Meet Catharine Baker, Bay Area's Only Republican Assembly Member

Catharine Baker at campaign office in San Ramon. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

The Bay Area politically is deep, deep blue, but now it has a patch of red on its east side. That’s because Republican Catharine Baker won the open seat last week in Assembly District 16, covering Livermore, Pleasanton, Walnut Creek, Orinda and other cities. Baker beat Democrat Tim Sbranti, taking one of the 27 Assembly seats the GOP won statewide and denying Democrats the supermajority they enjoyed last term.

Assemblywoman-elect Baker talked to KQED's Cy Musiker Wednesday about her surprise win and some of the issues on which she ran. Some edited excerpts below, followed by the extended audio interview.

On how she defines herself as a Republican, considering she is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage

Baker: I’m a Catharine Baker Republican, for sure. I certainly do think I match my district, and that’s a district that’s fiscally conservative and prudent. Looking for government that’s not out of bounds in terms of size and growth, but is maybe a little more restrained, and spending money wisely and not incurring a lot of debt. But leaving individual decisions as to how one conducts their life up to the individual.

On her support of the Vergara decision, in which a Superior Court judge ruled teacher tenure discriminates against poor families

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Baker I think there’s a couple of areas where the Vergara decision and just our education system in general are looking for reform and action from the Legislature. Certainly tenure reform, maybe the length of time when a teacher can attain permanent job status. And certainly reforming ways in which teachers will get rigorous and useful evaluations even after receiving tenure. And also looking at the prime role seniority plays above performance or how well a teacher is contributing to a student's excellent ability to learn.

On whether she'll introduce legislation banning BART employees from striking

The issue of the BART strike was critical in my district, which has five BART stations. It's a very high-priority issue. That is an issue I intend to work very intensely on. And to find those on the other side of the aisle who come from communities where transit is not allowed to strike, and to allow us in the Bay Area to have the same protection. So that, you’ll absolutely see legislation on.

On public employee unions pushing back

You start with an open door. I want to listen fairly to all sides of the argument and all perspectives. I think teachers unions and other public employee unions should have a place at the table. I think the idea that potentially they would be the only ones running the show is what really didn’t appeal to voters in my district. You would be surprised to find how many teachers would come up to me and say, 'I would like to see these changes, I am proud to support you because it’s time.'

Listen to the entire interview here:

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