people who are in this country illegally and then have committed a felony, as well. They should not be going into our state prison system. As soon as they are convicted of a felony, they should be deported.
They are not (being deported now); nor is the federal government reimbursing the state for housing people who are actually federal prisoners. They broke the law by coming in illegally; they should be housed in federal facilities, but that's not happening, and then they have to commit another felony before they become and you see extreme issues, you see Armando Garcia (allegedly) murdering one of our own, (Deputy) David March.
I don't begrudge anybody wanting to come to this country for a better life for themselves or their families; that's what this country is all about. But there's a way it needs to be done.
Signal: You've taken campaign contributions from some of the Indian tribes. Do you want to see across-the-board tax breaks for Indian tribes and allow them to build casinos on non-reservation land?
Smyth: I support the tribes' right to their sovereignty and their right to have their gaming. I support that. But I also believe the compact that many of them signed with the governor to provide some tax revenue back to the state is responsible and should be done.
Signal: So you don't want to get rid of the compact system and replace it with something standardized?
Smyth: Again, if that would be acceptable, maybe. But at this point, I'm willing to accept the compact(s) that (have) been signed.
Signal: You've also received a donation from Whittaker-Bermite. The Castaic Lake Water Agency had to sue Whittaker to force it to pay for the cleanup of rocket-fuel contamination below a 1,000-acre site in the middle of the city. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had tried for years and failed to get Whittaker to clean the property. DTSC even had a court-enforcable agreement requiring Whittaker get rid of the contamination, but it never happened. Some have criticized DTSC for its failure to follow through with enforcement. If you're in Sacramento, will you be the guy to ride DTSC and force it to follow through?
Smyth: Oh, absolutely. To anybody who has contributed to my campaign, I am very open and clear: If they are from a specific industry or they're a specific business, they are going to know where I stand on that issue. And certainly the folks at Whittaker are well aware of who I am and the position the city has taken, which I have supported.
They have chosen to support my campaign, and I appreciate that. But it also doesn't mean that I am not going to continue the work that I started here on the council, forcing the cleanup of that site. Now I will just be in Sacramento and be able to push from a different angle. So absolutely not.
Signal: You've received contributions from the housing development industry. Considering that California needs 250,000 new homes every year to keep up with growth and we've been building only half that number, would you support a watering down of SB610, which requires cities and counties to have "proof" that there will be enough water in the future for any new housing tract of 500 or more homes? Do you want to see developers get around SB610 and build faster?
Smyth: I have made it very clear throughout my time on the City Council where you actually do make these land-use decisions that I would not support any project unless I was certain that there were adequate schools, roads, parks, water and economic opportunities. So my position on that has been very clear: When I have actually voted on development projects, I would not support any unless I knew that there was an adequate supply of water as (determined) by the water districts. So my record on that is very clear.
Signal: How, then, as an assemblyman, would you help build more affordable housing?
Smyth: You (look at) the regulations one thing you can do is workers compensation, which is a general business impact in the cost that has on all businesses, the development industry included. You've got all the environmental regulations that can be somewhat burdensome. Look, all those costs and I think some of the members of the Legislature don't get this you put these regulations, you put these costs to the builders; all that does is get passed right down to the consumer. So I think there needs to be some common sense.
Signal: You've taken money from the medical community. Many senior citizens here in the Santa Clarita Valley would like to be able to buy prescription drugs from Canada. Would you support allowing them to do that?
Smyth: Legally, right now, no. I think there needs to be something that is if that was going to happen, there would have to be real strict guidelines on how that is handled, and that the medicines they are getting are the legitimate medicines. I think that has to be very, very carefully thought out before I would support something like that.
Signal: Who is supporting you in this race?
Smyth: I'm very fortunate, the incumbent, Assemblyman Richman, has endorsed the campaign; Sen. Runner and (Tom) McClintock, who represent this district in the Senate; the mayor and three council members in Simi Valley; L.A. councilman Greg Smith; all of my colleagues on the City Council in Santa Clarita I have been able to put together a very broad base of support.
The Professional Firefighters association, the Highway Patrol, every Republican-endorsing organization within the district has come on board. I even have Democrat elected officials who are supporting the campaign. I have been very fortunate to have a very board base of support within the district.
Signal: Which Democrats are supporting you?
Smyth: If you look at some of the school boards and water boards that are on my Web site, in the list of endorsements, you will be able to see all of them. And then there are some who are Republican and some who are Democrat.
Signal: Assuming you get past this June 6 primary, the standout on the Democratic side is probably Sid Gold, who once challenged Rep. Buck McKeon for Congress. What kind of challenge do you see there?
Smyth: I am going to be focused on myself and my campaign and getting my message out to the voters of the 38th (District). I am not going to no disrespect to any of my opponents, but I am going to focus on myself, and if I feel that if I put my message out and my record on the line, that the voters of the 38th will support me. That's my focus.
I have met all four of the Democrats who are running. Dr. Gold, I remember, I find him to be a nice gentleman. So (there's) no animosity whatsoever, and I respect anybody's right to put their name I respect anyone having the guts to put their name on the ballot.
Signal: Of the two Republicans in the June 6 primary, only you accepted the self-imposed contribution limitation of $446,000.
Smyth: My feeling on that was truly that if I can't win in a closed Republican primary after being elected for six years in the biggest part of the district if I can't win with $450,000, (then) $650,000 isn't going to make a difference.
Signal: This isn't one of the multi-million-dollar contested Assembly seats.
Smyth: Correct. By the time it is over, I will have raised close to about $300,000.
Signal: Are there any contributions you are rejecting?
Smyth: None that have been offered to me, anyway. I think that in my position and my record has been pretty clear, so those organizations or those contributors that I don't support aren't going to be knocking on my door anytime soon.
Signal: We started this by saying it looks like you'll get the position you've wanted your entire adult life. How old are you?
Signal: Do you plan to be in the Assembly until you're termed out in six years?
Signal: Where do you see yourself going after that?
Smyth: It's going to be interesting, because perspectives change. The hard part for me, and the reality, is going to be leaving my wife and kids. People don't realize that they stay here and I go to Sacramento four days a week. That's a real sacrifice for my entire family. I am going to see how that goes first. Because I love the time I have right now with my boys and (wife) Lena, and not being able to have that is going to be a challenge for all of us.
Signal: Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you want to be governor? President?
Smyth: No I think, let's get through the cycle. We play this game, and look. I am not even the nominee yet. I want to win on June 6 and then win in November, and if I get to the Assembly, then we will see if this is the career path I want to continue, or if I'd like to shift and go a different direction.
Signal: Why should anybody vote for Cameron Smyth?
Smyth: I am the only candidate in the race Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, independent who has the experience to hit the ground running. I have worked in the private sector, I currently hold elected office, and spent six years working in the state Legislature.
Coupled with that, I have a record of accessibility and will always have my door open to anybody who wants to talk about legislation, state issues, or even issues going on in their community. That's something I will always do. And I will never take your vote for granted.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.