Having already served as an undercover narcotics officer, Sacramento County jail commander and first mayor of the newborn Elk Grove, City Councilman Jim Cooper has set his sights on an open seat in the state Assembly, facing fellow Democrat Darrell Fong for the 9th District. Cooper visited The Bee Capitol Bureau on Tuesday to discuss his policy goals and his campaign. Here are some excerpts.
Why are you running for this job?
At the state level, a lot of issues impact local governments, and I’ve stated that, during my time with the (Sacramento County) Sheriff’s Department – I’ll draw upon realignment, for instance. Realignment needs some tweaks. A lot of money has been thrown out there for realignment, but what are the best practices?
Our medical costs have gone up substantially with realignment. The lawsuits we faced on the state prison level are now starting to seep down to the counties ... The public doesn’t want more prisons built. So, how do we ensure these inmates have success when they get out?
What differentiates you from (Sacramento City Councilman Darrell) Fong? Why should somebody vote for you and not for him?
I think the biggest thing is experience and leadership. He’s in his first term on the (Sacramento) City Council. I’m in my 14th (year) on the (Elk Grove) City Council. I’ve been the mayor three times, started a brand new city. ... I’ve worked across the aisle with Republicans in Elk Grove and had to be a consensus builder.
You were a narcotics officer, you have a background in drug enforcement. What’s your position on Proposition 47, which would reduce penalties for some drug crimes?
I never figured out why methamphetamine could be a wobbler and crack cocaine or powder cocaine couldn’t be. For other crimes I’m not sold on that. The bottom line, while we don’t want more prisons built, there are still some folks that are really wired wrong that enjoy going out and committing crimes. ... I’m supportive of (Proposition 47) in concept but I think we could tweak some of the issues.
Should Proposition 30 (tax increases) be made permanent or extended by the Legislature? Would you vote for that?
I would more than likely vote to extend it. We’ve benefited a lot from Prop. 30. ... It comes back to, we’re not going to build any more prisons, and we’ve got to educate our kids. ... That’s why I’m a big supporter of free preschool for everybody and all-day kindergarten.
So you think the Legislature should extend it, or the voters should be asked to extend it?
I would vote for it as a legislator. A lot of people want to punt and defer to voters, but they put you in that office for a reason.
Did I hear you say earlier you supported statewide preschool?
Absolutely, yeah. You take a test to get a driver’s license. You can have babies all you want, but parenting is not equal. A lot of parents, because of one reason or another, really don’t do a good job of raising their kids.
Taxpayers should pay so every California kid could go to preschool?
In the long run, it’s a lot cheaper to do that on the front end than to spend money on imprisoning somebody.
There was a failed effort to get an (initiative) on the ballot about overturning Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action in college admission considerations. If there’s an effort to bring that back and address it again while you’re in the Legislature, is it something you would be supportive of?
Yeah, I would. Look at your jail right here: 70 percent black or Hispanic. Look at your failure rate: Kids are being expelled and aren’t graduating from high school, minority kids. We need something to get those folks in there and get them an education.
Do you support Propositions 1 (water bond) and 2 (rainy day fund)?
Support. Water is important and I’ll tell you what, for the 9th (Assembly District) $2.3billion in ag is produced ... between Lodi and southern Sacramento County. Water is key down there.
A big debate with this water bond has been, how do we prepare for drought and do we need to build more dams and reservoirs? What do you think? Should taxpayers be spending money on more dams and reservoirs?
We need more dams and reservoirs, absolutely. ... We need more dam sites so in the wet years we can store that water. But also we need to preserve the Delta, and actually do a lot to revive it.
Do you think unions have a disproportionate amount of influence in the Legislature?
I think a lot of folks have influence in the Legislature, and the unions being amongst them. To run a race is very tough, and this is a big district. ... I’ve been walking my butt off. It’s hard to walk to every house, so you need money to get the mail to get out there. Is there a better system to do that, where you’re not required to raise enormous amounts of money? I don’t know what it is.
I tell everybody, hey, just because you support what I believe in and what I say doesn’t mean I owe you. I made that known even down in Elk Grove over the years.
There’s been a lot written and a lot of discussion this year about ethics in the Legislature. ... There was a proposal around travel, having to disclose more about who paid, where you went, things like that.
I’ve traveled for Elk Grove – we traveled to Frisco, Texas, to look at the soccer stadium – so I have made travel trips but it was not on a private party’s money. It was paid for with city funds. I’ve never traveled and have no intention of traveling on someone else’s funds.
In the Legislature, members travel all the time (using special interest funds).
Something that benefited the region, where I’m going to look at something that can bring jobs back to the region or something like that, I would probably do that. It doesn’t mean because I’m going on your trip and you paid for it I’m beholden to you.
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916)326-5543.