January 10, 2012 > A conversation with State Assembly Representative Bob Wieckowski
A conversation with State Assembly Representative Bob Wieckowski
Former Fremont City Councilmember Bob Wieckowski has been serving the greater Tri-City area for the past year as representative of the 20th District in the California State Assembly. Realignment of districts using numeric calculations by an independent citizen committee has radically changed future political district boundaries and constituencies served. California's economic distress has been just one of many significant events that have been constant companions during his tenure. Tri-City Voice spoke with Assemblyman Wieckowski about his impressions of state politics and plans for the future.
TCV: Recently your Assembly District has been changed beginning next year. How do you view this change?
Wieckowski: It is disheartening to see the Tri-Cities split between districts. Several boundaries were initially determined to be beneficial and the 'trickle down' effect from those decisions caused problems in other areas. Every redistricting has its challenges to fit specific numbers into a political district. It is difficult to look at core communities such as the Tri-Cities and Milpitas that share many concerns and have roughly the population necessary for a district, then decide to split the present district and include Santa Clara and areas east of San Jose.
TCV: How will this affect decisions at the State level?
Wieckowski: Currently, people see me as a representative from Fremont and its surrounding communities. As of the next election [if elected], I will represent less than half of Fremont. That means that some issues such as Centerville Theater and the City Hall in Fremont will no longer be a concern of my district. I now have a responsibility to learn about Santa Clara and the area east of Hwy 101 in San Jose. I am up to the task but at present, I am representing an area where I grew up and am familiar. When the new districts emerge, areas that have an affinity for each other such as the Tri-Cities or the area of Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Santa Clara will be split between representatives. This dilutes the political power of these cities.
TCV: Was the change of your district an anomaly or typical?
Wieckowski: The average assembly seat representation changed by 31 percent. My change was 51 percent; I will have an entirely different district [25th Assembly District] to represent. It isn't as though a significant population change or watershed event caused this. I expected to have some change of district boundaries but the signature of the district should have remained. I will now have to introduce myself to a large group of new constituents as well as continue to function as a state representative. That is a big task. I now represent Union City, Castro Valley, Fremont, Newark, Fairview, Sunol, Milpitas and parts of Pleasanton but that will change dramatically with the November election.
TCV: How will this affect your work in Sacramento?
Wieckowski: It will have a very significant effect. Legislation I helped promote was to allow Alameda County to ask the voters for a one-half percent sales tax increase. As part of the Transportation Board and familiar with transportation projects, I knew this was a problem even before elected to the legislature, so since 75 percent of my constituency is in Alameda County, I assured the Alameda County Transportation Administration that I would carry legislation to help out. I represented seven cities and unincorporated areas in Alameda County which would be affected. Now I will have Newark and half of Fremont; more of the district will be in Santa Clara County and I will be responsible for issues that are unique to them.
I only have so much time to support district priorities. For instance Santa Clara has municipal energy system - one of the few cities in California in this situation. They have distinct interests concerning the Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission than Fremont which uses PG&E. There may be some conflicts between these interests. Although of personal concern, I will no longer represent some interests that I have knowledge about such as Niles Canyon.
TCV: Will this change create more election challenges to incumbents?
Wieckowski: It will be difficult and to further complicate the elections, now the top two candidates who receive the most votes - whether or not in the same political party - will be involved in a runoff. In some cases this could be a repeat of the primary vote and a much lengthier campaign. If more time is required for a political campaign, you don't have as much time to work on legislation. You have to be careful of what you wish for because now we have term limits, commission redistricting and a top two runoff. There is a price to pay for that. This tends to discourage serious policy people and encourage political people.
TCV: How will you identify the area you represent at the State level?
Wieckowski: For the coming year, I will continue to represent the Tri-City area and will take any issue that affects my current district seriously. Once the election starts, I will be representing San Jose Norman Mineta Airport since that will be included in my district - a landmark different from Fremont. Now that Fremont will be split and representatives of each half leaning in different directions - toward Hayward or Santa Clara - there may be a huge identity problem for the Tri-Cities. It will be difficult to equalize my efforts since 75 percent of the 25th District will be in Santa Clara County. It is possible given the population boundaries that in the future there may not be a representative in either the 20th or 25th District from the Tri-City area.
TCV: How can opposite political positions between cities or counties be represented when included in the same district?
Wieckowski: It will be a problem since when approaching an issue such as redevelopment; counties and cities in the future 25th District have much different attitudes. There is an instinctive bias based on an affinity for your home area but you have to weigh decisions on the economic interests of the people you represent. Political connectivity is not obvious. In an era of trying to build communities, this district has been created along highways - it is hard to find the weave.
TCV: Do the areas of the future 25th Assembly District share similar views of green industries?
Wieckowski: Yes, these areas want to be innovators and will be looking for leadership from me. There are many small businesses in our area - and throughout the Bay Area - making a difference in ecologically-friendly products and services. You may not hear about them often but they are making a difference.
TCV: How are you promoting green business in Sacramento?
Wieckowski: I have accepted committee assignments and take policy issues seriously. Currently, I am the chair of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. My efforts are designed to protect our environment but also provide regulatory relief, helping balance business and ecological concerns. An example is monitoring of the ground where underground storage tanks have been removed for over ten years and testing has shown no contamination. Should these businesses continue to pay for monitoring in those situations? Finding solutions is important.
TCV: How will you balance the issues of Silicon Valley executives with other concerns in your district?
Wieckowski: I am part of the Silicon Valley Caucus and have attended Silicon Valley Leadership Group quarterly meetings so I am familiar with many of these issues. The difficult part of representing long term proposals is that with term limits, who will they look to for continuing representation?
TCV: When you arrived in Sacramento, were you surprised by how the Assembly operates?
Wieckowski: The variety of the people serving in the Assembly is surprising. You have to respect the people who elected them and understand they may have very different viewpoints from those you represent. When I interviewed with the Speaker regarding committee assignments, I asked to be assigned to where my talents could be put to the best use and as a hard worker, there is no "fluff" in my assignments. I have expertise in many areas but, as a student of politics, there is much I can learn to assist in other areas as well. Term limits does create a disadvantage for legislators in relationship to other non-elected people who work within the State structure - lobbyists, staff, etc.
I didn't realize that preparation time for committee work would be so limited. We usually get a staff report for a committee meeting the night before a hearing. On Judiciary Committee, for instance, I get the analysis Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon I chair my committee. My assignments include Public Employees Retirement Systems [Committee] and Insurance [Committee] - both meet at the same time across the hall from each other. The authors of the bills may also have conflicts so the timing of consideration in committee meetings may not be certain. If I want to make sure to attend a meeting to comment on a particular bill, it is difficult to know exactly when that will be. With all the other obligations of office such as meeting with constituents and travel, time management is critical.
TCV: What type of legacy do you want to leave in the State Assembly?
Wieckowski: When I put my staff together, I told them that I wanted to work on legislation that would have an effect. People from all walks of life - citizens, business and industry, staff members - are talking to me; I have my own preferences as well. It is healthy to have a balance and listen all of these ideas trying to determine which are good and should receive attention. In some cases, language that exists in current law is not appropriate and needs to be modified or removed. This is just as important as implementing additional regulations. I try to study policy issues carefully and understand how to make a meaningful difference for my constituents as well as the State of California.