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Q&A: Ken Cooley Chats about Transparent Leadership and Revitalizing Aging Communities

The Democrat is running to represent the newly-created California Assembly District 8.

Ken Cooley describes himself as, "the most experienced freshman the Capitol has seen in a long time," and his political platform as the "product of a 35-year professional career in very demanding roles." The Berkeley political science grad believes his 20 years in private law, working for the California legislature and as a councilman for Rancho Cordova have given him the practical know-how required to represent California's new Assembly District 8.

The Democratic nominee sat down with Fair Oaks-Carmichael Patch to discuss some of the issues facing the district.

How has your background influenced your response to local issues?

I studied Political Science and got hired straight out of Berkeley. I had never worked a day in the state capitol. I had never worked a day in the legislature. And then on day one I got hired as this guy’s top aide. That was in 1977. That Christmas I received a card at the state capitol. It was just a Christmas card, but that was why I wanted to be in the state capitol. I’m very interested in doing it well and by well I mean by my constituents. I walk door to door. I go to meet people. I feel like that makes government work better. I’ve done that for six months in this race. I walk up and knock on doors, talk to people and hear what’s on their mind.

What are some of the issues people are talking to you about?

People are wondering about where we’re going in the economy. I’m talking to people who have just got a layoff notice. There are a lot of people who are not working, who are trying to work, who are struggling to make ends meet. That is far and away the biggest fear. They want to see jobs come back to our region. We do have to work on the state’s business climate. I’ve already done work on regulation reform embodied in SB 617. I’ve worked with the Chamber; I’ve worked with the California manufacturing folks and people in the senate and assembly and policy committees. Of course, I was almost 20 years with State Farm insurance. That’s a highly regulated industry. I’m a lawyer with a regulatory law practice.

Can you be specific about where there needs to be economic reform and job creation?

[Employers] are wary of going into California and investing in jobs because the governmental system is broken. The real problem in California that kills business investment is the state legislature has seemed incapable to respond to crises, to meet the challenges. Under term limits, as members have been cycled through so fast with limited experience on what it means to fulfill their obligation, they are a part of the breakdown in the process. We will not be able to grow jobs in California without showing progress from the legislature as an institution, grappling with the challenges of our day. That means in a more collaborative way, focused on the issues, trying to find some workable middle. You need representative solutions. We need the whole institution to upgrade itself. Part of what people want to see is some flexibility.

If we’re going to grow jobs, we need an educated work force. We need to confront the fact that we’re making it very hard for kids to get an education and then to have money to establish their lives.

How would you accomplish all that as a legislator?

I talk about leadership policy. A lot of legislators today think that the end-all and be-all of being in the legislature is passing new laws. It is a job of the legislature to set policy, and that includes the responsibility to keep policy current. The whole concept of oversight means somebody needs to be paying attention to how state government is running today, what are the laws that are still in place, are they still apt for present conditions —the economy we’re in, the changes in technology? What are our priorities today? If not, they need to be paring back the legal guidance. Otherwise, the state agencies are sort of like perpetual motion machines. If you put the law in the book and tell them to do “X,” they’re going to do “X” till you pull the plug.

How do you have effective oversight of government agencies?

Our city [Rancho Cordova] does pretty well, but it’s a safe bet that if my colleagues want to get into a conversation that they want to keep below the radar, they will put it at a workshop, not at our council chambers where it’s televised. More public discussions need to be in our public access channels and virtual media. People can get the word out if they want to get the word out. There could be required that these agencies publicize their meetings a month in advance, maybe flag anything that might have a rate-payer cost. The problem is you have this multiplicity of agencies, but you still haven’t changed the human’s span of attention. People might see what the city of Sacramento is doing, but they may not see what Elk Grove is doing.

How do you revitalize these aging, infill communities [like Carmichael and Rosemont] that you could represent?

When you talk about this slow decline, I think you have to start with conversations with these communities. What are the things that are holding back your quality of life? That’s a good place to start. What is it you want to change? You have to develop a common vision of what is the change people want. 

There’s no magic wand, but you focus on what is it that is holding us back, you try to make change in a way that starts to change the economics a little bit. And it has to be collaborative. All of these issues, when you start off, it is like riding a bike with no chain. It’s like I’m not seeing any progress. People can feel stuck. You have to get people in a conversation and let them get their ideas out. 

For more information on the current District 8 campaign race, check out this Q&A with Replublican nominee Peter Tateishi. And tell us who you're supporting in the comments.

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