Just one candidate gets The Bee’s endorsement in this crowded Sacramento assembly race


FEBRUARY 06, 2024

Though the race to replace outgoing District 6 state Assemblyman (and current Sacramento mayoral candidate) Kevin McCarty is a packed field — nine candidates at last count — there was a clear standout: Paula Marie Villescaz.

Villescaz served three years as assistant secretary for the California Health and Human Services Agency at the height of the COVID pandemic, where she led statewide efforts to mitigate the spread of the disease while simultaneously expanding access to public health services.

She was elected to the San Juan Unified School District Board of Education in 2016, one of the state’s largest school districts, and served two consecutive terms as president. During that time, she was instrumental in the passage of Measure P, a $750 million bond to rehabilitate and reconstruct schools.

District 6, which sits entirely within Sacramento County, has been well represented by McCarty. The district encompasses much of Sacramento’s northeastern suburbs, stretching to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, rural farmlands in the west and the city’s urban core in the southwest.

The district’s next assembly member will need a strong command of working within budget deficits. California is expecting a $68 billion budget deficit in the next fiscal year, the result of a severe revenue decline in Fiscal Year 2022-23.

“Having been a part of putting together budgets and understanding the role that the legislature can play in reducing the significant swings of the revenue is something that I’ll bring to the table,” Villescaz said. “The economy is strong by most metrics that we measure it by. But the reality is that it’s just not working for everyone.”

Villescaz is the first member of her family to both graduate from high school and college, and she understands the economic challenges of everyday Californians. Like many in her generation, she is still paying off the student loans that launched her impressive career.

In her eight years on the San Juan school board, a signature achievement was her leadership to pass a $750 million bond that is revitalizing schools throughout suburban Sacramento. Her three years as an undersecretary in California’s Health and Human Services Agency also provided her with a deep understanding of how state government works, and the challenges of managing a $50 billion budget.

On homelessness, Villescaz wants to hold cities accountable for not building sufficient housing: Downtown, she supports converting some of the underused state office buildings into housing, and she has an impressive level of understanding of a difficult subject, water, that would benefit a Legislature with low literacy on the subject.

“We have to … remember that a budget is a statement of our values,” she said, “We have to make sure that ... we protect our most vulnerable community members from budget cuts that will do the most harm.”

McCarty is not (yet) endorsing a candidate in this race. That means that in this very crowded field of candidates, it’s a near certainty that the top two finishers will compete in November’s general election. However, Villescaz has already been endorsed by outgoing Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and council members Karina Talamantes, Mai Vang, Katie Valenzuela and Caity Maple.

Carlos Marquez, a small business owner and the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union California Action, is also an impressive candidate. As senior vice president of the California Charter Schools Association, Marquez said he helped enact a $300 million block grant dedicated to low-performing students and negotiated a legislative bargain between charter school educators and teachers unions.

But ultimately, Villescaz is the strongest choice to replace McCarty. Her valuable experience as an elected school board member positions her well to serve this district in lean budget times and to be a thoughtful voice for Sacramento in the state assembly.