Paula Villescaz, health care advocate and school board member, State Assembly District 6 race

Paula Villescaz was one of the first candidates to launch her campaign in the now crowded field of people vying to represent Sacramento in the State Assembly. The current San Juan Unified School Board Member, former Assistant Secretary for the California Department of Health and Human Services and now, new mom, told KCRA 3 her variety of experiences propelled her to launch her bid. If Villescaz’s name sounds familiar, that’s because she was most recently on the ballot in the race to represent parts of Sacramento County in the State Senate. She lost the race to now State Sen. Roger Niello by five points. Villescaz now hopes to fill the seat that will be left vacant by State Assm. Kevin McCarty, who has announced he’s running for mayor of Sacramento. Sacramento County does not track campaign launches, and will not have a list of candidates until the nomination period opens in November. KCRA 3 is tracking at least seven campaigns that have launched for the seat, all of which are Democratic.The field includes deputy attorney general Maggy Krell, California Democratic Party official Sean Frame, civil rights lobbyist Carlos Marquez, SMUD board member Rosanna Herber, transgender rights advocate Evan Minton, and Google employee and former Nancy Pelosi aide Lex Lazar. The following is a conversation with Villescaz. It has been edited for clarity and space. Q: What makes you the best to represent Sacramento? Villescaz: First and foremost, I am a proud 20-year resident of Sacramento County. I was raised by this community. I am from this community, and I have so much respect and love for Sacramento and Sacramento County. My record as a public servant is informed by my life experience growing up here in Sacramento County, by my policy, extensive policy experience both as a school board member and also as an assistant secretary for the California Department of Health and Human Services, both roles that I played during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Now, with my added perspective as a new, working mom, and trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage and find childcare and pay my student loans. These things make me the strongest and most well-rounded candidate to face the challenges so many Sacramentans are facing. I understand those and am ready to lead as soon as I walk through the doors of the legislature.Q: What is your experience with the Legislature? Villescaz: It’s been a privilege to spend a lot of time in and around the Legislature as staff and outside of the Legislature advancing priorities, expanding health care access in particular. Certainly, also around expanding and improving our education system, and a lot of what has driven that work for me is my personal experience growing up.I’m a first-generation high school and college graduate, proudly went to Mira Loma high school — go Matadors — being raised by a single mom wasn’t easy. And we struggled to make ends meet frequently. And I was proud because of the strong education that I had received, because of the teachers that believed in me that I was able to go off the UC Berkeley — where I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given a 10% chance of living and all of a sudden had to fight, literally, for my survival and access to care that I needed, for the medication that I needed. And that experience is what turned me into a health care policy advocate, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Because I know what it means to fight, and what it means to have access to lifesaving health care. It was my junior year of college, and that was the same spring the Affordable Care Act was being debated and when I was first diagnosed. It was a very scary and terrifying time in my life, especially once you hear the words metastatic cancer. Things moved from localized tumors to throughout my lungs, etc., and knowing there were things such as preexisting health conditions that I would run up against to get care, things like lifetime benefit caps that were going to limit the care that I received. Ultimately the cost of my care was $1 million and my health insurance plan at the time capped out at $400,000. So immediately, as an undergraduate student being saddled with medical debt in addition to just trying to figure out how to survive and make rent in Berkeley, the only reason why I had health insurance was because I was a student at UC Berkeley, so that meant I had to stay enrolled. So while fighting this debilitating diagnosis, I had to stay enrolled in school in order to keep my health coverage in order to stay housed in the apartment. So, all of it was a very challenging time for sure, but it helped inform the work I do now in making sure that everyone has access to high-quality healthcare, regardless of their income, of where they’re from, or what their medical history is. And, that’s why that’s so important to me. Q: Clearly, health care is your arena. What other priorities will you try to discuss with voters on this campaign trail? Villescaz: Housing and homelessness is certainly a key issue at the top of minds of all Sacramentans — if not all Californians, and on that issue, we absolutely have to do more on the prevention side of housing and homelessness. The fastest-growing population of unhoused neighbors are seniors. That is completely unacceptable. So, investing in programs that truly support the individuals who are trying to figure out if they can afford their prescription drugs or the rent. Or the mom who is trying to afford the groceries or the rent.There’s so much more we can do to make sure our neighbors with a roof over their head keep it. We absolutely have to build more housing at all levels to address the affordability crisis and the inventory challenges we have. We need more housing. And then on the services side, we absolutely have to invest more in mental and behavioral health services in transitional support housing and job training services to meet the needs of unhoused neighbors to help get them off the street. This is an issue personal to me having grown up with a single mom. We were housing insecure. We faced evictions, and I know how hard it is once you have that kind of record to find housing and not necessarily know what your next step is going to be, and that’s why this topic in particular is something I can tackle immediately to get real results. Q: You have participated in Point-in-Time counts. What have been your takeaways from that? Villescaz: I have, for a number of years, participated in the annual Point-in-Time count, and that is the activity of going out into our community to count and survey our unhoused neighbors. The most eye-opening piece of that and those conversations is how many of our homeless neighbors are veterans and foster youth. They are people who were once served by our systems or who once served our country, and those systems forgot them and so tackling those issues is absolutely key because it affects all of our neighbors across the board. Q: Is there anything when you look at the legislature right now that you think, ‘OK I’d like to do this differently?’Villescaz: I think on the issue of housing and homelessness in particular, truly investing in the programs that can make a real difference. So many families are one paycheck away from an emergency. And so oftentimes, I know there is a lot of fantastic work being done, right, there is a bill to establish a JPA led by my friend Assemblyman McCarty. However, there’s always more to be done and for me, it’s that direct assistance. There’s so much we can do to keep folks in a good, positive, housing situation, and when I look at our challenges around housing and homelessness, it’s important to not perpetuate the problem.Q: This is not your first-time seeking office. This would be your first office if elected, but when you recently ran for State Senate, what were some of the takeaways from losing that race that you are now challenging into this one? Villescaz: It was certainly a challenge. Proud to also be a resident of Senate District 6. If anything, I realized how much I enjoyed talking to my neighbors and really listening to the key issues that they face, issues around making sure our public schools are strong and that our children are safe, issues around affordability, and making sure that everyone can afford groceries and addressing the high cost of living, issues around public safety, listening to voters and how much I enjoyed learning about people’s experiences. But more importantly, knowing I can make a direct impact because my lived experience was the same is my big takeaway and why I’m excited to be back at it. Q: There have been some clashes between the state and some local school districts over transgender youth and what’s taught in history books. With your experience as a school board member, what role do you think the Legislature plays in all of this? Villescaz: It has not been easy to be a school board member during these times. It has been a significant challenge. I did not expect to be tackling COVID. I didn’t expect to be at the center of our culture wars. I didn’t expect to be at the center of some of our worldwide challenges such as the crisis in Afghanistan or the crisis in Ukraine. So, it’s definitely a challenging role to be in but one that I have absolutely valued being in a place of maintaining stability and making sure we’re serving our community and our students. And I do believe each individual and community has leaders that are best suited for determining that path.There is a role for the Legislature to play, passing things around, important legislation like ethnic studies and I think also, just ensuring the basics of safety and decorum of meetings, something that has come to the forefront of school boards and school jurisdictions. It certainly has been a challenging time but I think localism is absolutely important and imperative, particularly on something as important as our school boards and school districts. That’s the cornerstone of our democracy, and people who are closest to the ground, to the issues, they know the leadership. If anything, we need to make sure we have good, strong, school board leaders to step up to the plate. It’s a challenging job, but an important, critical office. Q: The school board you represent right now has the largest population of Afghani students. You were part of the response to the fall of Kabul when the United States military pulled out of the country abruptly. What was that like? Villescaz: That was another unexpected challenge that required bold leadership to rise to the occasion. We started to sort of come out of the worst parts of the pandemic, really focusing on what recovery and support for our students look like. Then we had the fall of Kabul happen somewhat unexpectedly. That was two weeks before the school year started in 2021. We had a lot of students and staff who found themselves in the middle of an international crisis. They’re our community members. From day one I, partnering with our superintendent, with so many leaders, said they’re our community members, and we’re going to bring them home. And that’s what we did. It took about six months. It took so extraordinary actions and leadership on behalf of so many in and outside of our community, but at the end of the day, everyone who wanted to come home, all of our students who wanted to come home, were successfully able to walk the halls of our schools. It’s one of the more pivotal moments of my public service career of tackling the seemingly impossible and making it possible. Q: What is your stance on the public safety climate right now in California? Villescaz: It’s certainly a big challenge, even local businesses like Bacon and Butter that now have their third break-in. I know there are so many in our community who feel victimized and it’s so important that the criminals are paying the price for the actions they’re committing and that our community feels supported. We have to absolutely fund our public safety and law enforcement who do an absolutely critical and important job that they do every single day. That’s one piece of the puzzle. We have to invest in our schools and in our communities, but we also have to tackle our gun crisis. We have to get illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals, and we have to make sure criminals face penalties for the crimes they commit. Q: Right now in the Legislature, there is an ongoing debate about whether penalties should be enhanced for certain crimes including child trafficking and dealing fentanyl, for example. Where do you stand on sentencing enhancements? Villescaz: I believe in criminal justice reform and I believe that Latinos and Black and brown communities are disproportionately impacted by arbitrary sentencing enhancements. I believe that they should be taken on a case-by-case basis, but of course that requires a full funded criminal justice system to be sure they’re offered the due process necessary. Yes, there are some issues around criminal justice reform that we should be looking at, but at the same time, I also believe that I should be able to walk down K Street with my baby girl and feel safe. We all deserve to recreate and work and live in a safe environment.| National News Below |’Barbenheimer’ brings moviegoers to theaters in record numbersRecall Alert: Some Trader Joe’s cookies may contain rocks

Paula Villescaz was one of the first candidates to launch her campaign in the now crowded field of people vying to represent Sacramento in the State Assembly.

The current San Juan Unified School Board Member, former Assistant Secretary for the California Department of Health and Human Services and now, new mom, told KCRA 3 her variety of experiences propelled her to launch her bid.

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If Villescaz’s name sounds familiar, that’s because she was most recently on the ballot in the race to represent parts of Sacramento County in the State Senate. She lost the race to now State Sen. Roger Niello by five points.

Villescaz now hopes to fill the seat that will be left vacant by State Assm. Kevin McCarty, who has announced he’s running for mayor of Sacramento.

Sacramento County does not track campaign launches, and will not have a list of candidates until the nomination period opens in November. KCRA 3 is tracking at least seven campaigns that have launched for the seat, all of which are Democratic.

The field includes deputy attorney general Maggy Krell, California Democratic Party official Sean Frame, civil rights lobbyist Carlos Marquez, SMUD board member Rosanna Herber, transgender rights advocate Evan Minton, and Google employee and former Nancy Pelosi aide Lex Lazar.

The following is a conversation with Villescaz. It has been edited for clarity and space.

Q: What makes you the best to represent Sacramento?

Villescaz: First and foremost, I am a proud 20-year resident of Sacramento County. I was raised by this community. I am from this community, and I have so much respect and love for Sacramento and Sacramento County. My record as a public servant is informed by my life experience growing up here in Sacramento County, by my policy, extensive policy experience both as a school board member and also as an assistant secretary for the California Department of Health and Human Services, both roles that I played during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Now, with my added perspective as a new, working mom, and trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage and find childcare and pay my student loans. These things make me the strongest and most well-rounded candidate to face the challenges so many Sacramentans are facing. I understand those and am ready to lead as soon as I walk through the doors of the legislature.

Q: What is your experience with the Legislature?

Villescaz: It’s been a privilege to spend a lot of time in and around the Legislature as staff and outside of the Legislature advancing priorities, expanding health care access in particular. Certainly, also around expanding and improving our education system, and a lot of what has driven that work for me is my personal experience growing up.

I’m a first-generation high school and college graduate, proudly went to Mira Loma high school — go Matadors — being raised by a single mom wasn’t easy. And we struggled to make ends meet frequently. And I was proud because of the strong education that I had received, because of the teachers that believed in me that I was able to go off the UC Berkeley — where I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given a 10% chance of living and all of a sudden had to fight, literally, for my survival and access to care that I needed, for the medication that I needed. And that experience is what turned me into a health care policy advocate, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Because I know what it means to fight, and what it means to have access to lifesaving health care.

It was my junior year of college, and that was the same spring the Affordable Care Act was being debated and when I was first diagnosed. It was a very scary and terrifying time in my life, especially once you hear the words metastatic cancer. Things moved from localized tumors to throughout my lungs, etc., and knowing there were things such as preexisting health conditions that I would run up against to get care, things like lifetime benefit caps that were going to limit the care that I received. Ultimately the cost of my care was $1 million and my health insurance plan at the time capped out at $400,000. So immediately, as an undergraduate student being saddled with medical debt in addition to just trying to figure out how to survive and make rent in Berkeley, the only reason why I had health insurance was because I was a student at UC Berkeley, so that meant I had to stay enrolled.

So while fighting this debilitating diagnosis, I had to stay enrolled in school in order to keep my health coverage in order to stay housed in the apartment. So, all of it was a very challenging time for sure, but it helped inform the work I do now in making sure that everyone has access to high-quality healthcare, regardless of their income, of where they’re from, or what their medical history is. And, that’s why that’s so important to me.

Q: Clearly, health care is your arena. What other priorities will you try to discuss with voters on this campaign trail?

Villescaz: Housing and homelessness is certainly a key issue at the top of minds of all Sacramentans — if not all Californians, and on that issue, we absolutely have to do more on the prevention side of housing and homelessness. The fastest-growing population of unhoused neighbors are seniors. That is completely unacceptable. So, investing in programs that truly support the individuals who are trying to figure out if they can afford their prescription drugs or the rent. Or the mom who is trying to afford the groceries or the rent.

There’s so much more we can do to make sure our neighbors with a roof over their head keep it. We absolutely have to build more housing at all levels to address the affordability crisis and the inventory challenges we have. We need more housing. And then on the services side, we absolutely have to invest more in mental and behavioral health services in transitional support housing and job training services to meet the needs of unhoused neighbors to help get them off the street.

This is an issue personal to me having grown up with a single mom. We were housing insecure. We faced evictions, and I know how hard it is once you have that kind of record to find housing and not necessarily know what your next step is going to be, and that’s why this topic in particular is something I can tackle immediately to get real results.

Q: You have participated in Point-in-Time counts. What have been your takeaways from that?

Villescaz: I have, for a number of years, participated in the annual Point-in-Time count, and that is the activity of going out into our community to count and survey our unhoused neighbors. The most eye-opening piece of that and those conversations is how many of our homeless neighbors are veterans and foster youth. They are people who were once served by our systems or who once served our country, and those systems forgot them and so tackling those issues is absolutely key because it affects all of our neighbors across the board.

Q: Is there anything when you look at the legislature right now that you think, ‘OK I’d like to do this differently?’

Villescaz: I think on the issue of housing and homelessness in particular, truly investing in the programs that can make a real difference. So many families are one paycheck away from an emergency. And so oftentimes, I know there is a lot of fantastic work being done, right, there is a bill to establish a JPA led by my friend Assemblyman McCarty. However, there’s always more to be done and for me, it’s that direct assistance. There’s so much we can do to keep folks in a good, positive, housing situation, and when I look at our challenges around housing and homelessness, it’s important to not perpetuate the problem.

Q: This is not your first-time seeking office. This would be your first office if elected, but when you recently ran for State Senate, what were some of the takeaways from losing that race that you are now challenging into this one?

Villescaz: It was certainly a challenge. Proud to also be a resident of Senate District 6. If anything, I realized how much I enjoyed talking to my neighbors and really listening to the key issues that they face, issues around making sure our public schools are strong and that our children are safe, issues around affordability, and making sure that everyone can afford groceries and addressing the high cost of living, issues around public safety, listening to voters and how much I enjoyed learning about people’s experiences.

But more importantly, knowing I can make a direct impact because my lived experience was the same is my big takeaway and why I’m excited to be back at it.

Q: There have been some clashes between the state and some local school districts over transgender youth and what’s taught in history books. With your experience as a school board member, what role do you think the Legislature plays in all of this?

Villescaz: It has not been easy to be a school board member during these times. It has been a significant challenge. I did not expect to be tackling COVID. I didn’t expect to be at the center of our culture wars. I didn’t expect to be at the center of some of our worldwide challenges such as the crisis in Afghanistan or the crisis in Ukraine. So, it’s definitely a challenging role to be in but one that I have absolutely valued being in a place of maintaining stability and making sure we’re serving our community and our students. And I do believe each individual and community has leaders that are best suited for determining that path.

There is a role for the Legislature to play, passing things around, important legislation like ethnic studies and I think also, just ensuring the basics of safety and decorum of meetings, something that has come to the forefront of school boards and school jurisdictions. It certainly has been a challenging time but I think localism is absolutely important and imperative, particularly on something as important as our school boards and school districts. That’s the cornerstone of our democracy, and people who are closest to the ground, to the issues, they know the leadership. If anything, we need to make sure we have good, strong, school board leaders to step up to the plate. It’s a challenging job, but an important, critical office.

Q: The school board you represent right now has the largest population of Afghani students. You were part of the response to the fall of Kabul when the United States military pulled out of the country abruptly. What was that like?

Villescaz: That was another unexpected challenge that required bold leadership to rise to the occasion. We started to sort of come out of the worst parts of the pandemic, really focusing on what recovery and support for our students look like. Then we had the fall of Kabul happen somewhat unexpectedly.

That was two weeks before the school year started in 2021. We had a lot of students and staff who found themselves in the middle of an international crisis. They’re our community members. From day one I, partnering with our superintendent, with so many leaders, said they’re our community members, and we’re going to bring them home. And that’s what we did. It took about six months. It took so extraordinary actions and leadership on behalf of so many in and outside of our community, but at the end of the day, everyone who wanted to come home, all of our students who wanted to come home, were successfully able to walk the halls of our schools.

It’s one of the more pivotal moments of my public service career of tackling the seemingly impossible and making it possible.

Q: What is your stance on the public safety climate right now in California?

Villescaz: It’s certainly a big challenge, even local businesses like Bacon and Butter that now have their third break-in. I know there are so many in our community who feel victimized and it’s so important that the criminals are paying the price for the actions they’re committing and that our community feels supported. We have to absolutely fund our public safety and law enforcement who do an absolutely critical and important job that they do every single day. That’s one piece of the puzzle. We have to invest in our schools and in our communities, but we also have to tackle our gun crisis. We have to get illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals, and we have to make sure criminals face penalties for the crimes they commit.

Q: Right now in the Legislature, there is an ongoing debate about whether penalties should be enhanced for certain crimes including child trafficking and dealing fentanyl, for example. Where do you stand on sentencing enhancements?

Villescaz: I believe in criminal justice reform and I believe that Latinos and Black and brown communities are disproportionately impacted by arbitrary sentencing enhancements. I believe that they should be taken on a case-by-case basis, but of course that requires a full funded criminal justice system to be sure they’re offered the due process necessary.

Yes, there are some issues around criminal justice reform that we should be looking at, but at the same time, I also believe that I should be able to walk down K Street with my baby girl and feel safe. We all deserve to recreate and work and live in a safe environment.

| National News Below |

‘Barbenheimer’ brings moviegoers to theaters in record numbers

Recall Alert: Some Trader Joe’s cookies may contain rocks

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