By Will Freeney | firstname.lastname@example.org
“So we can all have a life of dignity.”
This quote from my conversation with Gloria La Riva seems to aptly summarize her underlying motivation for a life of activism and her candidacy for Governor of California in 2018.
Ms. La Riva was gracious and generous enough to take time from preparation for a candidate forum on Saturday (5/12) here in Fresno and for an appearance in the Bay Area this evening (5/10) to grant me an extended, largely freeform conversation. Candidates are compelled by the economic necessities of the campaign process – gaining the most votes with the fewest words to create the least potential negative feedback. Ms. La Riva, however, spoke at length about her background, her life story, and her philosophy, and her intentions for occupancy of the office of Governor.
When asked what her priorities were in this election campaign, she quickly replied “Housing,” and went on to lay the blame for much of California’s housing crisis – from high rental rates and high mortgage rates to homelessness – at the feet of two pieces of California legislation from the 1990s: the Costa-Hawkins Act and the Ellis Act. Costa-Hawkins essentially pulled the plug on rent control and Ellis facilitated eviction of renters for property owners who wanted to sell the property for profit (or resume renting it for much higher rental rates a few years later). From that point on, rents have soared. Ms. La Riva, who lives and works in San Francisco’s Mission District, has experienced this firsthand and seen the ongoing construction of highrises on the virtual graves of affordable housing, from which working class tenants were evicted. She mentioned that there is a ballot initiative on its way to the November ballot that would overturn Costa-Hawkins and Ellis, paving the way for genuinely affordable housing. Another historical component of the housing crisis was the elimination by President Ronald Reagan of many of the federal housing subsidies.
Ms. La Riva grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the daughter of a Mexican mother who immigrated in 1952 and worked as a waitress and seamstress, and a Mexican-American father who worked as a letter carrier. During her childhood with five siblings, the family experienced eviction twice. She did well in school but knew her parents could not afford to send her to college. Someone suggested she apply to Brandeis because of their generous scholarship programs. Once at Brandeis, she attended a May Day demonstration in New York City, and she said, “It was then and there that I became a Socialist.” What is the underlying meaning of that? “Workers should benefit from their labor,” she said, going on to elaborate, “Teachers, who are creating our future … construction workers who are building our homes can become homeless if they are unable to work. Everything you touch is made by tens of thousands of workers – growing, harvesting, manufacturing, shipping, and selling that thing. Yet owners have dictatorial power [to set low wages, deny insurance coverage, etc.]. The working class should run everything.”
Ms. La Riva’s second priority, not far behind housing, is health care. She advocates a Single Payer system and would work as governor to see that through the legislature to enactment. “Health insurance companies should be illegal. They do not provide a service.” Furthermore, they contribute to the denial of necessary medical services to those who need them, while inflating the prices of everything involved in health care.
On one of the other hot topics of this election cycle, High Speed Rail, Ms. La Riva said, “I favor a holistic approach [to mass transit],” indicating that she felt the current project, as partially implemented, is a boondoggle which will selectively inflate the real estate values of the communities served – further exacerbating the housing woes of California.
As an ongoing issue to be addressed, prison reform is also high on Ms. La Riva’s to-do list for the governorship. She said she would use the office of Governor as a bully pulpit to advocate for true prison reform – meaning the use of prison prevention programs and rehabilitation, the elimination of prison privatization, the cessation of indeterminate sentences and isolation units, and the restoration of the GED program for prisoners. She mentioned that the governor’s budgetary oversight would give her the leverage to see these reforms implemented as well. Prisoner pay was another element of prison reform on that agenda. Currently, inmates are used as firefighters, paid only $1 per hour for those services, and end up unable to gain employment as a firefighter despite their wealth of experience, because of their criminal record. Both the egregiously low pay and the ability of prospective employers to interrogate their prospective employees’ criminal record are issues that Ms. La Riva intends to address.
When asked why she has continued to run for office for over thirty years, without a victory to date, she replied, “I was elected to union office for the Typographical Union. I let them know from the start that I was a Socialist, and they re-elected me. I served them for several years.” As to political office, she said her goal is “to empower people. It is untenable to continue this way, with the obscene enrichment at the top. More people are seeing why – the contrast between [the 1% and the 99%], Knowledge is power.”