Veteran local politico Juan Vargas was elected state Senator of California’s 40th District last November. Coronado is in the district, which includes south San Diego County, segments of Riverside County and all of Imperial County.
Vargas chairs the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and serves on several others: Education; Business, Professions and Economic Development; Public Employment and Retirement; Agriculture; the Joint Committee on Rules, and the Select Committee on Recovery, Reform and Re-Alignment.
He got his start in public service more than 20 years ago when he won election to the San Diego City Council. The state senator and his wife, Adrienne, an executive at the San Diego Foundation, live in Golden Hill. They have two daughters, Rosa, 15, and Helena, 7. Recently, Vargas took the time to answer questions on how California is dealing with political and financial turmoil.
Patch: While California is facing a difficult time, you have been optimistic about its future. Can you tell me more about your positive attitude regarding the future of California?
Juan Vargas: Although the State of California faces many challenges, I see many opportunities before us. Our diversity affords us the ability to continue to build a strong foundation based upon a respect for our common responsibility to each other. From the rural Inland Empire to the Coastal cities, we all care about educating our youth, living in safe communities and keeping our commitments to the elderly.
In District 40, I see the struggles that my constituents face but also how in these tough times we have been able to pull together. During my first year in office, I have been committed to solving many of the structural problems that the State of California faces.
P: What are your thoughts on the benefits and challenges of term limits?
JV: I believe that the intent behind term limits was a good idea. Term limits do not allow elected officials to become complacent, but rather force them to stay in touch with their communities and actively represent them in Sacramento.
However, there is one substantial challenge that term limits present, elected officials’ ability to truly learn about, embrace and develop the Legislative system. As with all jobs, there is a learning curve and as elected officials become more experienced, they find that their term is ending. Term limits can hinder experienced officials’ ability to continue to use their expertise to help the state continue to progress.
P: Since you have a Harvard law degree, why did you decide to enter the political arena instead of joining a prestigious law firm and living a life of affluence?
JV: I have always said that I entered the political arena to help the poor. I felt that, based on my personal religious beliefs, I had and continue to have a moral obligation to be a voice for those who are disenfranchised and cannot defend themselves.
P: Prior to entering politics you entered the Jesuit (order) to pursue social justice issues in El Salvador. Looking back on your two careers, in politics and religion, do you feel that one of these arenas better affects change?
JV: I firmly believe that both politics and religion are vital in affecting change. The Jesuits are known for their work on social justice issues, and it is through their tenacity, personal involvement, sacrifice and vow of poverty that they positively create change. The ideals and drive that called me to study to be a Jesuit are the same as those that brought me to politics: the desire and moral obligation to care for others.
P: What are the issues that are most important to you as a Legislator and why?
JV: As I mentioned earlier, I entered politics to help the poor and defenseless. As such, I have worked and continue to work extremely hard to protect the elderly, the poor and children. One of my bills, SB 718, specifically strives to give seniors and adult dependents that may find themselves in abusive situations, a stronger, louder voice.
The legislation would authorize the County of San Diego and counties across the State of California to offer a confidential internet system for reporting instances of elder abuse … Due to the high volume of callers and a recent decrease in personnel due to budget cuts, there can be a lengthy wait before a call is answered on the county’s main elder abuse reporting phone line which handles calls from mandated reporters and the general public.
In November 2010, it was determined that 27 percent of callers hung up rather than waiting on the line to report abuses, leaving seniors and dependent adults at further risk of abuse.
P: How is Gov. Jerry Brown doing?
JV: Gov. Brown entered office in a very difficult financial time. Early on, he committed to work to balance the budget, which has proven to be a very challenging task. While we do not see eye-to-eye on every issue, I feel that he is doing his best to focus on the important issues and is fighting to improve California’s economic situation.
P: Well, Senator, thank you so much for taking the time. Good luck up in Sacramento.
JV: Thank you!