Steve Glazer is starting to settle into his new role in the State Senate after whirlwind special elections and a quick turnaround into an abbreviated term just over four months ago.
"The work has been a lot more fun than I thought, given the bitterness of the campaign," the San Ramon Valley's new state senator said Friday at his Walnut Creek district office. "I've really enjoyed immersing myself in the issues of the legislature and trying to connect that to what's the right balance for my district, including the Tri-Valley."
The 58-year-old Orinda Democrat reflected on his transition into office and his priorities going forward during a 45-minute interview in the second-floor Treat Boulevard office space inherited from his predecessor, Mark DeSaulnier.
DeSaulnier's resignation following his election to Congress in November set the stage for special elections earlier this year to fill his unexpired State Senate term.
En route to winning that 7th Senatorial District seat, Glazer would take down two seasoned Democrat state legislators -- termed-out Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan in March's special primary election and sitting Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in the special runoff election May 19.
It marked a political turnaround for Glazer, an 11-year Orinda City Council member who less than a year earlier finished third in the primary election for State Assembly -- a post eventually won by Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon), now a political ally of Glazer's.
The married father of two adult daughters and former strategic and communications consultant was sworn in to the State Senate on May 28, representing a district that includes Pleasanton, Livermore and Sunol at the south end, Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg and Concord to the north, Orinda, Lafayette and Walnut Creek to the west, and the San Ramon Valley.
Glazer, who sits on the Governmental Organization, Insurance and Public Safety committees, describes himself as "a centrist who is socially progressive and fiscally conservative," while promoting bipartisan decision-making and local control.
When debating proposed legislation with direct impact on his district, Glazer said he and his staff work to seek input from local leaders.
"We've spent a lot of time calling our local cities, our school boards and other leaders in the area to see how they felt about those proposals," he added. "Trying to bring the district, those communities right here, and connect them to the lawmaking process has been an enjoyable, fulfilling part of the job."
Glazer said he's also continuing to familiarize himself with the Tri-Valley and connect with the community.
"The concerns of the Tri-Valley are very similar to other areas of the district. They range from the preservation of our open spaces to advancement in water management to support for our schools. All of those qualities I saw, they're dominant in the Tri-Valley area, along with a dash of fiscal responsibility," he said, adding:
"All of those things are part of who I am."
Breaking down partisanship
"There is, on a number of occasions, a very poisonous partisan atmosphere where one party is just fighting against the other party rather than trying to solve problems," Glazer said. "An important focus for me, in my election to the Senate, is to find ways to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans and promote bipartisan decision-making."
In his first months in office, Glazer said he's found himself agreeing with fellow Democrats on some bills, but siding with Republican colleagues on others.
"Certainly on public safety matters, I'm more conservative. On fiscal issues, I'm more conservative. On social issues, I'm very progressive. So you can't just put a broad label on it; you'd have to look with specificity (at the votes)," Glazer said, also acknowledging that his voting record indicates he's "the most conservative Democrat in the Senate."
On a regional level, Glazer said he thinks he is part of a "refreshing change" of less-partisan leadership, along with other Tri-Valley representatives: Baker in the State Assembly and Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin).
"We want to set a good example outside of our area that this is a new direction that can yield very positive results for the benefit of everybody," the Orinda Democrat said.
Glazer described the "partnership" he shares with Baker as being particularly positive.
"Both she and our staffs are working together very, very well. I carried a bill on the Senate for her. She's been a co-author of one of my bills," he said. "And we are always looking for ways to work together to advance our common interests for the residents of the Tri-Valley area."
"I'd like to keep the state out of the local school board's business as much as possible," Glazer said.
"And part of that is to reverse a state limitation on reserves that school boards can have for economic uncertainty," he added, referring to his Senate Bill 799, which he also points at as an example of his commitment to bipartisan legislation.
The proposed legislation would allow local school districts to save up to 17% of their budgets as "unassigned" expenditures, raising the reserve cap from its current level of roughly 6% of a district's total budget -- which the state mandated last year.
"This bill enjoys many Democratic co-authors. The Republicans were opposed to that limitation, so the challenge was to get fellow Democrats to acknowledge the mistake and to try to correct it," Glazer noted.
Introduced in August, SB 799 has been referred to the Assembly Rules Committee for assignment.
Glazer said he's also focused on finding ways to improve public higher education in California, including continued support for community colleges and making it easier for those students to then transfer to University of California or California State University campuses to complete their bachelor's degrees.
"There is a lot more resources going to the good work of the community colleges, which allows the fees to remain low and the class offerings to go up. And those are both very good developments," he said.
But, he added, community college students "should know when they take a class that it's transferable or not right up front, and that hasn't been the case in the past."
A former member of the CSU Board of Trustees and a San Diego State alumnus, Glazer said he would also strive to help more students complete baccalaureate degrees in a timely manner.
"I'm going to be working with my colleagues in the legislature and in the system to find ways to break down those bottlenecks and to give kids the ability to get through in four years, which would save hundreds of millions of dollars to those families that are stuck trying to finish in a fifth year or even a sixth year," he said.
"I'd like to have more resources directed toward highway and transit improvements in our area, so that remains a focus for my engagement on those issues," said Glazer, whose district features several high-profile congested freeways and packed BART facilities.
District 7 includes interstates 580 and 680 (with sections through the Tri-Valley set to receive new express toll lanes), Highway 24 through the Lamorinda communities and the stretch of Highway 4 being widened between Pittsburg and Brentwood.
Of the ongoing and upcoming express lane projects around the San Ramon Valley, Glazer said, "I'm hopeful that those new transportation management plans will help with congestion."
He added that he'd like to see continued improvements made at key freeway interchanges prone to congestion: I-580 and I-680 in the Tri-Valley, I-680 and Highway 24 in Walnut Creek and I-680 and Highway 4 in Martinez.
Enhancing public transit is another focus.
"I hear a lot of anger about BART, both in the deteriorating infrastructure, increases in fares and parking rates, and their inability to manage their internal costs given the last labor contract," said Glazer, whose strong stance against BART strikes helped put him on the regional political map during the 2014 Assembly race.
He said he shares his thoughts on those constituent concerns when meeting with BART officials -- such as a recent sit-down about extending BART into Livermore -- but he acknowledges his role is "a little more of a bully pulpit than it is my ability to propose a legislative solution."
"I want to express my praise to all of the residents and businesses in the Tri-Valley because their water conservation efforts are leading the state," Glazer said. "They have felt the effects of the drought sooner than anyone else, and they've really shown great leadership in finding ways to conserve substantially."
He also commended the Zone 7 Water Agency, which sells wholesale potable water to the Dublin San Ramon Services District and other Tri-Valley water providers, for its "careful stewardship" in drought management.
"I think that Zone 7 has done a very good job in planning carefully for the drought conditions that we're experiencing, and they seem have a good handle on what's required going forward to continue to manage within these difficult drought circumstances," he added.
On the long-term water front, Glazer said he wants the state to focus on increasing its water storage capacity and promoting conservation wherever possible in residential, business and agricultural usage.
In terms of specific projects, he added, "We just passed a $7.5 billion water bond that had a lot of elements to it, and I think that's what we'd like to see implemented as quickly as possible."
Passed by state voters as Proposition 1 last November, the bond measure includes $2.7 billion for water storage, dam construction and reservoir projects, plus additional funds for a range of other efforts, including watershed protection, water quality improvements, regional integrated management plans, addressing groundwater contamination, and water recycling and treatment.
A little climate cooperation could also help California weather the storm in the interim, Glazer noted.
"I'm cautiously optimistic about the El Niño weather condition that is improving our prospects for a better and wetter winter," he said. "But it doesn't change our need to plan for more difficult times ahead."
Since Glazer was elected to fill an expiring term, his seat is due for regular election next year, with a primary in June and general election set for the following November -- meaning the campaign season will pick up again less than a year after Glazer's hard-fought special election win.
"One of the things that has made the last few months really enjoyable is that it's focused on governing and setting good policy. And the taint of politics and campaigning has moved into the background," Glazer said.
"I'm trying to enjoy the policy-making and the connecting that comes in this interim period with the people in the district," he added, pointing to recent Tri-Valley activities, including hosting district days, visiting facilities like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and filming an appearance on TV30's "Mayors Report" in August with Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne.
Still, Glazer said he's aware of the election on the horizon and affirmed that he will seek a full, four-year term next year.
The 2016 race could be a different beast for Glazer as he aims to recapture one of 40 coveted spots in the state's upper legislative house.
With incumbency on his side, it's unclear what Republican opposition he'll face -- compared to the special primary in March, when the only Republican on the ballot withdrew her candidacy and backed Glazer -- or whether he'll see challengers from within his party.
Plus, next year's cycle coincides with a presidential election, when voter turnout is typically higher -- voter participation in Glazer's special runoff win was 26.07%.
But the first-term state senator said he's not looking ahead at another campaign season just yet.
"I know next year that there will be an election, and I'm not trying to rush there," Glazer said. "The good news is that filing doesn't open until February of next year," he added with a smile.