April 27, 2014

Olsen faces Keyes challenger in state 12th Assembly District race

Voters in California’s 12th Assembly District will choose in November between veteran lawmaker Kristin Olsen and locally active challenger Harinder Grewal. One a Republican and one a Democrat, both are guaranteed a ballot spot no matter the count in the June 3 primary.

Voters in California’s 12th Assembly District will choose in November between a veteran state lawmaker and a locally active challenger. One a Republican and one a Democrat, both are guaranteed a ballot spot no matter the count in the June 3 primary.

Kristin Olsen, 40, will be seeking a third term in the Assembly seat she has held since 2010. She calls herself solutions-focused, working to build coalitions with Democrats as well as her GOP colleagues. If elected, term limits dictate this would be the Modestan’s last two-year stint.

Harinder Grewal, 48, is a county agricultural inspector and lectures on ag economics at California State University, Stanislaus. Long active in Keyes, he joined the Turlock Unified School District board in 2011. He said his goal is to bring stronger leadership for the area in Sacramento.

“As a volunteer, you do whatever you can to help,” Grewal said. “But as an elected official, you can really make a difference.”

Bringing more economic development to the area and strengthening agriculture are key, he said. “We have to have a short- and long-term plan to create jobs,” he said. “That is so critical.”

Both plans should invest in infrastructure and focus on agriculture, “the economic backbone of our economy,” he said.

Olsen said jobs and great schools are her top priorities, but she also has her eye on broad reforms for the statehouse. Two she tried to move forward were a 72-hour review period for bills and a sunset review of the state’s 550 boards and agencies. Both hit political roadblocks.

“Reform is a really tough row to hoe,” Olsen said. She sits on a number of Assembly committees and is vice chairwoman of the Education Committee and Ag Committee. She points to success in passing veterans bills and a measure cutting red tape for simple road fixes in foothill counties she represented before the 12th District was redrawn.

The 12th now covers the east side of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, stretching from Turlock in the south to Galt in the north. Midway up, a handle reaches west to encompass Manteca and Ripon, stopping short of Tracy.

Both candidates support more storage capacity to address water shortages. “We need to build more storage, plain and simple,” Grewal said.

“The current tunnel proposal is preposterous,” Olsen said of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. “Taxpayer money would be much better spent in storage facilities.”

The two part company on other issues, including universal preschool and the minimum wage.

“I am convinced research shows early education results in higher achievement down the road,” Olsen said, but she added that it is too expensive right now.

“Schools are implementing so many new programs, I’m afraid one more enormous program could be suffocating,” she said. She does support a limited proposal for grants to expand transitional kindergarten in distressed communities.

Grewal said he sees logic in offering educational care for youngsters. “The best investment we can make is education,” he said. “My future, your future are the future of these kids.”

Grewal also supports a higher minimum wage than the $9 coming to California in July. “I think, honestly, we are behind on this,” he said. “Earning $8 an hour, parents can’t make a living.”

Olsen opposes additional hikes. “We just passed a minimum wage raise,” she said. “Why in the world would you bring in another one. We need to be passing policies that allow new jobs. This moves in the opposite direction.”

In candidate questionnaires, Grewal said he expects to spend $100,000 on his campaign; Olsen said she had not decided.

Olsen is a Modesto native with three school-age children. Her husband, Rod, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace in a case involving allegations of mistreating a 4-year-old at a soccer game, charges he said were politically motivated. He agreed to anger management counseling as part of the plea deal.

Grewal grew up in India, immigrating to the United States after earning a doctorate in agricultural economics. He has two children, both in college. He had a legal issue in 1996, when he said a fight with his wife, Baljeet, escalated and he was arrested. Court records confirm he was acquitted of all charges by a jury in 1997.

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