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February 20, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, February 20, 2004

From Assembly to Senate -- Manny Diaz looks to make the jump From Assembly to Senate -- Manny Diaz looks to make the jump (February 20, 2004)

By Grace Rauh

A single mother raised Manny Diaz and his four siblings in a studio apartment in San Francisco's Mission District.

The Diaz kids had no health insurance growing up. They slept in one room and the current state Assembly member's first job was delivering newspapers at age nine. Education was his path out of poverty.

Whether he knew it or not at the time, Diaz's early childhood years laid the groundwork for his political career and campaign priorities today.

"I've never forgotten my roots," Diaz said.

During his tenure as a San Jose City Council member from 1995 to 2000, Diaz worked to create the Children's Health Insurance Program for Santa Clara County kids, which has enrolled more than 50,000 children. And he continued his health insurance advocacy as a state Assembly member, authoring a law that provides incentives to California counties who copy the Health Insurance Program.

Educational opportunities rank high on Diaz's priority list. He is concerned by the state of California's education system. "Many of our schools are in disarray," he said.

Diaz wants to protect school funding and allow local districts to have more flexibility when it comes to spending state dollars. He also wants to create "decent" housing for families. In the Assembly, Diaz has authored legislation that puts state dollars towards low-income rental housing and affordable programs for first-time homebuyers.

Diaz, whose mother was born in Mexico, worked as an engineer in the Bay Area for 17 years before entering politics. He served on the San Jose Planning Commission from 1986 to 1993 and subsequently made a successful run for the San Jose City Council. He is currently in his second Assembly term representing the 23rd Assembly District.

Diaz, an upbeat, dimpled go-getter, lives in downtown San Jose with his wife Sandra, who works in Crime Prevention at the San Jose Police Department. He has three children.

Diaz is quick to talk about Sandra's cash-strapped department to show he is tuned in the severity of local level budget cuts. Half of the people in Sandra's group have been told they may not have a job next year, according to Diaz. And "it's a model program," he said.

Diaz is a "reluctant supporter" of Proposition 57 -- the governor's $15 billion bond measure. And if it doesn't pass? Diaz shakes his head in disbelief.

"It scares me to think what we would have to face," he said.

In the event that revenues would need to be raised fast, Diaz would propose a tax hike -- possibly temporary -- for the wealthiest Californians. He would also support taxing alcohol and tobacco products, he said.

Diaz would ask existing programs to hold off on new projects that require state funds, he said. The California State University system is looking to revamp their information technology system, according to Diaz. If this plan is put on hold, the state would save $300 million, he said. He blames ongoing operating costs and government inefficiency for tying up vital state dollars.

Diaz wants the Vehicle License Fee to return on a sliding scale so that people who buy a Hummer pay more than those with smaller, less expensive cars, he said.

"If somebody is doing really, really well, they should be able to share a little of that," Diaz said.

Although Diaz represents part of Silicon Valley at the state level, he is a newcomer to Mountain View voters, who are more familiar with his opponent Elaine Alquist. Alquist represented Mountain View in state Assembly District 22 for six years, before being termed out in 2002.

Nonetheless, Diaz has secured current state Assembly member and former Mountain View Mayor Sally Lieber's endorsement in the race. Lieber said it was a difficult decision for her to make because "you have two people -- both of whom you know and like -- running against each other," she said.

"He is very focused on our need to bring jobs into Silicon Valley, but he also has a good focus on the environment. And that is something I really value," Lieber said.

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