1: You had eight siblings and put yourself through both undergraduate and graduate school at Cal. You were also the first, and only, Cal student elected to serve on the Berkeley City Council, and you spent much of your University years as a community organizer. How have your college years influenced your time as an assemblymember?
Nancy Skinner: I was fortunate to have professors who urged us to walk our talk. By necessity my internships had to be close by, so I got immersed in local issues. I interned at Golden Gate National Recreation Area and worked with groups advocating that the City of Berkeley stop using pesticides on street trees and parks. Berkeley adopted that policy in the ’70s, and if memory serves, was the first city in the U.S. to do so. Berkeley’s action inspired cities across the country. Having a policy that I worked on be put into place and then catalyze action elsewhere taught me firsthand that such work could be a change agent.
I was also involved in the efforts to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday and in the South African divestment movement. That, plus running for and getting elected ASUC Academic Affairs VP taught me campaign skills and exposed me to folks I never dreamed of meeting, such as then-Governor Jerry Brown, all of which has stood me in good stead throughout my career.
2: You and Senator Loni Hancock spoke in support of the Occupy Cal protests last November. In response, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau wrote, “As usual Skinner and Hancock only know how to do damage.” Has this affected your relationship with your alma mater?
Chancellor Birgeneau was in China at the time and was responding to second-hand information. He has since apologized and acknowledged that neither I nor the Senator attended the protests and that our interactions with every campus affiliate always communicated zero tolerance for vandalism or violence. My excellent relationship with Cal, its students, administrators, staff, and faculty is going on 40 years now and I look forward to it continuing to be productive.
3: About 20 years ago, you were among the group of writers on the 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth book series. Since then, the environmental pressures on the Earth have increased. How would that list be different today?
There have been successes and increased challenges. The restriction on human-made chemicals like CFCs succeeded in reversing damage to our atmosphere’s ozone layer, whereas our effort to thwart destructive climate change has been less promising. But what each of us should do is not that different than when we wrote the book. Using the least amount of non-renewable resources and resources that are at risk is still the wise choice. And whenever we can choose a reusable product versus a one-use-only product, as well as selecting energy-efficient, non-toxic, non-hazardous and in terms of species non-endangered products, we’re being smart.
4: You’re running unopposed this November, but you’re still holding fundraisers. Why?
I co-chair the Assembly Democratic Caucus campaign. We are engaged in voter registration, voter outreach, and more, all of which take funds to support. One goal is to beat the two-thirds stranglehold that prevents action that would stop funding cuts to, for example, our UC and CSU system. California has nonsensical corporate tax loopholes that cost the state billions of dollars. One in particular favors out-of-state corporations at the expense of California companies. To eliminate loopholes or restore the millionaire tax bracket to what it was when Ronald Reagan was governor takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. In the Assembly that is 54 votes. Our Caucus campaign is working to achieve that 54-vote threshold.
5: You’re up for your third and final term as an assemblymember. What will you do when it’s done?
In the June 2012 primary, California voters changed term limits so that legislators taking office for the first time this December can serve up to 12 years in either house. But those rules don’t apply to those of us currently in office. The existing term limit really disadvantages constituents, who lose the staff team their representative assembled as well as the leadership role their representative gained. My plan is to stay focused on what I can accomplish in this next legislative term, and as I have a good track record, I’m looking forward to more legislative successes.