Liu will continue her quest for improving education

In 2000, Senator Carol Liu—currently serving the former 21st Senate District—made the switch from teacher to state legislator in order to make a bigger difference in her local school district. Twelve years later, the tireless advocate for education hopes to continue her crusade in the newly-redistricted 25th district, developing relationships and dialogue with her fellow senators despite the difficult political climate.  

Q. What drew you to state legislature?

A. Education policy. You can only go so far in your local district; the money comes from Sacramento, and it’s been that way since Prop 13. You have to have a ticket at the table in order to make some changes, and that is the primary thing that drove me to Sacramento.

Q. What made you want to go from state assembly to senate?

A. Six years is too short. There is no long-term thinking. You know where the bathroom is, but you can hardly get your teeth into long-term public policy.

Q. Why are you running for reelection?

A. I love working on the policy issues. I love the idea that we can problem-solve these things together. There are many, many things we need to work together on regarding infrastructure, education and dealing with human resources that we have or don’t have. I do think all these things are solvable, and I’m committed to working on them until I get too tired.

Q. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in the state legislature?

A. It all relates to education. The policies and bills I have carried really try to articulate a vision as to where we need to be for our public schools. I chaired the higher education committee when I was in the state assembly and I have sat on the education committee throughout my entire career.

My more recent legislation deals with the community colleges. There are about 2 million people in the state of California that attend our community colleges, and 7 percent of them do not obtain an associate’s degree or transfer to a 4-year school. I carried a piece of legislation that would reward completion rates. Everybody just roared about that—they were really upset because they did not want to be kept that accountable.

The bill was finally successful when we amended it to create a task force to look at how we could move forward and get more student success out of the community college system. The task force came up with 22 recommendations and we have subsequently taken some of those recommendations and are now making them into law.

We are putting a lot of pressure on the community college system to change the way they behave to make sure it is student-oriented and to guarantee that people who go into our colleges get out with some kind of degree or certificate or move on with their lives.

Changing the behavior [of these institutions] is very difficult, and I have not been very popular with some faculty members, but it’s not about adults for me. It’s about the kids. It’s about the students that need the services and need to get focused.

Q. Another strong focus of yours is the state colleges, which you have said are the “most vulnerable.” What makes the state system so vulnerable?

A. Of the 3 systems we have, the state colleges are the most vulnerable because they totally depend upon the state for their resources and when the state doesn’t have the resources, they really get hit.

Q. If re-elected, what is your plan to try and help?

A. I had a conversation with the governor, and his main concern is the cost of colleges today and the ability to get out. Why does it take 6 years to get out of the CSU system? It costs the state more money the longer these kids stay in school. We are trying to figure out a way to unplug the system so that we can get the students in and out and make it more efficient. That is a huge goal of mine. I would like to have a dialogue about what is going on.

Q. Speaking of dialogue, you have admitted that our state legislature is now facing its most challenging time. The recession is taking its toll and partisan politics are not helping. What changes need to be made and how will you make those changes happen if you’re re-elected?

A. The Republicans are split amongst themselves as to their programs and policies. As we were ending this last session, I had a bill (SB 204) that would sell excess houses on the 710 freeway that the Republican analysis of the bill said to oppose. But the Republican leader Bob Huff came over to me and said, “I know the analysis said oppose, but I’m going to stand up and support the bill.” He knows about the 710 freeway and its history, and he sees that having the money go back to the locals to improve their local highways makes perfect sense rather than going back to the general fund, which the Republican analysis supported. Bob got it and he was able to vote for the bill and carried some other Republican votes. It was a bipartisan thing.

Bob and I have a history. We sat on education together, and I gave him a vote on a bill that he carried dealing with Diastat, a syringe administered to kids who have seizures. Because there are not enough nurses at the school site, it gave volunteers the opportunity to administer the Diastat to prevent kids from seizing up. The nurses were adamantly opposed to the bill because they didn’t want anybody but themselves administering the Diastat.

For me, it came down to the kid suffering a seizure, or the nurses that didn’t want the Diastat administered without their OK. I gave Bob the vote because, for me, it’s about the kid. We are only there for the children.

Bob and I have a nice history together but because of term limits, you don’t really have the opportunity to get to know your fellow legislature very well. Off-season, we [legislators] have the chance to travel together. People call them junkets, but I call them learning experiences. You get to know each other and your spouses get to know each other and you begin to talk about the things you have in common. All the issues become more human; you understand where people come from.  

Q. So for you, the key might be getting to know one another beyond party designation?

A. It’s very tough for [Republicans] from a policy standpoint to be friendly, and the inability really to sit down and work out some issues because they just can’t get over certain ideologies is very difficult. But I’m the optimist, and on certain issues we did come together. Though they weren’t big steps, we did some pension reform together this year and some modification of workers’ compensation that had bipartisan support. We don’t usually fight over education issues.

Q. Other than education, what are some of your other focuses if reelected?

A. California really needs tax reform. We can’t keep on raising taxes and expecting people to pick it up until the state can perform. We are also going to take another look at CEQA reform and pensions. We need to look at efficiency in the way we handle the multitude of issues that face us. We also need to look at the impact of the cuts made to government-provided services.

With this great recession we have just come through, we have cut the lifeline to many of the services the state has provided. What kind of impact has that created among people here in California?

Dealing with these things might take a couple years. We have to go back and do some cleanup, I’m sure we do. There is never a shortage of issues.

Q. The Gold Line is another focus of yours. How will you aid its extension despite the current conflicts with funding?

A. Getting that Gold Line extended out through Ontario is a priority for me in this district. I haven’t spoken directly with Congresswoman Judy Chu (running for the 27th Congressional District, including Claremont), but I do know that it’s a priority for her as well. I would wholeheartedly support giving federal dollars and matching dollars.

Q. How will you channel your successes along the way into the new 25th Senate District?

A. The redistricting is a real opportunity here to meet new people, to see if there are some commonalities and what things we can work together on. Most important to me is working for the kids. That’s where our future is: giving kids the opportunity to be successful. That’s where we need to be investing our monies.

Visit for more on Ms. Liu’s policy and campaign issues.

—Beth Hartnett

[Next up in our candidates’ series: Chris Holden of the 41st Assembly District]


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