Virtual Town Hall Questions for Ralph Denney

The challenger in the 78th State Assembly District discusses jobs, bureaucracy and his concerns about the fate of small businesses as they contend with California's rules and regulations.

Patch sent questionnaires to each of the candidates in races appearing on Tuesday's primary ballot. The re-drawn 78th State Assembly District includes Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar, Imperial Beach and Solana Beach. Republican Ralph Denney, a small business owner, is seeking the seat. He faces two opponents, Democrat and and Republican Robert E. Williams.

Patch: I’m a 37-year-old public school teacher, and every year I fear losing my job. Why should I vote for you?

Ralph Denney: According to available sources, the TWO separate state agencies tasked with overseeing our schools between them spend over 20% of the dollars budgeted for education. Worst, the San Diego Unified School District – according to its own website – spends 52 cents out of every dollar they collect on administrative (non-educational) expenses. That means SDUSD spends barely A THIRD of the dollars budgeted for education actually in the CLASSROOM! Yet, of the 1700 pink slips soon to go out, 1400 are for teachers and virtually all of the rest are other various on campus employees. Not one mid to top level administrator will loose their job. The administration center (and satellite offices) will remain fully staffed, and consultants will retain their lucrative contracts.

As bad as these numbers are, the problem with educational financing is even more severely exacerbated by the failure of the Sacramento leadership to pass a realistic, balanced, and TIMELY state budget. Without that, school boards cannot reasonably plan for their needs and suffer an uncertain future. The 2011/2012 fiscal year is just the latest example. The Sacramento Leadership pushed through yet another budget based on smoke and mirrors … without transparency or realistic expectations. They then insisted school districts budget – and spend – based on these false numbers. Now, to no one’s surprise we find the budget to be $16 billion in the red, (I suspect the real number is much higher), triggering massive cuts largely in Education.

This merry-go-round MUST STOP IMMEDIATELY!

We must get back to the days when I was a product of the California Public Schools System. When the purpose of schools were to TEACH students critical thinking. To offer them a diversified and quality education, to give them the tools they’ll need to succeed in an ever more competitive and intense global economy. We need to strip our schools of the social engineering and political correctness which waste precious resources and distract our teachers from what they do best – TEACH. All while we ensure every student a safe environment free from violence, pettiness, discrimination and artificial roadblocks. To guarantee EVERY student has the opportunity to excel to his or her maximum potential and desire.
Should you choose to hire me as your next Assemblyman, I promise to work hard to ensure the above are not just words, but translate them into action.

As your Assemblyman, I will work hard for a balanced and realistic budget which is passed ON TIME. I’m a bureaucrat's worst nightmare, I’m a tax accountant. I know how to read a budget. I will examine California’s REAL budget to identify the waste, the graft, and the bloat to free up precious resources to provide for better public safety, public health, and PUBLIC EDUCATION.

As your Assemblyman, I will work hard for reasonable class sizes so that teachers can actually teach and not simply serve as babysitters. I will fight hard to give GOOD teachers the support, supplies, and the facilities to do their job with security and confidence. At the same time I will work just as hard to protect good teachers from bad administrators and bad teachers.
More importantly, I will work hard to end the politicalization of the process. By this I mean I will end the practice of threatening taxpayers with a loss of Police, Firefighters,Teachers, and the release of dangerous predators unless they pass more taxes which only feed the waste and bureaucracy. I will work hard for legislation which mandates that until either those class size goals are met, or the entire Administration budget has been reduced to zero, NOT A SINGLE TEACHER CAN BE LAID OFF OR FIRED (except for cause). In other words, I will expect the Legislature to actually do its job.

Education is my passion … I urge you to see what I wrote in 2010 at http://www.voteralph.org/issues/education.html to see I am not simply writing what I think you want to hear, but am making a solemn promise to you. But as important as Education is, unfortunately it isn’t the only problem facing our great state. Please read my remaininganswers below:

Patch: I’m 52 and own a greeting card shop, and this economy is still killing me. Why should I vote for you?

Denney: Because I am also in your shoes … as a business owner, I know first hand just how difficult it is to survive in the current anti-business environment caused by the Sacramento leadership. Two years ago, my opponent Toni Atkins bragged California has the eighth largest economy in the world. The problem with that statement is not that only a few years before we enjoyed the SIXTH LARGEST economy in the world. We currently have dropped further to ninth or tenth. We are a state which historically has enjoyed among the lowest employment in the nation. For the last four years we have been stalled at the third highest with an acknowledged unemployment rate of almost 11%.

Clearly we’re heading in the wrong direction.

As I’ve often said, it’s not rocket science … it's jobs, the economy, and the budget.

Jobs: We need jobs, good paying jobs with benefits and a future. We need to improve the business environment of California to encourage the employers who have felt forced to abandon our state to return with their hundreds of thousands of jobs. We need to get government off the backs of our small business owners and entrepreneurs who have traditionally served as the backbone of employment. We need these jobs so that your customers can afford to buy your cards and my clients – such as yourself – have need of my services as an Enrolled Agent (tax accountant) and business consultant. Not just to maintain our businesses, but so that we can grow and hire more employees.

Economy: To grow jobs, we need a vibrant and growing economy. For this, we need to have reasonable, understandable, and enforceable regulations which both protect our people and our environment while allowing business to responsibly grow and develop. We also need a reasonable tax base and a government just big enough to provide the services and protection
our society must have to not only survive, but flourish. Instead, we have the most burdensome morass of conflicting and convoluted regulations which strangle our economy and builds roadblocks to development while they also fail to protect anything except the bloated bureaucracy which continues to grow and expand. To feed this insatiable appetite, our leaders in Sacramento have saddled our population with the highest taxes in the nation (when you include our outrageous fines, fees, and permit costs, which are taxes in disguise).

Patch: I’m 45 and have been out of work for 14 months. I’m educated, but employers won’t even give me a look. Why should I vote for you?

Denney: Too many of my friends, neighbors, and clients are in the same boat as you. As I said before, for the first time in our state’s history not only do we not have among the lowest unemployment in the country, we’re stuck with the third highest approaching an acknowledged rate of 11%, with no signs of going down. Yet the answer from the Sacramento Leadership? More of the taxes and regulations which have driven employers from our state. Clearly, their failed policies haven’t worked in the past, and they’re not going to work in the future. Just one example: Sapphire Energy on the surface is the ideal California success story. A start up San Diego company which developed “Green Petroleum,” petroleum made from algae which is potentially cheaper and more environmentally friendly to produce. They raised $300 million to build a demonstration plant in San Diego. Great, right? Except when they approached local and state officials, they were told it would take from three to SEVEN years just to get the permits … Sapphire Energy proudly announced late last year they were beginning construction in Luna, New Mexico. So because the California Bureaucracy had to be fed and no one was willing to cut through the red tape, $300 million in investments, along with the 100’s of new, good paying jobs, WITH BENEFITS, are being showered on a small town 662 miles from where they should be.

We need real solutions to our problems, and we need to start thinking out of the box for those solutions, and I’m just the man to do it. Here’s an idea … I know of no one who doesn’t believe better use of alternative energy is in the best interest of society. Certainly, California is uniquely blessed in opportunities for its use. From solar, wind, and geothermal in the south and central state to tidal and river flow generators (not standard hydro-electric, which requires damning rivers) in the north. But we need that equipment manufactured here. We need those jobs HERE! So let’s make such equipment manufactured (not just assembled) in California exempt from sales tax. How many manufacturing jobs do you think we’ll create here … instead of South Carolina, Texas, Georgia… and Luna New Mexico.

Patch: I’m 18 and getting into the state university system is harder than ever—and more expensive. Why should I vote for you?

Denney: You are the future for all of us. Unfortunately, our future has been held for blackmail for too long by the leadership and the bureaucracy in Sacramento. You are being asked to sacrifice your future advantages by either foregoing a higher education, or to assume a crippling debt which cannot be repaid in a reasonable fashion yet cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. We are told this is because we, the taxpayers of California, will not pay ever more taxes. What we are not told is exactly why college and university fees and tuitions have consistently gone up by from two to five times the rate of inflation almost every year for more than a generation. We are not told why the University of California system – according to its own website – maintains an unsustainable ratio of 4 employees to every 5 students, which doesn’t even include independent contractors and consultants. Nor are we told why when the regent of San Diego State recently retired, her replacement was hired at nearly $600,000 per year, including benefits, expense accounts, and other perks – a very substantial increase over the former regent's compensation AND the new regent's prior package. Add to this that neither the UC or CSU systems have been audited since anyone can remember, and its clear there is a serious problem, and we need answers. I promise you that should you choose to hire me as your next Assemblyman, I will get those answers. As I’ve said before, I’m a bureaucrat’s worst nightmare … I’m a tax accountant, I know how to read a budget and I won’t stop until I know where our dollars are being misspent, wasted, and outright stolen.

Your question actually has two parts, and the second has to do with accessibility. It is true that more and more lawful California students are finding it harder to even get into a state college or university. Partly, because of the artificial budget shortfalls, although I fail to see how a university system which boasts 4 employees for every 5 students can’t seem to find enough qualified teachers, especially when the number of students graduating from California high schools is decreasing. But the other problem is the California Dream Act. The CDA mandates that illegal residents in our state should not only receive a tuition free college education, bu tthat they should be given PRIORITY to those students unlucky enough to actually be born inthe United States or have immigrated legally.

Please, don’t get me wrong … I can understand the argument that those children brought to our country by their parents years ago, who have gone through our system from first, second, or third grade through graduation, should not now be shut out. But to be given PRIORITY over lawful students? Even worst, the CDA doesn’t even establish a minimum residency period to receive such largess. Someone could cross over into our state illegally and in very short order be given a fully paid for university education with no debt to repay.

As I said in the first question, my position on education is very simple. Every lawful student of our great state should be able to achieve the highest level of education he or she has the ability and the desire to achieve, and without being saddled with a crippling debt.

Patch: I’m 39 and worried about our country’s moral fabric, since it is moving toward gay marriage and marijuana legalization. My church is my main source of strength. Why should I vote for you?

Denney: It would be too easy to simply point out my opponent, Toni Atkins, legally married her wife during the brief period same gender marriages were legal, and allow you to reach your own conclusion. I could also simply say I am a man of deep religious convictions and faith. Both are true statements … and both would be a lie if I didn’t honestly and fully answer your question.

First and foremost, I am a political conservative, and I think government should get out of the marriage business entirely. Civil marriage in this country exists only to develop revenue and to perform a level of social engineering by offering some small encouragement for two people to accept responsibility for each other, to encourage them to commit to each other and to provide for their mutual future. This can be done just as efficiently and less divisively through Universal Civil Union.

Marriage itself, true marriage … traditional marriage … is a religious institution which except in rare cases should be determined according to the tenets of one’s own faith without government interference. Only when there is potential harm or inequalities, such as child marriages, polygamy, or bestiality, or any element of force or fraud, should government interfere. We enjoy the strongest freedom of worship of any nation in the history of the world, and I will defend that freedom to my dying breath. Most faiths will choose to deny their gay members the right to marriage, which I support their right to do so. A few but growing number of faiths will allow two men or two women to marry, I also support their freedom of worship in doing so.

And until we adopt universal civil unions, if two men or two women agree to commit to a loving relationship, and through that relationship accept the responsibility of caring for each other through illness and providing security for their twilight years, then I support Civil Marriage Equality.

Let me give just one example of why: As I’ve said, I’m a tax accountant. A number of years ago, my then tax partner had a lesbian couple as clients for many years. ‘Alice’ and ‘Mary’ had been together for longer than either cared to admit. ‘Alice’ was a retired Marine officer –a Colonel if memory serves, who had served her country faithfully and gallantly her entire adult life, and enjoyed complete retirement health benefits. ‘Mary’ was your basic working housewife who only had social security. Three guesses which developed breast cancer.
Naturally, since Mary wasn’t covered under her partner’s health coverage, they withdrew their joint savings and cashed out their available retirement funds to pay Mary’s medical bills. My tax partner changed his opinion when he was forced to tell them not only could Alice NOT deduct her partner’s medical bills, but all of the money they withdrew from their annuities and retirement accounts were now taxable. Since Alice and Mary’s relationshipwas not recognized under the Federal Tax Code, not only were their entire savings wiped out, but they now had a huge tax bill they would never be able to pay. This is simply unfair by any definition, and I could give literally hundreds of such examples. So yes, I do support Civil Marriage Equality until such time as we adopt Universal Civil Unions.

Oh, and for the record, I should mention that I too am an openly gay conservative, but I honestly believe I would feel the same even if I were straight. What’s wrong is wrong. Also for the record, I see NO benefit from either legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, but we do have more serious problems to deal with. I hope I at least get points for being honest.

Patch: I’m 35 and see nothing happening in Sacramento to solve my problems. All I see are the extreme wings of both parties blaming each other and getting nothing done. Why should I vote for you?

Denney: Because I know we can only solve the great problems facing our state by reaching across the aisle to find real solutions. I am not answerable to either political party, but only to the voters of the 78th Assembly District, and will therefore be free to work with anyone willing to work for those solutions. If you choose to hire me as your next Assemblyman, I will work hard to build a working coalition from all groups to solve those problems. Because I know I can’t do it alone.

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