Assemblyman Juan Alanis, a freshman Republican lawmaker who represents parts of Stanislaus and Merced counties, sat down for an hour-long interview on March 30. It was Alanis’ first interview with the newspaper since defeating Democrat Jessica Self by 16 percentage points for the District 22 seat last November.
Alanis did not ask to know the questions prior to the interview, and he did not shy away from answering any of the questions. Here are the highlights:
Q: So, let’s start at the beginning. That’s always a nice place to start. Tell us a little about yourself, your upbringing, your career
Alanis: I was born in Modesto at Memorial Hospital and I grew up Riverbank. I went to elementary school there, went to junior high and high school there. My dad was a general contractor and I went to job sites with him. I was pretty much going to do what Dad did. My dad’s whole point of bringing me to jobs was to teach me a trade.
But a new program started at Riverbank High School when I was a sophomore — Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). I joined that my sophomore year and by my junior year I was the commanding officer. I’m like, “This is kind of cool. I’m telling seniors what to do as a junior.” So, I was going to go into the military.
We had a school resource officer named Ed Martinez and he asked me if I’d ever heard off the Sheriff’s Explorers Program. I hadn’t. So, he got me an application, and I had to borrow a sports jacket from somebody and go do an interview. Next thing I know, I got brought in as an Explorer, and shortly thereafter I got hired as a part-time employee at the Sheriff’s office in a unit called Special Services, which doesn’t exist anymore. But it included juvenile services, school resource officers, D.A.R.E., all those kind of things. I attended Modesto Junior College and then I got into the police academy at 19. I was sponsored by the Sheriff’s office and I was the youngest one in my class. I wasn’t even old enough to buy my own gun or my own ammo. I couldn’t even participate in the sobriety portion of the academy. Then I became a patrol deputy, and then I went to adult detention and spent about five years there. I was a school resource officer …
Q: And then at some point you decided to run for Sheriff. Did you feel a particular pull toward elected office?
A: When I first started, Les Weidman was my sheriff and I worked with him a lot and was very interested in what he was doing. He had substations. He had the philosophy of community policing. He had substations in Denair, Empire, Knights Ferry, Crows Landing, where we reached out to the people and they didn’t have to come all the way into Modesto. And I loved that idea. So, I wanted to become sheriff then.
Q: When was this?
A: When I was 17 or 18 years old.
Q: Oh, wow, that young? You knew then?
A: I knew that’s what I wanted to do and took steps to prepare myself. It helped that I worked in the jail, it helped that I worked on patrol. So, I’d actually worked both sides of the Sheriff’s Office — operations and adult detention. And then just getting the experience in the different assignments I’d been given, and getting involved with the community. Honestly, though, I didn’t want to run for sheriff until this last go around — 2022. I wanted to be a supervisor, I wanted to be in management — kind of the Adam Christensen route. He was a lieutenant when he ran. But then he retired and me running for sheriff happened four years earlier than I wanted. We came close, we lost by 3 percent, but I wasn’t going to give up on my community.
Q: And you were planning to run for sheriff again in 2022, right?
A: I still had a lot of people supporting me, so we got back into it again. But at the time, unbeknownst to me, a thing called “redistricting” was happening. We made this new district — District 22 — and I had leaders in the community reaching out to me: “Would you think about getting into the District 22 race? You can take your law enforcement experience up to Sacramento and …” and I just said, “No, I’m going to stick with this. This was my plan.”
Q: Sheriff in ’22? That was the plan?
A: Yeah, sheriff in ’22. We had T-shirts, we had flags, we had all this stuff.
Q: You were ready to run!
A: Yeah! But then Assemblyman Heath Flora called me. He said, “Come up to Sacramento, let me show you what you can do.” I went up there, met some people and saw how involved he was with our state. And he had me sold, but I told him I had to do two things. One was I had to check with my wife, and the second one was my retirement. There’s no retirement in the Assembly. You get no lifetime medical. Once you’re out, you’re out. So, I was asking Heath about the retirement and he said …
Q: “Pump the brakes, kid!”
A: Yeah! He was like, “You really have to want to do this.” So, I ran the numbers on my sheriff’s retirement. They’re not as good as if I’d stayed until I turned 50, but it’s still livable, thanks to me being there from such a young age. So, we got into the Assembly race, though it wasn’t as easy as just flipping a switch. I had a big meeting at my house with a lot of my supporters. And the biggest question they had was “What do we do with our shirts and flags?”
A: Yeah, I told them to fly the flag if they want … mow the lawn, wash the car, do whatever you want with them (laughs).
Q: So, how have things been going for you in Sacramento thus far?
A: It’s been going great. We had our team in place by the time we got sworn in on Dec. 5. We actually presented two bills that first day. Our team agreed on a number, around 12 bills. We were sitting around, talking, “What’s our bandwidth? What can we do? I want quality over quantity.” So, we settled on somewhere around 12. We’ve already done 20.
Q: You’re already presented 20 bills?
Q: Twenty bills that you’re authored or co-authored … in your first three months on the job?
A: Authored. Solely authored. We’ve co-authored, oh, probably up to about 40. But on our own, we’re at 20. Right now, we’ve presented seven bills and right now we’re 7-0 … all seven have passed committee. And as of today — hot off the press — we had one approved off the floor and now it moves to the Senate. Assembly Bill 1467 — the Nevaeh Youth Sports Safety Act. So, we’ve been busy. We’ve been really busy.
Q: You say things have been going well. How has that transition been, from law enforcement to politics?
A: In some ways, it’s kind of like being a cop. For instance, I was a forensic interviewer with Crimes against Children. I was a Crimes against Children detective and I interviewed people. So, they send you to forensic interviewing to learn how talk with people. And it really is talking with people, building relationships, finding common ground, building a base, and moving on from there. And I’m building relationships up there in Sacramento. “Hey, let’s go have lunch,” or “let’s go have dinner.’’ Or I’ll meet them in the office, get to know them and go from there. And I’ve had some of my colleagues on the Republican side ask me, “Hey, how are you getting these bills done.” And I’ll say, “Go talk with them.” That’s all you’ve got to do — build relationships.
Q: There seems to be far too little of that being done today in our current political landscape. Is this something you were aware of and have actively tried to remedy?
A: I belong to a group that’s called the Problem Solvers. They’re people from both sides of the aisle, coming together, and trying to have those conversations that we’re speaking about right now. (Former Assemblyman) Adam Gray was a part of starting this and making this a thing. Heath Flora is part of it. So, you have like-minded Republicans and Democrats coming together. We meet and we talk about these issues. They see what I’m doing. I see what they’re doing and we go from there. My freshman class — about 20-something — gets along pretty well. People have made comments about our class and how we talk. I think a lot of it had to do with the way they introduced us up there. They didn’t have us come up as Democrats and then come up as Republicans. They brought us all in for a breakfast and we just met each other. It was a great idea because we didn’t care what side of the aisle we were on. We were just getting to know each other at that point. It was good to have us in there getting to know each other, because on the floor of the House, it’s not as peaceful. It’s a little chaotic. So, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of building relationships and networking.
Q: Your legislative priorities, what …
A: Public safety.
Q: Wow! You didn’t even let me finish the sentence (laughs). Public safety … what does that mean to you?
A: Consequences. I tell people that we’re catering to criminals. It’s OK to be a criminal in California. We’re decriminalizing crimes. Some are saying, “Well, the crime stats have gone down.” That’s because it’s not a crime to do that anymore. I know there’s a store in Merced, a big chain store that last year had $3 million in retail theft. So, our Prop. 47 bill that we presented and passed, we took a different approach on it and wanted to show the data. A lot of my colleagues want to see data. OK, I want to show you the data and what I think is going on so we can come together and fix this. My colleagues are happy that they’re saving about $100 million a year by closing down some of these prisons. Yeah, but at what cost? It’s $3 million at one store. So, my bill basically got a third-party group to go out and find out what’s going on with this since it’s been passed. Find out from the retailers how much money they’re really losing, how much more money are the customers — us — now paying to help cover for these costs for people who aren’t behind held accountable? So, again, finding common ground, we moved forward and the committee voted unanimously. We got that through. So, now we’re looking forward to it pass on the floor, and the chairman of the Public Safety Committee actually signed on with it. He believes in it, too. So, going back to your original question: “Why public safety?” It’s because people don’t feel safe anymore. And I’ve met with the California Retailers Association and they have pointed out that these stores that they have to shut down, the first stores they have to shut down are those in underserved, low-income areas. And you’re seeing in stores where things are locked up, like deodorant, things I’d never thought I’d see have to be locked up. Customers aren’t even spending their time in these stores anymore. They’d rather order it online. Now, you’re taking the jobs away from these stores in the underserved, low-income areas. Unintended consequences — they’re hurting the people they think they’re helping.
I can talk all day about public safety.