Former Needles City Councilwoman Ruth Musser-Lopez is vying against another former office holder, Shannon Grove, to represent what is California’s largest State Senate district, the 16th.
Stretching from southeastern San Joaquin Valley and across a substantial portion of the Mojave Desert, the district includes the San Bernardino County communities of Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, Barstow and Needles, as well as communities in Kern, and Tulare counties, including Ridgecrest, Taft, Tehachapi, Barstow, Tulare, Visalia and much of Bakersfield.
Musser-Lopez’s matchup this year against Shannon Grove, a Kern County native who was a California Assemblywoman representing the 32nd and 34th Assembly districts from 2010 until 2016, is her second effort to gain entrance to the upper chamber of the California legislature. In 2014, she ran against Jean Fuller, the soon-to-be termed-out incumbent in the 16th Senate District.
Some see Musser-Lopez’s electoral quest as a daunting task that will require a Herculean effort to overcome both political and geographical challenges. The 16th is the most sparsely populated of all of California’s Senate districts, with some population-intensive urban centers scattered at varying intervals throughout it. Most of that population is outside of Musser-Lopez’s East Mojave bailiwick, and the East Mojave is outside of Grove’s former Assembly districts, which were located around the more heavily populated areas surrounding Bakersfield. Grove thus enjoys a greater degree of name recognition throughout most of the district than does Musser-Lopez. Moreover, Grove is a Republican and Musser-Lopez a Democrat. While the district does have a few Democratic enclaves, on balance in the district overall the Republicans enjoy an advantage in terms of larger voter registration numbers than do the Democrats.
Those putative advantages are not as overwhelming as they might appear, Musser-Lopez said. She noted that she established name recognition throughout the district four years ago in her run against Fuller. And while conceding that more of her would-be constituents are in with the GOP than with her party, she points out that it may behoove the residents of the 16th to elect a Democrat rather than a Republican to represent them in the statehouse, given the degree to which the Democrats dominate Sacramento.
“With a supermajority of Democrats in the Senate, we need a strong, effective, accomplished leader who can advocate for the people and the needs of our district,” Musser Lopez said. “I don’t need to reach across the aisle… I am already on the side capable of bringing state funds here. I will fight to bring improved public social programs not controlled by corporations, but governed by the vote and the voice of the people. My opponent, as a Bakersfield assemblywoman for 6 years, wasted time and precious public dollars and resources introducing far right, ‘tea party’ ideas like shuttering the state legislature to three months a year. She concerns herself more with her corporate contributors than the needs of the workers. The last thing we need are greedy CEOs controlling every aspect of our lives and wages so low that it forces young people to work two jobs just to own an old used car.”
Musser-Lopez said she believes a significant portion of the district’s residents can more readily identify with her than her opponent. Much of the 16th lies within or at the outlying periphery of the San Joaquin Valley, which is not just the most intensive agricultural district in California but the breadbasket of the world.
“My folks owned a dairy farm and milk product distribution business in Southern California that my grandfather started in the 1920s with just two cows,” said Musser-Lopez. “They built the business so that eventually they had a thousand cows and established their own bottling and ice cream plant to accommodate their production. From a family of ten children, we learned to help out on the production end of things, meanwhile gaining an aptitude for the management side of business. We raised much of our own feed, making silage from field corn, and had a citrus grove. As a kid I picked lemons along with the laborers for a side job. Growing up, I read the journals and literature that came in our mail pertaining to farming and California agriculture. My father was farm bureau president in San Bernardino County for about 10 years and I learned from listening to him discuss political matters on the kitchen phone.”
Musser-Lopez said she believes she can better serve the needs of the residents of the 16th than Grove. In that regard, Musser-Lopez said she is far better equipped to ensure the availability, delivery and quality of water, for both domestic and agricultural use throughout the district.
“My opponent’s legislative record proves that she could care less about water issues,” Musser-Lopez said. “She should not be allowed anywhere near the water issue. She blames drought on ‘God’s punishment for abortion legislation.’ In San Bernardino County, we have struggled to fight off privatization of East Mojave Desert groundwater by a giant corporation. The same thing is going on in the Central Valley. When corporations own the water, they control life. There have been recent “tweaks” in the law that have allowed this corporate water privatization to happen. I know where those tweaks are and I know how to write legislation that can reverse this trend.”
Musser-Lopez continued, “I know what to do to reverse the trend of unfair water delivery practices. I know how to write legislation and get the job done. Northern California greed factors into a lot of this. The focus is on water sales in the north and deliveries to the south. Meanwhile we are getting seasonal deluges of rain down here on the south coast and insufficient water catchment, not enough desalination and recycling plants, and a leaky infrastructure. We need more waterworks infrastructure in the Southland that would relieve pressure on Senate District 16’s south Central Valley where the aquifer has been severely depleted to the point of major subsidence and suffered industrial and agricultural contamination, creating a crazy situation where communities at the base of the Sierra Mountains are forced to truck in clean water.”
Musser Lopez said, “Two of my top priorities are affordable higher education leading to well-paying careers – not just jobs – and affordable healthcare for all. I will work with the legislature to navigate a pathway for a state MediCare program that creates well-paying careers while cutting insurance costs. I will work to bring a world-class public school system, pre-school through college, by attracting the best teachers with competitive pay scales.”
She said, “A priority of mine is getting UCLA to extend its medical school over to Cal State San Bernardino. That area has one of the highest, if not the highest, densities of air pollution in the country causing lung disease and cancer. We need to train more doctors and health care professionals to address these specific needs, and find a cure for Valley Fever, a deathly disease caused by mold spores in the soil. Everyone from farm workers and gardeners to archaeologists are susceptible.”
A product of the University of California System, where she attended, UCLA and graduated from UC Riverside, Musser Lopez majored in archeology and then put those skills to work in the field. “As a former federal land management employee, having worked for the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service and in my own consulting business, I have worked on a variety of teams,” she said. “After writing impact assessments on a diversity of projects, I acquired extensive knowledge of a multitude of political issues, public and private projects, issues and topics pertinent to Senate District 16, including the military and native American reservations, monuments and parks, private lands and uses such as oil and gas leasing, ranching and recreation. With this background and writing skills, I am well equipped to evaluate and understand the interface of federal, state and local law and to prepare legislation that will benefit the people of Senate District 16.”
Musser Lopez emphasizes that she defies the classic stereotype of a ”tax and spend” Democrat, saying she believes that the people of San Bernardino County were wronged when the board of supervisors added a fire tax to their parcels without their vote. “Isn’t the outrage of taxation without a vote why we fought off the English?” she asked, rhetorically.
Musser-Lopez said, “There should be a means for the state to generate revenue to sponsor public programs. I have been asked if I am for the gas tax. I must say that I am for something different than a gas tax. Water and other minerals, including oil, are a California resource and I agree that discoverers should get a ‘finder’s fee’ but they should never own forever these public resources.”
She said the state should own the minerals, set the price of the commodity and establish the state’s cut of the profit. Actions akin to this, she asserted, could potentially end the question of taxing truckers and commuters at the gas station. She predicted that it would also reduce the petroleum industry’s profit incentive. “Then perhaps California can lead the rest of the world in finally getting down to the business of clean energy powered transportation,” she said.