Can policy wonk Scott Wiener make it to Sacramento?

Supervisor and state senate candidate Scott Wiener. photo: San Francisco Board of Supervisors

The terming-out of State Senator Mark Leno means there’s a fight to replace him in Sacramento.

In the June 7 primary, Democrats Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, both members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, will face off against each other and against Republican Kenneth Loo for the election to replace Leno. In heavily Democratic San Francisco, Kim and Weiner are the favorites to face off in the general election.

Can a detail-oriented policy wonk like Wiener translate his local success to the state capital? We asked him.

Your signature issues as a city supervisor have included things such as housing, infrastructure, and transportation. Will you still be able to advance those issues in Sacramento?

Absolutely. It doesn’t change that much, even though it’s a different angle. Transportation will still be a huge priority for me. The state does not do nearly enough, particularly in funding public transportation, and if you look at the magnitude of our transportation issues here in San Francisco, the need for additional subway service, an additional transbay tube, [there needs to be greater state help]. So increasing the state’s investment in public transportation will be a huge priority for me.

I do a lot of health care and public health policy and health-access work, and the state plays a huge role in determining who can and who cannot access health care, in terms of insurance copays and medical reimbursement rates and so on. I do a lot of work on clean energy and water recycling and water issues, and the state sets the standards on water [use].

One thing that will change is that I’m very involved in public schools. The board has no formal power over our public schools, but in Sacramento I’ll be able to be much more impactful in terms of supporting public education.

Someone recently told us they thought you had moved leftward for your senate race, and a key part of this was your recent parental leave legislation here in San Francisco. Some small businesses are worried about this legislation.

I haven’t moved — I haven’t moved anywhere. My politics are what they’ve always been. I have always worked hard to support small businesses; I’ve authored numerous pieces of legislation to remove antiquated rules that hurt business; … legislation to eliminate onerous permit requirements for second-hand dealers—such as clothing stores or used book stores—and other similar kinds of legislation.

But I have also always supported working families, the minimum wage, and paid sick leave, so this is not out of character for me.

If you also look at how I did this legislation, I worked very closely with the business community even before I introduced the legislation. I accepted a number of [changes as a result of this input], including a phase-in for businesses under 50 employees, exempting businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and other changes to make it more business friendly without hurting the workers.

What are the most important issues of this senate campaign? How do you differ from Jane Kim?

Fundamentally, when we’re making a choice about who we’re going to send to the state senate, it’s about who actually has the vision and the ability to get things done to move our city, region, and state in a good direction.

One senator can pack a huge punch. So who we send to Sacramento will [need] the vision and the effectiveness to address climate change and bring our water system into the 21st century, to dramatically expand access to health care and make needed reforms to improve public education.

People can agree with me or disagree with me on any issue, but you look at my track record on really tough issues, like my legislation to require solar panels on the roofs of new buildings, or parental leave legislation, making us the first city in the country [to do so], I have shown I can take on important and hard issues and get results; not just talk about issues but actually deliver.

In terms of issues facing the city right now, there are key issues separating Supervisor Kim and me. I have been a [strong] voice in support of adding police academy classes, and also authored legislation to say that our police staffing goals should be tied to population goals — we’re a bigger city than we used to be, and our police staffing has to reflect that. Jane has been hostile to calls for greater police staffing. She has said “police officers do not prevent crime.”

I also have been clear that it is not acceptable to have tents on our sidewalks. They’re not humane, they are not progressive, they’re not healthy. Supervisor Kim supports legalizing tents on our sidewalks. She was very critical of the mayor’s decision to remove the tent city …, but I supported the mayor’s decision. And I have been a strong supporter of the move to have more housing in San Francisco; Supervisor Kim co-wrote the Mission housing moratorium.

You could be termed out of the Board of Supervisors. If elected to the state senate, eventually you could be termed out of that job. Are you sympathetic to criticism of term limits?

I am not a huge fan of term limits. But If we’re going to have them, they should at least give people time to accomplish something. The changes in term limits allowing them to serve 12 years in one house [of the state legislature] have been positive. When you talk about making real change, these are not things that happen overnight, and you need legislators who can gain experience and have the time to get things done. When term limits are too restrictive, all it does is empower lobbyists and staff.

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