Thursday, May 24, 2012
By Diana L. Chapman
Democrat Paul Butterfield, a middle school teacher in Wilmington who is running against State Senator Roderick Wright for the new 35th District, appears to have something most politicians don't have any more: honesty and ethics.
As we watch our nation and local governments crumble repeatedly in embarrassing scandal -- including Wright -- I see Butterfield as a shining light and a refreshing ready-to- work politician to vote for on June 5.
That's a far cry from the incumbent Wright, who faces many ugly legal quagmires -- including that a Grand Jury unsealed eight felony counts against him, partially for voter fraud.
Believing new faces are necessary in government, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino endorsed Butterfield. Buscaino too is a newbie and was virtually political unknown when he grabbed the seat in February.
Running on issues such as universal health care for the state and taxing oil companies for extractions, Butterfield says his campaign is going better than expected and that he plans to encourage steep changes in the not-so-Golden state budget.
"We were never worried enough about the deficit spending from unfunded bond measures in California," said Butterfield, who lives in San Pedro with his wife, Allison, and two children. "We need to tear up the credit card. We have this predetermined budget that has been created by all these past ballot initiatives.
"It's a whole vicious budgetary nightmare. We need to make sure that all initiatives that get on the ballot have a funding source attached to get them on the ballot."
He calls himself "a democrat running against the corporate democrat (Wright.)"
While critics might say Butterfield's made an unusual leap from teacher to a chancy shot at the senate seat, the leap is not "as great as it seems," he says.
With his wealth of knowledge in many industries, including forestry (he personally planted a 1/2million trees in five states); in fishing, as a dock worker unloading fish and in education as a teacher, former dean and soccer coach.
Here we may be trading in Wright's experience (not always good) for a political novice, but the candidate has worked in scores of campaigns around the state as either a volunteer or paid field organize.
Butterfield received his Bachelor's Degree in political science at Humboldt State University and as a college student, he ran for city council in the northern town of Arcata as one of the youngest candidates ever to run for that slot.
He lost, he said, but learned. It's that same gumption he's showing today.
"I bring to the table a strong working knowledge of what needs to happen in California," the candidate explained who lived on both sides of the state. "In Southern California, we need to work on water conservation. It not only effects us here but our farmers" across the state.
Another educator, Republican Charlotte Svolos, joined the race in this upstream battle, but few believe Butterfield or Svolos stand a chance against Wright despite his legal issues.
Wright has nasty clutter hanging over his head, including a female employee who claimed sexual harassment and received a $120,000 settlement quietly from the state senate. That doesn't mention a Grand Jury investigation and arrest over allegations that Wright doesn't even live in the 25th district where he served before 2010 redistricting was approved.
The incumbent and two candidates are now vying for the newly defined 35th district in the primary that includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Watts, Willowbrook, Hawthorne, Compton, Carson, east Torrance and west Long Beach.
So far, however, Butterfield believes he has a toasty-good chance at winning and if he doesn't win, believes many of his proposals -- from ensuring everyone in the state has health care to taxing the oil industry for extractions (called an oil severance tax) to cope with California's ever-changing deficit, lastly projected at $16 billion.
"We're doing really well," said Butterfield of the race, which he donated $30,000 to while understanding that he's more than a dark horse. He's a black horse. "We've made 12,000 phone calls, sent out two mailers. People have been very encouraging."
What he wants in California is a single payer health care plan called the California Universal Health Care Act, which provides coverage to all Californians. Patients would have no co-pay, will be able to pick their own doctors and cannot be denied for pre-existing conditions. The funds come from taxes and would be millions less than what businesses and citizens pay now, he said.
"My opponent killed the Act after accepting $132,000 from insurance and drug companies," Butterfield said on his website.
And like Texas, he wants to launch a tax on the oil industry at 4% for extracting the resource to flush out California's getting-redder budget. It would add $4.6 billion a year to state coffers, he said, adding he believes it's exactly why a Chevron-funded PAC donated $35,000 to Wright's political campaign.
Having watched Butterfield as a soccer coach at San Pedro High and teacher over the years, I witnessed many of the good actions he's taken to aid his students.
For instance, Butterfield knew he had a student on his soccer team who could become a professional player -- but not if he didn't help. He made repeated phone calls to colleges up and down the state. Chris Widdy struggled with his grades, but was a top-gun soccer player. The family (friends of mine and legal immigrants) couldn't afford a dime for his education. Thanks to Butterfield, University of Bakersfield gave Widdy a full ride.
"There are a lot of Chris Widdy's out there," he said.
The candidate didn't stop there. He made sure every member of his soccer team joined the Boys and Girls Club College Bound program, coached them at soccer as well as academics and can say proudly that many made it to universities such as Notre Dame and UC Santa Barbara.
As an avid fisherman, he started a fishing club at the high school and got as many of his students possible to outdoor nature camps in the Sierras where they learned team work and how to care for the environment.
Having to put himself through college, the candidate said he learned much about the timber industry when he worked with a crew from Evergreen Forestry. He planted trees from Atlanta to Maine one seed at a time, about 3,000 a day.
In 1996, Butterfield started his teaching career in Cudahy where he taught science. He used his Spanish skills to help students and was able to convince the school to turn a dirty, vacant lot next door to the Elizabeth Learning Center, a K-12 program, into a soccer field.
Throughout the Harbor area -- which gets ignored by the senate, he said, he wants to build a maritime college to bring in more jobs and take advantage of its port industry.
That's why Buscaino wants him in office.
"Paul Butterfield has proved his commitment to serving our community, and has been recognized for his work mentoring students and young athletes," the councilman said in a statement.
"He cares deeply about the issues that concern San Pedro and the Harbor Gateway Area. That's why I'm endorsing Paul Butterfield for State Senate."