USA

AD51: Interview with Mario Olmos

KNOCK:

To start things off, yours appears to be a single-issue campaign so I wonder if you’d like to take a few minutes to explain how you see child sexual abuse as conntected to other issues facing California.

Mario Olmos:

I can definitely see how people see this as a one issue campaign. It’s really simple, I believe in all the same things all the other candidates do. For the most part we’re all pretty much on the same page, just more so for one, you know some people are more for the healthcare, some people are more for the housing, some people are more for the immigigration. In fact I think we would have a perfect candidate if we could mold us all into one, morph us into one because we would be great. I get along with all the other candidates. So no, we’re not a one issue campaign you know I’ve been on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood, I’ve gone out and worked on housing and unemployment. What you guys don’t see is my day job, what I do every day it’s so automatic I don’t really talk about it on the campaign. I mean, I get people jobs, I get people off of welfare, I get homeless people into housing, transition from subsiized housing into affordable housing. So I do a lot of stuff for my regular job. I work with a lot of different issues. I’m at Northeast LA Democrats, I go to every meeting. I signed up a couple years ago, and I’ve been to every meeting since, even before the election, before I thought about running. Because I’m really passionate about this issue [sexual abuse] and the reason I’m passionate about it is because it affects all the other issues. For example, when you’re talking about housing and you’re talking about gentrification, one of the biggest problems I have with this issue is when you have an area that’s gentrified and people can’t afford to live there you have two or three families moving in together, which increases the chances of kids who are in those families being sexually abused. Also for me, like gentrification is a huge issue for me: I can’t afford to buy my own home now. I bought it back in 2000, if it was on sale on the market right now I wouldn’t be able to afford it, and a lot of other people can’t afford homes.

So, for me again education is really important. I see education as the only way for someone from the lower class, my family grew up really poor, and the only way for some families to move up the status and afford homes is education. That’s why I talk a lot about college and I have a lot of other ideas about college but my main concern right now is if you look at this election there’s 200 or 300,000 registered voters in this district. We’ll be lucky if we get 8,000 people to show up to vote. and so that’s a huge reflection of what we’re not doing correctly as not just the democratic party but politics in general. We’re cutting off the people and kind of like we’re picking sides: do we want to help the average person or do we want money. Go after the corporations. Do we want to take money from developers or go after pharma.

One of the things that I think is hilarious, if you look at my campaign I’m not even accepting donations. And I run my nonprofit like that. I don’t know if I mentioned that I have a nonprofit, Your Voice Matters, that focuses on preventing abuse, and I run the nonprofit that way. If you go to the website there’s a donate button, and if you read it it says don’t even try it, it doesn’t work. Just like with my campaign, I think it’s really important that we send a message that it’s possible somebody could win without money. That if you get a strong enough campaign and a good enough platform, where people care about that, you have a chance to win and I’m hoping that preventing sexual abuse is something that a lot of people care about. There’s so many people in this district who were sexually abused as children and have never told anybody.

They’ve never told anybody they were sexually abused, and the reason I started the nonprofit, you know people ask me if I was abused and that wasn’t an issue for me. I think the reason I started was the work I did with kids in foster care. For my day job I work with a lot of kids in foster care, and when I get them jobs I have to prepare them for interviews. So I get them jobs and when I teach them how to interview, instead of just teaching them to interview, I teach them how to speak in public. So I figure if they can do public speaking and speak in front of 40 or 50 people, they’ll do great in a 1-on-1 interview. And so I do this thing through Toastmasters, called Speechcraft, and they all have to do their 2-minute intro speech, an icebreaker about themselves. And they tell me, Mario I don’t know what to say. And I tell them, well my icebreaker was about from the time I was born to how I got here, so just talk about yourself. And so 9 of the 10 kids in that group talked about the time they were sexually abused. Once one of them opened up, they all started to open up. The 10th one, she was sexually abused too, she just didn’t want to talk about it in public in front of everybody. So then, being the resourceful person I am, I started trying to find resources for them and I couldn’t find — I read this thing on a website that said 95% of all sexual abuse is preventable and I got so excited. I’m like all right, let’s find out who’s doing the prevention work. And I couldn’t really find anybody, of course now, now I’m a little more savvy and I know there are more organizations that are working toward it. But the reason I’m seen as a 1-issue candidate is because, if you look at juvenile crime, 80% of our kids locked up in juvenile hall are impacted from sexual abuse as children. not just the girls, the boys. If you look at our incarcerted, we have gang members, hardcore gang members that have done some heineous time. And if you talk to them they’ll talk about the anger they had when their mom allowed her boyfriend to jump into their bed when they were 5 years old. And how that hatred toward people just manifested into what they became. And I talked to one a couple years ago, who actually changed his life and he went on to be a federal officer. So he goes out and he talks to the community about, you know, stuff, and so our juvenile crime is something impacted. We spend more money on juvenile crime in this county than almost anywhere in the United States. And so what we’re dealing with is the behavior instead of the root cause of why kids are incarcerated.

There’s issues like, I know one of the big issues right now is the bond or the bail issue, and so dealing with juvenile crime directly, or not even juvenile crime. If you’re low income you get assigned a public defender. and if you go into the jails and talk to the inmates they call them public pretenders, instead of public defenders. Because there’s really a system that’s rigged that leans more toward the prosecution. There’s partnerships, between the prosecutors. The district attorney is elected, and they don’t want to lose reelection because they lost cases so they will do whatever it takes to get people to take a deal, because if they take a deal they’re basically getting convicted and their conviction rates go up. And if there’s a case that’s questionable they’ll throw, you know they throw, they call it lucky 7 or DA reject, if they don’t have a case but before they reject it they’ll do whatever they can to get a plea. And the truth is those who don’t have the savvy or don’t have the know-how of the political and criminal system will take that plea, especially if they’ve been sitting in juvenile hall for months before that court date. So that’s another of the issues.

So homelessness, we talk about in this district we have one of the largest homelessness problems in the country, and for me the way I attack it is prevention of sexual abuse. Long-term prevention of homelessness. We look at 40% of homeless women were sexually abused as children, so again it’s an issue that goes back to the other things we’re saying but we’re not addressing. We look at homeless women and we don’t think about how they got to be homeless. They’re abused at home, they run away from that abuse, and then they’re further victimized on the street. We look at a lot of people and see drug addiction as a cause for homelessness, and if you look at the Center for Disease Control it’ll say that over 2/3rds of people who are addicted to drugs were sexually abused as children. And they’re doing drugs to cover up for that pain and the shame and the guilt they have. In fact there’re several people that I’ve talked to that are addicted to drugs and the only time they ever talk about their sexual abuse is when they’re high. And then I have people, family members, Moms, they tell me: Mario my son’s 28 years old and I can’t get him off drugs, and 2 years ago he came up to me and told me he was being sexually abused by his cousin. My — his — I’m speaking for the woman — my sister’s son was molesting him from when he was 8 until he was 14. And so he just can’t stop using drugs, and there’s a lot of people that do that. So again, homelessness and then mental health. A lot of homeless people have mental health issues. you talk about, I don’t know the statistics, the numbers, but a lot of people that have mental health issues also stems from sexual abuse as children. Used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, they have Disassociated Personality Disorder, PTSD they suffer the same PTSD.

In fact the reason that I decided to run for office is I have people I reach out to — I teach parents how to help prevent sexual abuse because 95% is preventable.

Except I get this one question all the time from people. They ask me: Mario, what do you do when it’s the parents who are sexually abusing, when they’re the ones involved. And I didn’t have an answer, so I thought this is an opportunity to run for office, to have an answer for that, to set things, legislation, to change laws that are in place, to directly provide a safety net for kids that are being abused. There’s the Center for Disease Control has an outline for agencies that work with children. our foster system, our churches, our Boy Scouts. And if they follow that outline they can go a long way toward preventing sexual abuse, but none of our agencies follow that. Goes back again to money. Like pharma, you know where does the money come from. From the church, from all these different places, and so the fear from schools is the lawsuits that will come out and all the attention it will bring and different problems. But we’re, one of the candidates who’s running he’s from the school district and he’ll be the first to tell you we’re already paying for it. Settling lawsuits. If we were to take that money, take a small fraction of the cost it takes to settle lawsuits, to implement this program it would go a long way toward saving kids’ futures. And so the other reason I focus, transportation, if you ask me about any of those other issues I have specific direct answers that’ll solve this problem.

So for example now one of my solutions to housing, immediately impacted, if we can get homes re-zoned and get permitted so people can convert their garages into single family small one bedroom apartments. You know, kitchen, dinette area, bathroom. And we limit it to only where they can only convert it if the homeowner actually lives there, because the homeowner is going to care who they rent to, if it’s a rental they don’t care, so if it’s homeowners and we have other restrictions, but maybe even some tax incentives if they rent to veterans, homeless veterans, if they rent to homeless, to people on public assistance. So some kind of tax credit or even go so far as to allow them to get a partial dependent credit if they’re renting out to homeless. And then we set some serious cap limits on what they can charge, so later on they can’t just say well we built it we did the conversion and later on they rent it to someone else at a gentrified rate. So that’ll go a long way, if we’re waiting for developers. I hear a lot of people say you know, it’s ridiculous. I was following Gil Cedillo’s campaign and they’re saying that if developers build more luxury housing it’s going to trickle down, and my question is are you going to wait. You’re saying a poor family like my family growing up has to wait for a trickle down for us to get a place to live, and so this just immediately impacts that.

And I want everybody to take into consideration this is a one-year election. We’re gonna take office for one year: I can guarantee in next october when this election comes back around for a two year term there’s gonna be some big money that’s gonna jump in this election. Right now it’s, there isn’t that big name candidate and they’re so many candidates. Helps everybody because you don’t have to get as many votes, you just have to be in the runoff. Where if we had like a Villagarosa or some big name candidate, or the incumbent, if Jimmy Gomez was running, we wouldn’t have a chance. So this is an opportunity to make a big change, and one of the things that I noticed, or one of the reasons I picked this issue to be my primary focus, was because this is something we could immediately impact in one year.

I’ll give you an example. Last year I worked with an organization called URSL, and I really can’t take any credit for any of this, but I got involved late in the game because I found out they were moving a bill through State Assembly and the Senate, and it passed unanimously, this bill SB 813, and it was it ended the statute of limitations on rape, on sexual assault, and repeated sexual molestation of children. And that was something they’d been unsuccessful the year before, but within a year they fixed up everything. They patched the holes up and within a year they were able to change the law, and that will impact so many people. You know right now I don’t even talk about rape or sexual assault, but only 2% of people, most don’t get reported, but only 2% actually do jail time. So we’re looking at 98% of people don’t even end up going to jail, even if they go to court. So there’s a kind of, such a taboo subject. And the funny part is when I went up to the press conference for this bill, you don’t even hear a peep about the part about repeated sexual molestation of children. And so I joke with people that even within its own bill its taboo to talk about sexual molestation of kids.

So my goal is to really blow it out of the water, to win a campaign based on this issue, so I can go to Sacramento and tell people look, I didn’t fundraise but I won because enough people care about this issue, and you need to care about this issue, and it’s impacting all our districts in the state of California. It doesn’t discriminate based on low income, everybody, kids are getting sexually abused whatever economic status they’re in. And so again, nobody’s talking about it and I feel like that’s why I’m running. And it does look like I’m a single-issue candidate, but when you look deeper, I create jobs for people. I do that every day at work, and I do it so easily and so well that I don’t even, to me it’s like second nature.

KNOCK:

Yeah, and I hope I didn’t come across as an attack.

Olmos:

No, no it’s not an attack and I don’t see it as, it’s very legitimate because even when I go up to talk to other people, I mean, they address that to me and I understand but I think it’s the one issue we can fix. I don’t think we can fix gentrification in a year. I honestly don’t think there’s any candidate, we can make some progress toward it, but until we start to address where the money is coming from and who backs our candidates, and how developers have their pockets in and how they influence people we’re, I doubt that we could, we could fix our housing. I mean, our health issue right now. We could easily become a single-payer state on our own without relying on the federal government, and the reason I say that is simple: if you look at the state of California as a country, it would be the sixth most powerful economic nation in the world, and considering a lot of those old developing countries that’s impressive, because we’re not one of those. So somebody, a country with that economic power, should easily be able to replicate or improve on what other countries are doing to provide healthcare for all their residents. So there’s so many countries that don’t have as much financial resources as we have and they’re able to do it. But the reason I say it isn’t easy to fix now is because we’re not going to be able to fix healthcare until we fix our system of how money is involved, in everything that has to do with medicine. I’m talking about, let’s say you had a hernia today and you needed a surgery. You can go to 3 different hospitals and get 3 different prices, and you will not know why you’re getting different prices. So, I don’t know if you remember in the automotive industry, you used to go, say you wanted a 2010, let’s go further back, say a 2000 Ford Escort, right, and you can go to 2 or 3 different dealers and the exact same car would cost different prices. So we forced the automobile industry to have a line item of what they’re charging for each price. So then what it did for them when they started having to list everything, the consumer was able to compare better and walk in and say: I can get this car cheaper over there because they’re not charging me 800 for the luxury rims, they’re only charging 200.

KNOCK:

Or 300 for the delivery

Olmos:

Yeah, so what that transparency made it better for the consumer, and until we do that with hospitals, and force them to line item list everything, all their prices, and we stop granting patents to pharmaceutical companies for just changing the delivery method of their medicine. Without even changing the actual method, like asthma inhalers, they don’t change anything inside but they change the spray pump to make it different. And they’re able to chage 2, 3 times more for that same medicine because we’re giving them patents for that kind of thing. So there’s a lot that we need to fix before we can, because imagine if we can do the same thing to make their prices transparent. Then the costs would go down. We could see, we could force them to be more, what do you call, transparent of their billing system and then we could have more options when we choose. Eventually if we’re choosing a healthcare system or a healthcare provider that’s charging much less, and we could see that, eventually they’d have to start competing. And right now we don’t have a choice, and you go to a hospital you’re at their discretion, and when they find out it’s paid by taxpayer insurance they even bump up the cost.

I’ve seen that with food stamps, where I’m in line at a grocery story and this is one thing I want to fix immediately also, is with food stamps I’ve seen that when you go to stores you see milk is 2 for $5 but it does not apply to WICK. Right, so WICK, which is us the taxpayers, we have to pay the regular price for milk. Or I’ve seen where in the old days, we have the cards now but in the old days, cheese could be on sale but they’re paying the regular price for it because they’re paying with taxpayer money, and so that stuff needs to change.

So I got kind of lost.

KNOCK:

I guess my question is, would you, I mean if SB 562 is resurrected, and it seems like it might be, in next year being a continuing legislative session, how do you feel about it. Would you go toward that.

Olmos:

I would go toward anything that would make it so that every single person in the state of California had access to healthcare. Um, if you look at, if you look at so many people right now that are sick or don’t have access to healthcare, and a lot of them there’s healthcare there for them if they sign up but they don’t even know what to do. Or knowing what resources are there for them. So some people that are elligible don’t have the healthcare, or it’s so confusing for them as to what is their best, so like they might be able to afford a healthcare that has a lower deductible but they don’t get as much service or the benefits out of it. Or they might be able to have a higher deductible and lower cost, but so if they, you know I don’t know. For me even, for my mom, I don’t know what’s best for her economically. So we take a chance when we sign up for Kaiser. She’s on Medicare, but we sign up and every time she goes she has to pay, but they do more preventative work. Which I love because the old place she went, I’m not going to mention their name, but it seemed every time she went in they werent’ really taking care of her because they wanted her to get sick so they could charge. Because they benefit from, they’re not getting the same deductibles but they’re benefitting every time you come in. Then there’s stuff like, oh here’s these supplies you need for your diabetes or whatever. And they’re like, you just gave me some, but they say oh no don’t worry you’re not being charged for it. Your insurance pays for it, so even the consumers are being fooled into getting services they don’t need because they’re not it’s not costing them anything. So if we can reign back these costs there’d be no reason we wouldn’t be able to provide healthcare, for the amount of money we’re spending right now, for our like people going to hospital for emergency visits. If we could be more preventative we would be ablt to easily afford it.

But more importantly, with something like healthcare that we need to look at changing like in the beginnning healthcare was more about diseases. Preventing diseases,and then it went from preventing diseases to individual illnesses, like you have a problem you go to the doctor. So we need to go forward to look at public health. Like for example the amount of smog in the air and the amount of cancer it causes in general to people, the amount of gas and fossil fuels we’re burning. Here in Los Angeles you can, when you walk in, when you fly anywhere in the United States and you come back and walk off that plane you can smell the chemiclas and the fumes. When you’re riding along the LA river you can feel the toxicity in our air, and we don’t address that. And as I read statistics, 1 in 3 in the future, 1 in 3 people will get cancer. I read that 1 in 2 will get cancer. For us to be ok with that, I don’t understand. It’s like that cognitive dissonance, where we know it’s happening but we don’t want to think about it so we don’t address it. I think our healthcare needs to move more toward that.

Also building communities where people walk, exercise. You know because I bike ride, but I try not to say that to people because they’re like oh bike lanes, bike lanes. But I don’t bike ride, it’s not even safe for me to ride, along Sunset. I rode from the beach one time, and I’m oh I’ll just go down Sunset and when I was going through Westwood it’s crazy. It was dangerous, but I did it and an older person couldn’t do that, a family couldn’t go bike riding even down Sunset here. Even if you put in bike lanes, and it’s not viable but the reason I get into bikes is I think that we need to create more places, public places, especially in this district where people feel safe to come out at night and exercise. Like, I’m fortunate and I live in Eagle Rock and I can just shoot over to the Rose Bowl and at any given time, even 10, 11 o’clock at night there are people there walking. If you go to Alhambra, not too far from El Cereno, there’s El Monte Park and there’s people there 11 oclock at night walking. You don’t see that in this district.

In fact somebody told a story the other day about there was 2 girls who were going to school, and they were stuck here in LA. And they were like, we’re not going to be able to get back to school can you recommend a safe hotel for us to stay. And the person who’s telling the story drove them through like near downtown LA toward, it wasn’t downtown it was Lincoln Heights area, by El Cereno, other parts of the district and finally got them to Alhambra where they, it was well lit and it was a safer environment, got them to a hotel and they, the comments the ladies made when they were in the vehicle about to get dropped off, was what a difference 5 minutes makes. And I’m like, it’s crazy how 5 minutes, it makes a differences in this district as far as the safety and the community at night. Like if you go to Old Town Pasadena, which used to be full of blight and they converted that place into some place where people feel safe at night. And then you know they have their gentrification issues too, but there is other stuff we can do to make it safe for people as far as health, healthwise.

KNOCK:

Great. ok, so I guess circling back around to college. I think it’s a fantastic point you make about the number of prisons and jail facilities compared to city colleges, community colleges. Your plan for a community college, is it each county, each county.

O:

I kinda stopped talking about that because people started saying you’re a crazy person. You’re a single issue, then you’re going to build 58 new colleges so, so first I want to start with something I want to do locally, and this is immediate. Because I went away from that because that’s a long term goal, and I’m going to be in office for 1 year. What can I do in 1 year. To change, so going back to the fact that there’s hundreds of thousands of people registered to vote and if we’re lucky 8,000 maybe 10,000 people will show up to vote for this election on October 3rd. So why is that, why is nobody coming out to vote, why don’t people care. And so the main reason is because people don’t feel like they’re part of the system, they feel like money runs it, doesn’t matter, their vote’s not going to make a difference. They see politics in general as something that can’t be trusted. People are there for their own benefit and they’re going to do whatever to line their pockets. And unfortunately that’s not true, the bureaucracy is there. One of my biggest fears is winning and going up to Sacramento, wanting to do all this stuff and getting sucked into the bureaucracy, um, where, someone told me, I don’t know enough about it and I try not to say I don’t know about stuff, but whereas if I wanted to be on certain committee that it takes money to get on a committee. And I’m like that’s ridiculous. Why would I have to pay to be on a committee I care about, so even once you’re elected you have to have money backing you to get into the positions you want.

So, so getting back to the colleges and the immediate impact, so right now this district is making a huge move and it’s awesome, I give them props for doing this, where they’re trying to or they already signed something where it’s going to have free community college for people in the district. Like if they go to East LA College it’s free for the first year, I don’t know the details. I should know it but I don’t. But my question is, and this is what I ask you and everybody else is, what good is free tuition at community college if kids can’t get in. And I would like to find one kid, and of course I call em kids, but I’d like to find one student that started community college and in two years finished it and got their AA. Most kids I know are taking 2 or 3, 4 years, either because they have to get a job or becauset they can’t get the classes, they’re impacted or full.

So my first immediate, immediate impact I want to have is convert our high schools. Like right now, what high school did you go to?

KNOCK:

Oh, I’m from Chicago.

O:

Chicago, what high schoold did you go to in Chicago?

KNOCK:

Homewood-Flossmoor.

O:

Flossmoor, ok, so let’s say at Flossmoor, how much of that school is being used in the evening or on the weekend.

KNOCK:

Oh, evening or weekend, probably none.

O:

None. If you look at the local high school we have right here, the high school is either Lincoln High School or Franklin High School, Eagle Rock High School. So those schools in the evening, unless there’s some kind of sporting event, they’re empty. That’s infrastructure that’s already built, so we convert those high schools into community colleges, annex community colleges, so kids can go there to class. They might even start going there after school to get early college credit, so it’ll be an incentive. It’ll also help with graduation rates, because kids who are behind, you can be dual enrolled to get your high school credits. So that is another impact, but that would also help the community because one of my ideas is to have a child development program. let’s say Lincoln High School had a child development program, and people could get their degree in child development, right. So you would actually have child care classes there where students wcould watch kids, so community members could go to college classes at Lincoln High School and take English as a Second Language classes and have their kids watched while they’re learning English. So we have a direct impact on the whole community for a building that the taxpayers are paying for, and it’s not being used. And I think we can get the buy-in where we can get whatever revenue is generated by the community college to go into the high school as well.

The other part of the problem I have with the colleges like UCLA, a lot of the UC system, where they’re taxpayer funded but they’re targeting out of state students because it generates more income. But our own kids in this state can’t get in. So that needs to be changed a little and tweaked a little as well.

But more importantly, the idea I have for high school students is we need to set up a system, and this is not necessarily touching on college but sort of. Imagine if you had a high school, there’s an election October 3rd and there’s going to be a runoff. I doubt that there’ll be anyone, there might be a candidate that can get more than 50%, but with 14 candidates running it’s going to be very difficult. So let’s say there’s a runoff, right, so then you go back to the high schools and have the student body debate which candidate they would want to win. So you have one side for candidate A and one side for candidate B, and they’re debating that in the gym in the, you know, the auditorium. And they have actual debates. Maybe even have the candidates come in, or if there’s a proposition have people for the ballot and against it, and have the students debate. Then immediately after they’d be allowed to vote at whatever high school they’re at. So now you get high school students who are influencing elections. Because if you think about 8,000 people showing up for this election, you easily have 8,000 students. Well, I don’t think they’re all registered to vote, but they’ll have an influence on their parents or they’ll be able to go back, and you know how youth are, they make things move, they make things happen. So, not as much as we’d like to, but when they need to they can. So now what you have is candidates that have to start paying more attention to the schools. And you’re going to start having these PACs that are for a proposition X, Y, Z and against whatever, are going to start paying more attention to the schools. Because they’re going to want that vote, so it works both ways and they’re going to get more money toward our education system and it’s going to get our kids more involved. And so that’s what my idea is about the colleges, and long term is building the colleges.

I think that we can change the infrasturcture, and I just want to ask you a question. Pretend you’re a billionaire, right, so you’re a billionaire, not too hard to imagine, and you’re getting to the age where you start to think about your legacy. You’re like a Warren Buffett. And so California comes to you and says: how would you like to have a UC, it’s UC Terry [my name]. Right, Cal State Terry, named after you, it’s a legacy. You pay for the campus, you pay to build it, and we’ll name it after you. Right, so would you be willing to do that?

KNOCK:

Myself, as a billionaire, yeah.

O:

Yeah. So, and I could sell you on the idea that for generations kids will be like, oh where did you get your bachelor’s degree and they’ll say oh University of Terry. That’s a huge impact, and I think there will be people willing to pay for the school, and maybe even fund the first two years of its operating costs. So, but like I said there’s 23 prisons that have been built since 1980 and we’ve had no problem filling them. In fact we have the federal government saying to Jerry Brown right now if he doesn’t, you know, decrease the population they’re going to take over the prisons. That’s why we have now all these propositions like AB 47 and thinkgs that are starting to release people, and I can guarantee you if we had 58 more colleges, universities, and even some hybrids where you would have like a high achool, community college, four year college all in one, hybrid so it would be easier for people to transition through the system. Would make a huge impact, and Terry you get to pick the subject at your college, what do you want it to focus on.

KNOCK:

Oh, so like a magnet system, something.

O:

Yeah, so like let’s say you care about healthcare, so you could have a school that focuses on nursing. You know, bachelor’s degree in nursing. So now we have a shortage of nurses, we have to import nurses from other countries. We develop them here in California, it helps our economy, and now we have nurses going to work all over this country. So now we’re building a workforce as well. If we built new colleges, right now, I think I read something, some statistic, it’s not that we don’t have jobs, we don’t have the skilled labor force to fill it. And that’s sad. So I mean it’s a good problem to have, we have enough jobs, but it’s showing how poor our education system is preparing kids. And also focusing on some vocational training at the schools as well will hopefully fix a lot of that.

KNOCK: [about to ask a question]

O:

I just want to add first and foremost, one of the most important things I want to do is, um, my office will be open both on Saturday and Sunday, full days. There’s too many, like again this goes back to only 8,000 people showing up. So imagine you have a job in Santa Monica, and you get off of work. There’s no way you can pick up your kids, get home, cook, and do all the other stuff you do, and if you did it would be kind of stressful. A phone call doesn’t take care of things the way it should. So imagine you can get up Saturday morning you could take your kids to breakfast, then show up at my office and I’ll be there, or somebody would be there. I would have a representative that would work, say Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday through Thursday, so we could be open every day. You might go to church on Sunday, and go have breakfast, then show up to my office 2, 3 oclock when it’s more relaxing. Then you can come in and address issues, and I think that’ll help get more people to the ballot and get people to care, if we’re more accessible. They’re paying my salary so I should be there for them.

KNOCK:

Let’s see, well, we were talking about prison reform and enforcement, this is sort of in line with that. What would you do specifically for immigrant rights in the year you’d be in the statehouse?

O:

Let’s go to prison reform. Again, this is something that would be immediate: we could pass a bill within the year, and what I’d like to see is for our criminal system follow the same procedures as our civil system. What I mean is by allowing discovery. So the way we kind of, again, follow the money. The civil system has a lot to do with money, so why do we make our civil, they want to make it as simple as possible to go through the court system. So they allow for discovery. So let’s say you’re suing me for a certain amount of money. Up front I know everything you have and you know everything I have, so I can make an informed decision and say do I want to go to court or do I want to just settle. Because the information that he has would have to maybe pay $10,000, and you know on your side because you have the same information. If we did that in our criminal cases we’d reduce the amount of people who are staying in jail and need the bailbonds reform. We would also eliminate a lot of the people staying in jail for a long period of time because I could make an informed decision, saying look I’m looking at 2 years so it’s better for me to just come in and take the 2 years. Rather than what’s happening now where your own public defender is telling you you’re looking at 25 years. You know why I didn’t, well you had the, they found a weapon in your car, it wasn’t my car, not my gun, yeah but you could go to jail for life. So, you know, they kind of con you into taking deals. Where now, with discovery, they could go into a place where you could make an informed decision. Based on this crime and this statistic or whatever, we have that this is the maximum that you would get, so you could make that informed decision. And also, again, we would go through our court cases a lot faster.

KNOCK:

And so where do you stand then on current bail reform, this is not an area of my expertise.

O:

Right it’s basically the bail reform, it’s a really tough subject for me because I work with kids. I work with youth, in fact going back to my day job where I get jobs for kids, back in 2008 again until 2010 I ran a program called CALGRIP. That’s the California Gang Reduction, Intervention, Prevention program, and it’s through the Workforce Investment Act. A lot of people don’t know this, but the Workforce Investment Act money that comes from the federal government, the governor has 15% of that discretionary. So he could slice off 15% of that and use it for whatever he, so for example there was one year one of the governors needed to use it for nurses. Get people who were LPN to run through an expedited program to become RN. When Schwarzenneger, he felt that crime was most impact so he did this grant reduction program. And what I would do is go into that camp and work with 16 and 17 year olds who were locked up with the camp and got them into shchool and got them jobs when they got out. We did such a great job that the state asked us to run that program again, so this time we made it a little harder and I would actually go into the central men’s jail and the women’s jail in Lynwood, so I would work with people who were 18 to 24 who looked like they were going to get released fairly quickly, and so we did like a basically how to get how job how to keep a job, so when they got out they had jobs ready for them.

So the bail reform is difficult because I know that there’s a lot of people that shouldn’t be in jail because they were manipulated by the system into taking pleas. I know when it comes to women there’s a lot of women in jail because the relationship they were in. Their boyfriend committed the crime and they had to take the wrap for it. Because there was a time women were less likely to be incarcerated, so male gang members would have the women hold the weapon or hold the gun. So there’s domestic violence is crazy too, it used to be that right now you have a system where if a woman has been being abused for 8, 10 years and finally stands up for herself, hits back, when the police get called they arrest both of them. If the guy has a scratch. So now they have a criminal case and they can’t get a job because they have felonies or whatever. So it’s difficult for me because it needs to be reformed to make it more fair for low income people, but I also deal with sexual abuse and I know there’s a lot of predators that would be out on the street. I mean, realistically they don’t even get incarcerated because they don’t get reported, but there’s some crimes that where the people need to stay in jail way further, the community wouldn’t be safe if they were out. But one of the problems I have like with this bill, this proposition that came out where they talked about releasing people with low who have like lower crimes, lower level crimes, so we voted for this bill and we passed it but they didn’t tell us, it was like we voted for this but they were going to tell us later on we’ll tell you what we decide those crimes are. So we have a system in place where we vote for a proposition and later on people decide what it is we voted for. So I think that needs to change first and foremost, before where they need to spell out exactly which crimes are, which count as early release and which don’t, and that’s not what happened in this case. And that’s how, why a lot of people are uspet about it and that’s why a lot of people were against the bill. Bail reform, I think they would be for it if they understood it would be protecting people who can’t afford a private attorney, but also protecting the public from people being released who shouldn’t be released. And so that’s where I’m stuck in-between, I think it needs to do both, and I don’t trust that if we were to vote for it now that those things would be in place before we voted for it or not.

But again, I go back to preventing sex abuse. I think if we focus on that we would have much less of people in jail than should be.

Hope I’m not going on too long.

KNOCK:

No, you’re fine.

O:

You want a piece of this?

KNOCK:

No no no, thank you.

O:

The fruit? I’m not going to eat the fruit.

KNOCK:

I’ll have an orange, thank you.

O:

You’re not driving, right? Ok, I have a dumb sense of humor too.

KNOCK:

Shifting gears, how do you think California is doing on environmental issues. Specifically are you happy, pleased with AB 398, or if not what would you do differently?

O:

Well, the problem I think that California has with all our environmental issues is, again, that people aren’t really making the decisions. Of course everybody thinks, I don’t think that anybody thinks that clean air isn’t important. That anybody thinks that clean water, especially if we were to have an earthquake, isn’t important. That not having, like, the exite plants and these oil pumps in the middle of our poorest neighborhoods isn’t important. The problem is that our environment, is none of that matters because that’s not where the money is coming from. And you have corporations that will influence politicinas to vote a certain way in the interestes of people and cover it up and make it look like, like cap and trade, you know, like it’s a great thing.

I’m really happy about the plastic bag situation. You can already see the impact of it. Again like I said I bike ride a lot, so when I ride from let’s say the Santa Fe dam to Seal Beach, I used to see trash bags everywhere. And like just along the fence, and those would all end up in the ocean, and those are all pretty much something you never see anymore. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be driving renewable energy vehicles right now. I think that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have more, less dependency on Department of Water and Power, for example. It’s ridiculous. We had that drought, so they asked us to cut down our use of water, and then because we cut down so much they had to raise the price to cover for what they didn’t generate. So it all comes from, it all comes from money instead of looking at what’s important for our health. But the saddest part about California, and we’re lookng at this whole things with Trump, and about the, um, not focuing on remewable energy, focusing on fossil fuels. We’re going to fall behind other countries as far as innovation, as far as technology, as far as opportuntiy for employment opportunities for the future. I just heard that there’s a company in China that’s 40% of their vehicles and their trucks are gonna be electric trucks, right. And they’re rolling out some electric diesel trucks, not diesel but like those trucks. So we’re falling behind on this technology because we’re focused on continuing our dependence on oil. And where does that come from, it comes from money. Where does that money come from. I mean, we have wars over oil.

And the sad part, I remember when my grandpa, he didn’t speak much English, and he would always tell me in Spanish, he goes: in the future water is going to cost more than oil and gas. And I thought he was crazy, right, but then of course I go into an AM/PM to buy water when I get gas and I’m buying a bottle water, and wait a minute, if I add this up, if I buy a gallon of water it does cost more than the gas. So it’s like it’s crazy, but I think for me the, we’re talking about the environment is important not just because, but for our health. I mean we’re getting sick, we’re seeing an increase in diseases and stuff that, and it’s becoming exponential, and we’re going to get to the point where we see all these movies but these things are happening now. It’s just so, so you know like we’re losing wildlife. We’re losing species at an incredible rate. Losing trees, like for example it’s ridiculous that our own government is relying on paper when we have the technology to go paperless. I tell people, where do you think all this paper is coming from. And most of it is waste. I mean, we look at the amount of paper that gets recycled out of an office, I’m glad it gets recycled but we shouldn’t even have to be using it in the first place. So there’s a lot of different parts of the environment that, but again unless we get the money out and the corporations and we make it so that we really have people to care about the environment and care about issues, I don’t see that changing within a year.

KNOCK:

Finally, this is a little kind of more open-ended. What are some of the communities or organizations that you’ve worked with in the past, or your own, that you really want to help elevate and bring with you to the statehouse?

O:

So the most important is women. I think that, did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment never got ratified?

KNOCK:

I did not.

O:

So about 96% think the ERA was ratified, it never was. It came like 3 states short from being an amendment. So when you look at all the, all the issues women face, like for example equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement and employment, all the discriminations in like family leave, even being fired because they’re pregnant. And they use excuses that you’ll lose your job and can’t come back. Especially, Justice Scalia and all the arbitrary decisions that went against what was in the Constitution, women are not protected by the constitution, they’re not truly protected. So the first thing I would, that’s more important, is making sure women realize how much power they have. I mean I wish that we could somehow show women how much power they have, because economically, just their spending, socially, raising their kids. Like imagine your mom told you, I want you to vote for this and if you don’t I’m going to disown you. You’re going to vote for whatever your mom wants you to. And I think, or let’s say your wife, you’re married and your wife says if you don’t vote for this I’m not having sex with you ever again.

So the amount of influence women have, it’s incomprehensible to me why we don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment. And I think being on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood, I joined the board it was kind of like I started off, for me education is really important. I felt like our school system was going against our healthcare. They have one day a year they cover AIDS. And we got away from teaching our youth. In the old days it was great, because families would, you would, school would do the math and A, B, and Cs and the math, and then the homes would do all the family values and stuff. Well, those homes don’t exist the way they do. Now even really good parents who are working all day don’t have time to teach all the, and kids are learning more from television, from the internet, from other kids, and so they’re not getting the same values. So we need to go back to looking at this Equal Rights Amendment and pushing it through. That would help a lot of the discrepancies that are happening for women.

My other group that I would love to help is seniors. So one of the first things I would like to do if I’m elected is something simple. Out of my discretionary funds if I purchase two charter buses, and get funding to be able to pay for drivers, so that those charter buses would be available year round to every senior center in my district. They would be able to request the buses and they would be able to go on field trips, go to museums, go to zoos, go to the aquarium. Things that are accessible in the city. I would limit it to make sure they can’t go to casinos, we want to keep them local. I don’t know if you, I think there’s a lot of voters out there who have their parents getting to a certain age where lack of social contact rapidly decrease their health. It’s just scientific proof, the less social contact you have as you get older the faster your health disintegrates. So I think that goes a long way to have our seniors who’ve worked their whole lives, a lot of them are verterans, to have them maybe even have them where I can get the Dodgers to have it free for seniors and they can bring their grandkids on a field trip. But I think that social interaction, I think it’s important to give back to that community.

On just on my work schedule, I’m on a college and career task force, I’m part of a homeless coalition, part of DCFS, Department of Children and Family Services, coalition, two of them actually I participate in. The one in Pomona and El Monte. I attend, trying to think of all the stuff, it’s crazy the amount of stuff that I have. Like on a monthly basis a lot of it has to do with families, different, I’m on the SAC3. I’m an at-large chair, not a chair but an at-large committee member, and that takes care of all the mental, department of mental health, that’s through the SAC3 the San Gabriel Valley Area, I’m part of the monthly meetings that address whatever issues they’re having. In fact, there’s one, there’s a new kind of like a task force, that goes to homeless encampments and is supposed to reach out to homeless communities, and let them know what services are available.

KNOCK:

Like PATH?

O:

Kind of, and I think we need to have more of that. But there’s a lot of different stuff I’m involved in, stuff that it’s crazy to keep up with the schedule. Like this Thursday I have, its called the Homeless Continuity of Care coalition meeting at 8:30, starts at 8:30. And then at 9:30 or at 9 it’s the College and Career Task Force, and I have to be at both. So I try to go early to the one and leave early to be at the other one. So, I’m involved with a lot. And then of course I go to employment, like job developer forums and events.

KNOCK:

Great, that’s.

O:

Just one more comment about the things I care about.

KNOCK:

Sure.

O:

So one of the things that I can fix immediately also, we have the Workforce Investment and Innovation Act, which drives our workforce development. And its not really geared toward people it would help the most, it’s geared toward the easiest people it would be to help. So I want to tweak that legislation, it’s not even tweaking the legislation, it’s as simple as, because it’s federal legislation so I’m not going to be able to change it, but the state can ask for a waiver on the outcomes. And so right now everybody is worried because, let’s say you work in that field and you have to get jobs for 100 people in a year. So when people come in the door, let’s say one person’s homeless, or not even homeless, they’re battling drug addiction and they don’t have a car and they got laid off. And another person worked for Boeing for 15 years and got laid off. Has suit, has a nice car, and a home. So you have to get jobs for 100 people, so who are you going to enroll to work with? Right. This person because it’s gonna be easier to get this person a job, and if you have to get 100, a certain percentage of that hundred, jobs then your’re going to go after this person. So, the system, and then the same thing for youth. You have to, they have outcomes like they have to get a high school diploma or a certificate, they have to get a job. Get their grades up, their educational level functioning up higher during your enrollment. And you don’t run a school, the school couldn’t get their grade up, so what you do is enroll kids like seniors that are gonna be high school graduates. Because in June you’ll get the diploma that you’ll need and then you just have to focus on getting them a little part time job. Or you enroll kids who are gonna start college, cause if they’re gonna start Mount or go to East LA College or LACC, once they enroll that counts as a job for you as well. So you get an outcome. So you’re not helping the 15, 16 year olds, which those programs were originally to help the younger kids and they were effective. I got my first job through one of those, it used to be called JTP, the Job Training Partnership, before that it was CITA, so JTP then CITA and then WEA and now its WEOA. And then I have a lot of other stuff about youth employment programs I want to implement.

KNOCK:

Fantastic.

O:

So what do you think, one issue candidate?

KNOCK:

Not at all.

O:

But that’s the issue I think is the most important. I think it addresses, like I didn’t even talk about the Asian community, the Pacific Islanders. It’s a huge problem, like in the Phillipines it’s fairly common for families to sell their children for sex. I mean, it’s commonly accepted in some countries, and like here we have an issue with sexual trafficking. And 97% of kids that are sexually trafficked were sexually abused as children. 97%. And the biggest problem, well that’s a big problem, but they did a raid, the FBI did a raid in 70 cities, and out of the 220 something victims they rescued 70% were out of foster care. So it’s like foster care is a direct pipeline into sexual trafficking and we’re not even addressing any of that stuff, so.

So what’s your, if you had one thing, if you were in office for one year what would be your.

KNOCK:

It would be to, uh, completely scrap AB 398, the cap and trade, and to institute a carbon tax. I also am kind of a one issue person, I mean not also, but in, in, in that I agree with the broad, what we kind of call the broad progressive platform, but I think the environment is the one thing, of those, the one thing on a deadline. We don’t have much time.

O:

That’s the one that’s gonna impact us, and most people don’t see how exponentially, it’s not even a timeline like this [gestures like a graph timeline].

KNOCK:

Yeah, it’s really bad.

O:

Our oceans. not just the temperature but introducing foreign algaes and how it will impact, and how it just changes the whole environment. I think a lot of people don’t realize stuff like that. We flush stuff down our toilet, we bring plants form certain places, our fish tanks, you know dump them over and let out, algae gets intorduced and just kills the native algae. Our old people dumping. Have you seen that Midway video?

KNOCK:

Which?

O:

Midway, you never seen that?

KNOCK:

No.

O:

Oh my god, it’s crazy, it makes you cry. [pulls up video on phone] You gotta see this, I hope you’re not in a rush. So this is the long one, you can check it out later. Plastic Island.

KNOCK:

Oh, yeah, the vortexes. [music as video plays, some small talk about the sandwich at Stories as Olmos eats]

O:

This is what they found inside the dying birds. [long interval] Isn’t that crazy. And the sad part is even when they make things look like, when they make things look like they’re doing things for the general public, to help us, like these water ducts they’re trying to build. They’re really just doing it to benefit agribusiness. Really terrible, but the way they sell it and the way they market it, it’s crazy.

KNOCK:

Yeah, I was at the Metropolitan Water District meeting last month, and then at the Environment and Energy Committee meeting this last week, last Tuesday, on the Delta Tunnels and yeah, the pro-business interests, they completely co-opted the language of environmentalism, and it’s disgusting.

O:

And that’s one of the things I talk about, I’ve been interviewed by all the other organizations, like the Progressive Democrats and the Northeast Democrats, Feel The Bern, the Bernie people, they haven’t decided but the ones who’ve already decided who they’re going to endorse, they’re organizations who say they want to take money out of politics. But their one question, the last question they usually ask me, is like how much money have you raised. And I say well I haven’t raised any, I want to keep money out of politics like you do, and thev’re literally told me we can’t support you if we don’t think you can win. So I’m like, well you don’t really want to get money out of politics. Because that would send a strong message, to say hey we backed the candidate, we helped him win and he’s not asking for money. You know, it shows that it’s possible to do it. These are special circumstances, but it would be nice, even if I get to the runoff, to say I got here with no money, but because people care about certain issues.

KNOCK:

Yeah, well you know we’ll, we’ll, ah, I’ll get this written up and give it a signal boost, see where it goes from there.

O:

That’s awesome. And maybe down the line you guys can do a story about sexual abuse and the effect it has on kids.

KNOCK:

Yeah, anything that’s local.

O:

Oh, it’s definitely local.

KNOCK:

And where is Your Voice Matters, where is that based?

O:

I have an office in El Monte. And in the past two years I’ve been there maybe once, because everything I do is in the community. So I’ll do workshops, and everything I do is free, I’ll do free workshops for parents. Check out, the Facebook page is probably the best way, it has all the stuff.

KNOCK:

Sure. I’m maybe the one person on earth not on Facebook, but I did check out the Twitter feed before tonight.

O:

And so, uh, so I’ll go, cause I have an office in Pomona too, so it was easy for me to work after work. So Tri-City Mental Health, they gave me a youth center I could use every Tuesday night and I’d advertise. I put ads in the newspaper, say hey every Tuesday I’m there, and I’ll do workshops for parents, and I’d hardly get anybody to show up. So what I started doing is instead of waiting for people to come to me I’d go to them. So let’s say you have an organization that works with kids, so I’ll meet with the parents, and my focus is strictly on parents, I don’t work with the children. So I’ll go to PTA meetings, I’ll go to like moms clubs, I’ll go to Chamber of Commerces, wherever to talk about the importance. So wherever, I’ll go to wherever.


AD51: Interview with Mario Olmos was originally published in KNOCK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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