47th Assembly District candidates discuss views on health care, abortion rights, inflation

From left to right: Greg Wallis, Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege, businesswoman Jamie Swain and businessman Gary Michaels will be running to represent Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley cities in the California Assembly in 2022.
From left to right: Greg Wallis, Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege, businesswoman Jamie Swain and businessman Gary Michaels will be running to represent Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley cities in the California Assembly in 2022.

In a race without an incumbent, after Assemblymember Chad Mayes decided against seeking re-election, two Democrats — Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege and businesswoman Jamie Swain — and two Republicans — Mayes' district director Greg Wallis and businessman Gary Michaels — will be running to represent Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley cities in the California Assembly this year.

Assembly District 47, which was created through California's redistricting process late last year, includes Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells, and extends into Yucaipa and Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County.

Mayes, who has represented much of the area since 2014, announced he would not seek re-election in Assembly District 47 in January, opening the door for a newcomer in the state Legislature.

In congressional and legislative races, the top two finishers in the primary election — regardless of party — will advance to the state's general election Nov. 8.

With voting underway in California's primary election that concludes on Election Day June 7, here are the written responses to questions posed by The Desert Sun from Wallis, Holstege, Michaels and Swain.

Question: Why are you running in Assembly District 47?

Wallis: If you think California is headed in the right direction, I’m not your candidate. One-party rule in Sacramento is failing: more expensive gas and groceries, higher crime, and skyrocketing homelessness. I’m committed to working to fix these problems so people can live, work, and retire here.

The middle class and our business owners need help. I support the largest middle-class tax cut in California history so you can keep more of your hard-earned money. I support reducing unfair regulations on small businesses so more will open and they can hire more people.

Sacramento has been letting violent criminals out of prison, reducing penalties, and generally making it clear that crime does pay. I support fully funding our law enforcement and providing them the training and tools they need to best fulfill their duties properly and keep us safe.

Allowing our homeless population to live and die on our sidewalks is not compassionate. I support getting people off the streets and into quality homeless shelters with resources for mental health services, job training, family reunification programs, and long-term housing placement resources.

As your Assemblyman, I’ll work across party lines to get things done again. I’ll work with anyone: Democrat, Republican, or Independent who has good ideas and who wants to make California a great place to live again.

Holstege: Whether it’s homelessness and a lack of affordable housing, increasing cost of living, threats to reproductive freedom, or the climate crisis, the challenges we face as a state and as a region may seem daunting, but we don’t need to solve them on our own. It’s going to take all of us together to tackle the complex issues we face, with courage and conviction, which is why I’m running to represent our community in the State Assembly.

We are a region full of opportunity, and we deserve a champion for our values in Sacramento. It’s time for a fresh, new voice representing Assembly District 47 in Sacramento who will fight tirelessly for our fair share of state resources, deliver real results for our communities, and bring the 47th District into the future.

As the only candidate with experience as an elected official, as the Mayor of Palm Springs during the pandemic, as a civil rights attorney, and as a new mom, I have the background and experience to champion our region and lead.

I’m running to create real change for our residents and lasting progress for our region. Together, we can build a region that works for all of us.

Michaels: I do not hear the other candidates supporting American families as the foundation of our democracy, small businesses, our employers, law enforcement, veterans, taxpayers and protecting our children from the domination of education by the left that shuts out parents, from decision making. These are my special interests. We must stand up to the California Teachers Association as Gavin Newsom gave teachers' unions $128 billion, a 25% increase over pre-pandemic levels, although student enrollment shrunk by 270,000. The teachers' union is a monopoly which dislikes competition from charter schools and home schools. That's bad news for parents. If elected, I will create a weekly interactive program using video sharing platforms to communicate what we are doing in Sacramento directly to voters. This is how I will increase Republican voters in our District. I am a Republican and a small business owner who knows the challenges businesses face in this economy. My company’s busiest annual time is from January to March. I was too late to seek endorsements from County Republican Central Committees. I know how valuable these endorsements are. During my 2020 State Senate race, the CAGOP and County Republican Central Committee endorsements helped my campaign. I decided to file for the 2022 Assembly seat, albeit late, because by my calculation the Republican voter is tired of the Chad Mayes and Greg Wallis duo who have only gorged themselves at the government trough and are unelectable in November. Politicians who are circling the wagons around them cannot change the past.

Swain: I feel that as a small business owner, a single mother, and a Veteran that it is time that someone stands up and be the voice for Business Owners, responsible gun owners, and people that do not support the type of injustices that small business owners face, paying unreasonable taxes, and the crime that takes place in and in and in front of their businesses. I also represent the voice of the middle class, and people of all colors, races, and ethnicities.

Question: Inflation in the United States recently hit a 40-year high, causing increases in gas, housing and grocery prices. What needs to be done at the state level to ensure that California is an affordable place to live for groups like seniors and working families?

Wallis: People are leaving California every day for states with a lower cost of living, lower taxes, and less crime. We are in the middle of a gas price crisis and the state needs to start acting like it. I support an immediate suspension of the gas tax to provide relief for California’s drivers now. This translates to over 50 cents off a gallon. States across the country adopted similar policies and it translated directly into more dollars in the pockets of drivers. Even the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office pointed to reducing fuel taxes to provide real relief to California’s drivers.

We also have a real problem with housing affordability. The median price of a home is upwards of $800,000. If the state wants to take the housing crisis seriously, we need to make it easier for builders to increase the housing supply by cutting unfair regulations and fees associated with it. I also support an increase to the renters’ tax credit. Providing relief when and where the state can is of the utmost importance.

Holstege: As a third generation Californian, I know that everyone deserves access to the Californian Dream, which includes affordable home ownership, good paying jobs with benefits, affordable childcare, and a social safety net that takes care of our most vulnerable.

As Mayor of Palm Springs, I led on the most important issues affecting the daily lives of our residents: funding over $500,000 in rental assistance to tenants and landlords, passing hero pay for essential workers, providing over $1M in relief for local businesses, and diversifying local jobs to increase wages.

At the state level, we need to strengthen our state’s economy so that our residents have the resources they need to afford everyday expenses, including rebates and tax credits. We need to make significant investments in housing, healthcare, and childcare, so that these basic needs are more affordable and accessible. And we should invest in economic drivers for our region like access to a four-year university and passenger rail to spur economic development.

As a region that was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, it’s critical that our district receives more resources to ensure a full, comprehensive recovery so we can build an economy that works for all of us.

Michaels: $7.00 a gallon gas and $8.00 a gallon diesel prices this summer. Food prices are higher because trucks deliver it. Wait until you see your air conditioning bill. This serious situation will drive many working Coachella Valley families into debt despite our California government paying unpaid utility bills. Federal price controls are inevitable. State electric bills have surged 13.5% this year, twice as high as neighboring states, thanks to green energy mandates. You see bankruptcies everywhere. What must be done IMMEDIATELY at the state level is to suspend the Motor Vehicle Tax Law which imposes a tax upon each gallon of motor vehicle fuel removed from a refinery or terminal rack via an urgency statute. If elected, I will work with local jurisdictions to help them control rent and overcrowding problems to work with our state government to ensure it invests wisely. Longer term requires environmental conservation activism which I will lead as your Assemblyman. I am proud of our state’s clean air achievements. Today California produces roughly 463,000 barrels of oil a day consuming 1.8 million barrels daily. Californians consume every barrel of oil produced in the state and import 3 times more - this despite the great things we've done with wind and solar. The 5th largest economy in the world needs power produced by Californians. We must fight the progressive left and environmental radicals who have shut down energy diversification and whose abhorrence for oil companies and capitalism are a reason we are an unaffordable state.

Swain: I believe that too much focus has been on our unhoused and not enough on the responsible people in the world that are doing everything right, but still cannot seem to catch a break or make ends meet no matter how many jobs they are working.  My goal is to reach across party lines and have adult conversations on how we can create affordable housing for millennials, seniors, and youth that have aged out of the foster care system and are at the mercy of the street. I am also using my platform to assist small business owners in getting the funding that they need for their businesses to continue to thrive after the effects of Covid.

Question: The Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision has drawn strong reactions nationwide, including prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to allocate $125 million in this year’s budget proposal to bolster access to abortions within California. Do you support the governor’s efforts to bolster abortion rights within California? And what was your reaction to the leaked draft opinion?

Wallis: I understand how sensitive of an issue this is and how important it is. I believe that as far as government is concerned, a woman’s right to choose should be protected up until viability, with reasonable exceptions. California is a pro-choice state and even if Roe v Wade is overturned, which we don’t know at this point, the right to choice will be protected.  Generally, I think California has to do better across the board on issues which impact women and children: require equal pay for women, make childcare more affordable for everyone, and improve our K-12 schools, which are 44th in the nation.

Holstege: As a civil rights attorney, a Planned Parenthood board member, and a brand-new mom, I am completely outraged by the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and fifty years of settled law. If Roe falls, more than 100 million Americans will lose access to abortion. My generation, currently immersed in childbearing and childrearing, will lose rights over our own bodies that we’ve always expected and abortion care we may need. And as an LGBTQ person, I fear for the other fundamental rights that the Supreme Court may erode next.

I firmly believe that California must lead on supporting reproductive healthcare and abortion access. I’ve spent my career fighting for reproductive rights, including founding a free legal clinic for domestic violence survivors and their children. There, I witnessed how access to reproductive healthcare is often a life-or-death matter, helping survivors flee from reproductive coercion and abuse.

That’s why I’m the only candidate in this race endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest, NARAL Pro-Choice California, National Women's Political Caucus, California Women's List, and #VOTEPROCHOICE. As Assemblymember, I will fight like hell to ensure we do not erode rights for the next generation.

Michaels: I was surprised the President of the United States could not say this is wrong and the rage and harassment of the protestors is reprehensible. But Governor Newsom needs to offer a third way, instead of turning California into an abortion factory using all opportunities he can to deliver the “torrent of progressive words and phrases,” in front of television cameras, and the media not asking about his rationale for a right of abortion.  Is it the day before a fully formed baby is delivered? In 2011, there were 1,058,000 abortions in America. In 2018, there were only 620,000. The trend is downward. In the state legislature where liberals place a higher value on individual autonomy, there are already 13 bills the legislature is considering tied to reproductive rights. If elected, I will argue for placing a premium on a potential life. Abortion law regulation imposes obstacles on different sets of women for a wide range of circumstances. I wish to provide incentives to pregnant women to have voluntary options for early birth using modern medical technology. In America today there are some 600,000 abortions a year and only 135,000 adoptions a year. Let us promote more adoptions. Currently California financially aids foster parents. There's nothing for those who adopt and assume permanent responsibility. If the pregnant woman chooses the voluntary early birth option, she should receive a one-time incentive of $2,000 and the adoptive parents should receive $10,000 a year tax free per child until the age of 18.

Swain: I am for women that have been victims of sexual assault, incest, or may suffer a medical emergency if they were to conceive or give birth having access to abortions if needed. However, when it comes to women like Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey that have had multiple children, and no source of income but continued to bear children instead of using contraceptives. In my opinion this is an abuse and should not be celebrated I am against babies being killed because one or both parents were irresponsible. For too long babies have been martyrs for the sake of some women that choose to live their lives irresponsibly, I am speaking of those women that have had multiple abortions instead of abstaining from sex or merely using a condom or other methods of birth control. I believe that just as passionate as people are to take a life of an unborn child, I have the right to be equally passionate to help save that life. Some may argue that not being able to have an abortion could cause the death of a woman seeking an illegal abortion and my argument is if you would not walk down a dark alley with your pocketbook open without protection, you should not walk into a dark room with your GOD or Universe given pocketbook without protection. Each scenario could cost you your life so protect yourself, and do not make unwise decisions that could cost you your life or the life of another. I too was an unborn fetus, and I am glad someone spoke up for me, and loved me enough to give me a chance in this world.

Question: California lawmakers have been discussing substantial changes to the state’s health care system, with an Assembly committee advancing legislation to create a state-funded, single-payer system earlier this year (The bill ultimately did not receive a floor vote). What do you think the state Legislature should do to make health care more accessible and affordable within California?

Wallis: As a State Assembly District Director for our region, my job is to help people through their problems with our state government. Sadly, we get calls every day with people who can’t get the proper support they need from state bureaucracies. For instance, the Employment Development Department paid out billions in fraudulent cases and caused serious problems for people who actually needed help. We spent months helping people get their EDD checks so they could continue to put food on the table for their families.

Our state government continually fumbles the basics, and I can't see a world where government run healthcare would be well-run. Fiscally, the cost of running a single-payer health care system in California would cost upwards of $300 billion dollars – roughly the same cost as our current entire state budget. California is mismanaged and expensive enough, I oppose government run health care that would kick people off their current plans or interfere with the vital doctor – patient relationship.

Holstege: Healthcare is a human right. I support universal healthcare and increasing access and affordability of care. As someone who has worked as an attorney in this region for 10 years, I witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of the Affordable Care Act on the lives my clients, enabling many to finally afford healthcare for the first time.

As an attorney, I represented hundreds of clients in this district on healthcare issues, helping people access public benefits like Social Security Disability and Medicare, negotiate down medical bills, and obtain care through complex systems like Workers’ Compensation. I have seen too many people thrust into poverty because of the costs and burdens of our healthcare systems.

As a Councilmember and Mayor, I have supported the expansion of healthcare services, such as funding mental health workers for homeless residents, approving the expansion of county health clinics, and funding healthcare providers.

As a state, we should expand education and workforce training programs to increase the number of healthcare workers, recruit culturally competent providers, ensure we adequately fund health services for low-income Californians, expand access to mental health services, expand access and coverage, and fix our broken healthcare systems.

All Californians deserve affordable access to healthcare.

Michaels: We must strive to make healthcare more accessible and affordable. In the Coachella Valley, we need obstetrics, immunosuppressant medication, regular and follow up care, good prenuptial and pediatric care, and affordable routine visits including vaccinations for all. We must help physicians maintain good care as costs increase. The elderly and sick need protection. The issue of state-funded single payer healthcare is something the Democratic supermajority in California may legislate, doubling taxes. In 2018, Governor Newsom said, “We will have universal health care in the state of California,” but he flip-flopped on the single payer measure. Assembly Bill 1400, the latest attempt to bring the Democratic faithful to get private insurers and profits out of healthcare, does no good. Newsom admitted he never found evidence that competition among providers creates higher efficiency. Our state government has a monopoly of providing services achieving no higher level of efficiency than a competitive marketplace. A state-funded single payer system looks good on paper, but actual coverage is poor. Taxes increase yet patients receive less. Competition keeps prices down and quality high. Everyone should pay for some insurance. If someone cannot pay the solution is Medicaid where people get good care. I advocate continuing government-based healthcare, supporting physicians to practice high quality care. Insurance companies mustn't dictate what doctors must give. I want physicians to have enough time to see patients. Everyone must participate in healthcare and medicine should never be degendered. Our legislature needs to ensure healthcare in our state not become corporate woke care.

Swain: I believe that if taxpayers must pay higher taxes for a state’s health care system, then I’m for the vote never reaching the floor, especially with high food, gas, medical, prescription drugs, tuition, and housing bills we cannot afford to take on this issue. The deficit is extremely high and with the effects that Covid had on the economy, there is just no way that we can afford to give the world free medical benefits. I would rather negotiate free or reduced educational benefits instead. I am not saying no to free healthcare to American citizens but for now, until we have found a reasonable means to housing the millions of homeless people and created housing and affordable care for seniors and mentally ill Americans and veterans, I do not think that worldwide health care is even a attainable. I do think that while we are working with the various political parties to find reasonable solutions to all the issues that are in the forefront, I believe that we as legislatures should still be open to having discussions in regards to affordable health care, and what’s best for the people but as of now I am not in favor of free universal health care. It is not feasible or attainable at this time.

Tom Coulter covers politics and can be reached at thomas.coulter@desertsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Q&A: 47th Assembly District candidates talk abortion, inflation, more