JUNE 8 PRIMARY: An Interview with Corey Calaycay, Republican Candidate for the 59th California Assembly District

May 11, 2010
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Corey Calaycay

Corey Calaycay




Though he is still just 39 years old, Corey Calaycay’s interest in politics began about two decades ago. He wanted the City of Claremont to address a situation in his northwest Claremont neighborhood near La Verne, where stolen cars had been abandoned and kids on weekends were partying and drinking alcohol in the middle of a dead-end street.


According to Calaycay, he took his complaint up the chain of command until it reached the mayor who “basically said, ‘It’s a Caltrans right away, the city can’t do anything, and I’m late for a plane,’ and hung up the phone on me.”

It was Calaycay’s political wake-up call.

“I thought, ‘If that’s the way they treat people, I can do a better job than that.’”

The trouble was Calaycay was just 19 at the time and attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, majoring in business. Then the same mayor and city council sought to impose a landscape and lighting assessment district tax on the same neighborhood that they had refused to help clean up.”

“That really upset me,” Calaycay recalled.

So, Calaycay joined his fellow residents in circulating petitions to oppose the local assessment tax, gathering about 7,000 signatures. Despite their opposition, the tax passed.

Although the petition drive failed, two of Calaycay’s fellow anti-assessment district residents decided to run for city council, and were looking for a third candidate. Calaycay visited the city clerk, and after learning that the only requirements to campaign were that he had to be at least 18 and registered to vote in the community holding the election, he entered the race.

Although his election bid failed, one of the anti-assessment candidates succeeded in gaining election to the council.

“He came in first place, as a matter of fact,” Calaycay said, “but within about three months fell into the crowd.” That about-face left a distinct impression on the young Calaycay. “I said if I ever get in there, I’m going to keep my promises to people and stick to what I say I’m going to do.”

Amazingly, Calaycay didn’t “get there” for 15 years. He ran unsuccessfully for Claremont City Council in 1990, 1992 and 1994. His losses were Lincolnesque, another politician who was defeated frequently at the polls before he was finally elected president in 1860.

“After three times, I kind of wrote if off,” Calaycay said. “It’s like three strikes, and you’re out. I figured that’s enough with that.”

But while he was running and losing, other politicos were taking notice. Los Angeles Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office asked him to represent his district at ceremonial functions and that volunteer service led to first part-time and then full-time service with Republican legislators Bob Margett, Bob Pacheco and Todd Spitzer, working out of their district offices.

Finally, Calaycay was elected to the Claremont City Council in 2005 in a hard-fought campaign. The irony of those 15 years wasn’t lost on Calaycay, nor was the razor-thin margin that often separates winning candidates from losing ones.

“In 1990, I received 2,388 votes,” he said, ticking off the numbers as if that first election were only held last week. “In 2005, I received 2,513 votes.”

In other words, the difference of only 125 votes – a little more than eight votes a year — had kept him off the council all those years.

Since his election in 2005, citizens have been able to examine his conservative voting record. Among his “no” votes, he opposed city proposals to build an affordable housing project on Baseline Road, lighted sports fields at Padua Park, a medical marijuana facility and city manager pay hikes. He also opposed and helped defeat a proposal to operate a city trolley that would have connected two outer parking lots with the center of the Claremont village.

“Here our community has been emphasizing sustainability,” Calaycay noted. “Well, what’s sustainable about a gas-guzzling trolley going around with no passengers?” coreypng

Another well-intentioned initiative that Calaycay opposed after closer scrutiny was a proposal to take half of the hotel tax from the new Hotel Casa 425 and put it into a “nebulous pot for homeless programs,” he said.

Calaycay said the city had done neither a study on the homeless in Claremont nor “on what programs might meet those needs.” The program was a knee-jerk “here’s the money, go find a program” response to an idea that was poorly researched.

Although Calaycay often finds himself in the voting minority, he was recently pleased when three other colleagues voted down a proposal to ban smoking in all public places in Claremont. “I was kind of surprised,” Calaycay admitted. “I thought most of the Democrats on the council would go for it.”

Calaycay finds this confluence of minds and lack of polarization healthy. “It’s not like one person is the one always voting no,” he said.

His ‘yes’ votes include purchasing Johnson’s Pasture through a general obligation bond, supporting completion of Village West, redevelopment of the Old School House and Double Tree Hotel and reviving Padua Hills Theater.

Knowing a little more his local politics, LaVerneOnline invited Calaycay to sit down and help us understand how his political philosophy and principles would project and play out on the larger stage in the state capital. Here are the questions we asked and Calaycay’s responses:

Q. How much political experience would you bring to Sacramento?

A. I think there are people who come to this job with less experience to be quite honest. I have over 10 years of experience working for legislators and I’m proud that it is district-oriented experience as opposed to capital-oriented experience. I’ve had to work to try to solve constituent problems, so I recognize how important that local role is, because a lot of times, as we all know, there is a lot of gridlock in Sacramento.

Q. Given that Assemblyman Adams only announced in January that he would not seek reelection, how difficult has it been to mount a successful campaign in one of the worst gerrymandered assembly districts in the state – an area that stretches from Apple Valley to Crescenta Valley?

A. Admittedly, it’s a hard proposition when you’re talking about a district that is about 90 miles across and probably at least about 50 miles north and south. It’s a challenge. I think all of the candidates are up against that. The one advantage I think one of my competitors has is he’s put a significant amount of his own money into the race. If he’s actually going to use it all, I don’t know.

Still the one thing I’m very proud of is, I have a lot of good volunteers. I probably have at least 100 volunteers, a quarter of those are working on a committee that meets weekly. Everybody’s got different assignments, and they’re doing a lot to advance this.

All the signs you see out there have been put up by volunteers. We don’t do it the traditional way of just putting them on public rights of way. We’re putting them in people’s yards. That way, people know we have support from people, not somebody who just came through and put political litter all over the community.

Q. What are your legislative priorities?

A. The top three items on my platform are: oppose the tax increases, bring jobs back and reduce the state bureaucracy. They all tie in together.

A big part of the problem right now is we’ve had a lot of businesses that have either left the state or they’ve gone out of business. And if you talk to those folks, it’s because we have higher regulations than in other states and our tax rates are higher than a lot of other states. That’s why a lot of jobs are being outsourced to other countries. You’ve got jobs going to India and China and Mexico and it’s because they have fewer restrictions than we have and a lot of those times those governments negotiate taxes with businesses to give them an incentive to move there. If we want jobs to come back to California, we’ve got to give an incentive for employers to locate here again and help businesses get back on their feet.

You can’t keep raising taxes. As we’re finding even with Measure R in the county, where voters imposed a sales tax increase for transportation projects, it’s not even meeting financial projections because sales taxes are down because people aren’t buying things.

Even John F. Kennedy back in the day understood that if you lower taxes, it stimulates the economy … the economy goes up, coffers fill up.

Q. You’ve argued that we haven’t managed our money well enough in good times.

A. Part of that is wanting to get into regulating everything. In order to regulate all these things, you need more bureaucrats to enforce the rules. That’s why we’ve created all this bureaucracy out there.

Let me give you one example. Let’s say it costs $300 a square foot to build a home. Compare that with $700 per square foot to build a school because of all the rules and regulations imposed by the Division of the State Architect. By the time the school is built, after all the delays and inspections, the school district has run out of money. Let local folks do their own inspections.

Q. How you have coped with reduced revenues in your own city?

A. We have many good staff members who produce good work for us, but the reality is, if the money isn’t there, we have to reduce staff. So far in the last couple of years, we’ve lost about 33 positions in the city of Claremont. We all feel badly about it. Yet, I’ve been a little surprised that even some of my more liberal colleagues are recognizing that tax increases are not going to cut it. They’ve been looking at reducing the size of government rather than just looking to increase people’s taxes.

With the cuts, it’s not like our community is overgrown with weeds and you’re seeing the whole community go downhill. My feeling is, once we’re out of this, we’re going to be a better city for it. We’ll be a more fit city. I hope future councils operate as frugally.

So, I think reducing bureaucracy is something that can be sold. But it’s also the person selling it, that person has to be a credible individual.

Q. At least at the start of his term, the governator seemed a popular and credible person who could get things done. His political honeymoon didn’t last long, however. How would you approach the task?

With regard to credibility, I keep referencing all these conferences that elected officials go to. In this day and age, just as with your online publication, you can find out so much stuff on the internet. You don’t have to go to all these conferences. What I find more and more is that a lot of these things are just social events held at taxpayer expense.

In the five years I’ve been on the council, I went to one conference, so to speak. It wasn’t really a council conference. I was on the chamber board and as a member of the chamber board, I had to go to an overnight retreat in Temecula. But that’s the only retreat I’ve participated in during my five years on the council. So maybe, $100 to $200 in five years is all I’ve spent. We also have an option to declare mileage. Well, I was compensated for mileage while working with Sen. Margett, so I deferred the city mileage. I didn’t need to double dip. I still defer the mileage.

Furthermore, we have the option of taking health benefits through the city. If you don’t take the health benefits for a period, council members can take the value of those health benefits, $914 a year, and put them in deferred compensation. It’s kind of a backdoor pay raise for council members that citizens weren’t even aware of. I’ve taken none of those sorts of things.

If I go to a dinner on behalf of the city and they pay my ticket, that’s it. I haven’t nickeled and dimed the taxpayers.


Calaycay with mentor, Sen. Bob Margett
Calaycay with mentor, Sen. Bob Margett

Q. Will you continue that frugal policy in Sacramento?



A. I’ve already committed to it. They will lease a car for a legislator. I don’t need that. I’ll use my own car. If I need to declare mileage, because I find myself driving a lot on state business, I will, but I don’t need to be having the taxpayers lease me a car.

Q. In walking different precincts and addressing different organizations, what are you hearing?

A. The one common theme out there is people are very frustrated with government. They don’t feel that any of these higher-up politicians are really listening to them … that they are not in touch with the people. They really do want change.

Q. Let’s talk about change then. How will the passage and implementation of Proposition 11, which takes the power away from the state legislature to draw its own districts, affect future elections?

A. If this works in practice as it’s supposed to in theory, what we will hopefully see in 2012 is a district that maybe runs from Claremont to Glendora and down to Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights, similar to the area covered by the Three Valleys Municipal Water District. It’ll be a more competitive district because you’ll bring in Pomona and some other areas that lean more democratic – Claremont actually leans democratic — but La Verne, Glendora and Diamond Bar are Republican. You’ll probably have a pretty reasonably competitive district, so no incumbent will be safe in that regard.

With regards to Sacramento, if legislators know they are going to have to be more accountable and that they represent a more balanced district, they are going to have to keep their policies more balanced. So, I think the change is going to be healthy.

Q. Every time there’s another legislative logjam, talk about holding a state constitutional convention revives, especially with regard to changing budget legislation from the current super two-thirds majority to a simple majority. Would you support such a constitutional convention?

A. The fact is, we have a constitution that we don’t follow in the state, and so before you think about revising the constitution, you need to demonstrate you’ve been following the one you have. The perfect example is the budget. A budget should always be in effect on July 1, yet they drag it out as late as August, and that needs to stop.

With regards to the two-thirds majority, I think there is validity there. It comes from the Founding Fathers. They were concerned about a mob mentality or mob rule. And a perfect example is particularly with property because it’s a minority of people who actually own property, and it’s not fair for a majority to be able to impose a tax on a minority.

Similarly, a lot of people don’t understand with regards to some of these business taxes that they are an indirect tax on the people. The fact is, businesses don’t pay taxes. They pass those costs onto the consumer. Consumers are actually paying for them in the form of higher prices, but people just don’t seem to understand that.

That’s why the two-thirds protection is in the there to ensure that at least a good group of people really truly understand the proposed legislation. You don’t just have this one group there saying, “Well, you know, it’s not going to affect me, so tax that group.”

Q. Term limits were passed several years ago. Are they working?

A. Unfortunately not. I think competitive districts are a better thing. Term limits aren’t helping us because we have these districts that are locked in and there is not really an incentive there on the part of the party in power to really listen to the voters. It’s just, “We can still keep the majority we have and do what we want.” And so term limits are irrelevant because they’ll just get another empty suit to take the place of the old one, and it will continue to be business as usual.

The other side of it is, you don’t have term limits on staff. You find these staff members are moving around. And a lot of times, they are just as dangerous. They lead their legislators around by the nose. I think “people” need to be the term limits. Term limits take some of the responsibility off of the people. They need to decide when their legislator is not serving them well and get rid of that legislator. Again, it’s a lot easier to do when you at least have competitive districts. I’m very hopeful that Proposition 11 is going to address that side of it and be a big part of the solution there.

Q. As a conservative republican, you must be watching the debt crisis in Greece very closely. Of course, the United States is the world’s biggest debtor, and California isn’t exactly in great fiscal shape, either.

A. With regards to California, a lot of politicians are giving false hope to citizens. “Give it a year or two, and everything will be fine again.” Not so. The economy might come back, but we need a plan to pay down this debt. Issuing more bonds isn’t the solution. It just masks the problem.

Voters need to better understand, for instance, how these things work. A lot of voters view these bonds as money that grows on trees. Whatever the size of the proposed bond is, the real cost is roughly two times that size when you calculate the interest on the bond. It’s very expensive money, and it’s money generally at the top, meaning that it has to be paid back first.

Right now we need to back off on some of these bonds. It’s unfortunate because we have some important issues here, like water coming up, but I can’t in good conscience encourage people to vote for another bond. I just think voters need to be turning down a lot of these bonds now until we get some of the debt paid down at least.

Q. How do you feel about the overall initiative process? With hundreds of initiatives seemingly proposed every other year, is the system out of control or broken?

A. It’s funny, when there is an initiative out there that somebody doesn’t like, they’re against the initiative process. When it’s an initiative they do like, they think it’s a great process. We need to see how Proposition 11 works. If the situation in Sacramento improves, where you get more mainstream legislation and stop trying to regulate things folks aren’t interested in, then maybe we can discuss whether we need the initiative process anymore.

Q. There’s an initiative for instance to overturn AB 32, the legislation voters passed to help reduce greenhouse emissions.

A. That’s one of those regulations that are having a very negative impact on our economic climate right now, so in that particular circumstance, am I glad we have the initiative process, absolutely.

But let me add, if you have the process, you’ve got to respect it, both when it works in your favor, and even when it doesn’t.

Q. We live in one of the smoggiest regions in the country, yet you feel we’ve gone overboard with regard to environmental regulations?

A. There are a lot of environmental restrictions out there, and, as we’re slowly finding out, I sense there are a lot of special interests pushing them, even coming from the liberal side. They’ve created this cap and trade system, and ironically it’s Wall Street that’s making money off of selling these credits for pollution emissions. Nobody thinks about that side. It’s wonderful for these special interests when people put out all this misinformation about global warming because they are making money off of it.

A Calaycay for Assembly supporter
A Calaycay for Assembly supporter

People need to be very careful. There are some helpful things we’ve put in there, like certain smog devices on cars, but I mean, it’s just getting to the point where it’s going to an extreme, and then they’re even trying to say they’re creating this green economy.

I’m not for the government trying to create businesses for people. And I do like some of the green technology. But I don’t want the government telling me I have to buy it or the government making businesses for people, quite frankly.

I drove to this interview in my hybrid car. That car (a 2000 Insight) is going to be 10 years old in July. I love it. I’m glad to have it. All this time when gas prices have gone up over $4 a gallon, I’ve saved a significant amount of money. I fill up twice a month where other people are filling up five or six times a month. I’m grateful for it.

We did a renovation on the house where I live. We added solar as part of that project. We have a tankless water heater.

A lot of these things are great, but let them stand on their own merits.

Q. Are you in favor of “green” incentives?

A. Incentives may be fine, but again only when they make sense and when we can afford them. It’s a double standard to say I want to reduce the tax burden but then I’m going to start giving out tax dollars. We have to be very careful about that. By not taxing people or reducing their taxes, people have more money in their pockets to do some of these things on their own without government influencing it.

Q. Can you site other abusive regulatory practices?

A. My father, with his medical practice, has his own sterilizing unit, which he purchased for about $100,000. Then, the government said if you want to maintain your own linens in your facility, you have to either contract out with a service that washes the linens or you have to buy this certain kind of equipment that agitates linens at a certain speed and keeps them at a certain temperature. This is ridiculous because quite frankly the linens are sterilized after you put them in the sterilizing unit. Again, the government was making a business for someone and adding to the costs of health care.

That’s what I find so ludicrous. That’s why I’m so angry with some of these health care regulations, including those that regulate bio-hazard waste. They just keep adding to our health care costs. For example, people blow their noses all the time and throw their tissues in the garbage. Should we now regulate that?

People need to be careful. Legislators get into doing favors for their friends and people who donate for them, and they may do it under the auspices of public safety and public health and pollution control. You have to look behind some of these things because sadly human nature is what it is, and people put spins on just about everything to get what they want. So that’s my concern with a lot of this.

Q. I read that the sales tax is 23% in Greece. Are we reaching the breaking point here in California with the sales tax approaching 10%?

A. It’s an elasticity issue. When taxes get so high, it takes from discretionary income and at that point people are supporting private business less. If you lower some of these rates, people have more money in their pockets. But if they don’t, then they have to choose between do I go to a restaurant tonight or do I just cook at home and buy less expensive food.

Q. If elected, would you be willing to take on pension reform?

A. Absolutely, and I say that as somebody who is in PERS because of my job with Senator Margett and other assembly members. The fact of the matter is, I had a couple of relatives up in Oregon. One worked for the corrections system and one was a teacher. They ended up having to change their retirement plans because at the end of the day Oregon was unable to meet its pension obligations.

Q. Would you support drug testing of legislators?

A. There is drug testing in the private sector, and the government says it’s fine there. Personally, I would have no problem with drug testing. I’ve had private sector jobs. I’ve passed those drug tests. I would still pass those drug tests.

That’s another point. Whoever makes the rules needs to live by those same rules. For example with health care, you better ask to be part of the same system that you’re putting everyone else into.

I don’t like to micromanage people’s lives, but if you’re going to have a rule, it should apply to everybody. That’s my key point here.

Q. Do you support pay raises for legislators in the current economic environment? We’ve seen attempts to sneak through some pay increases at the state level.

A. They’re not setting a very good example. There’s a certain amount of credibility that a legislator has to show. That’s part of what we’re up against in Sacramento.

Q. I appreciate your candor in answering our questions. I just have one more. Why would you want to go to Sacramento? I recently read that only 8% of registered voters had faith in their legislators.

A. People asked me to run for this. I’ve been encouraged by people who have said I’ve shown myself to be man of principle and one who has kept his promises. I try to address concerns and educate people about the issues, but still maintain my principles.

I’ve demonstrated that I work well with people who don’t agree with me on the council … so much so that my colleagues appointed me mayor for a year. For those reasons, they believe, and I believe, I’ll function well in Sacramento.

We welcome other candidates running to represent the 59th California Assembly District to sit down with La Verne Online.com to share their views and philosophies that they would take to Sacramento.

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