By Jonathan Whitaker, Merced County Times
May 25, 2022
In this final campaign stretch before the June 7 primary election is decided, Adam Gray appears to be well grounded — calm, cool and collected, if you will — as he continues to drum up support for his bid to become this region’s next representative in the U.S. Congress.
Many locals remember a time, “not that long ago” some will say, when Gray was the new face, a rising, thirty-something political force, competing for an open seat in a newly redrawn State Assembly district.
Well, it’s been an entire decade, and today, Assemblyman Adam Gray, is a seasoned 44-year-old legislator with accomplishments under his belt such as the largest water bond in California history, the establishment of a medical school at UC Merced, and billions of dollars in transportation investment for impactful projects like Campus Parkway and the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE Rail) expansion to Merced.
Now Gray is moving forward for an open seat in a newly redrawn Congressional District 13 — one that contains a large percentage of his current constituents. And this time around, he’s the main “Moderate Democrat” target of political jabs by the four other hopefuls in the race: Democrat Phil Arballo and Republicans John Duarte, David Giglio and Diego Martinez.
He’s got a strong response and answer to their attacks — or what he calls “the noise, the distractions and the nonsense.”
He can actually sum it up in a few sentences.
But first — as the Times caught up with him at his home recently — the candidate just wanted to catch his breath. He had just returned from a fundraising and networking trip to Washington where he met with organizations such as the American Farm Bureau and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A couple members of his campaign team were making calls in the kitchen. His mother was sitting in the living room, waiting and resting before another community event that evening.
Gray’s house in the Spaghetti Acres neighborhood of Merced was built by his grandfather. It’s only a few steps away from the family home he grew up in as a kid.
When asked about his decision to run, he seemed relieved to reflect on what led him to this point in his life. From a time when youngsters were writing letters to the governor to bring a UC Merced campus to town, to his days at Merced College, to going to work as a legislative aide with former Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza.
“My first reaction about the idea of running for Congress was: ‘I’m not sure I want to go there.’ From a distance, Congress looks like a place where there’s hardened partisanship — almost tribal behavior — where people fight just for the sake of fighting, or because they don’t have the same letter behind their name. They don’t seem to solve many problems. …
“I went to Sacramento because I felt I could get a lot done. I was a former staff person at the State Capitol. I understood the process. I thought I could really serve the community well. … New infrastructure, growing UC Merced, protecting agriculture, protecting our water rights — those are the things that are meaningful to me. …
“And the more I thought about it, the more I thought about all the reasons I should run. We need more leaders in Congress willing to work across party lines, willing to focus on getting something done, and not just blaming the other side.”
“You know my father ran a dairy supply company. If you were working for my dad, and he pointed out to you that something was not done, and you said it was someone else’s fault, that would probably be your last day on the job. That’s not the kind of crap we put up with in the ag world. But that’s what most of these politicians do. They just blame the other side.”
Gray says he wants to go to Washington to continue addressing the same issues he’s been facing in Sacramento: Things like drought regulations, water storage and conservation. “We have to have an all-of-the-above approach. We have to engage in conservation and improving the current infrastructure that we have — which means raising reservoirs. It means investing in efficiencies such as lining our canals. It means putting in the pipes to connect existing reservoirs so that depending on runoff and different systems, we can have more flexibility around storage. It means investing in technology to better analyze the snow melt so that we can capture runoff more effectively. … I worked to get $100 million in last year’s budget so that we could look at mapping the San Joaquin Valley Floor to look for groundwater recharge opportunities.”
He says it’s no secret that he’s willing to stand up to his own party leadership to defend the valley’s access to water.
“In multiple circumstances over the past decade, my party leadership in Sacramento has asked me to take votes to impair our water situation here in the valley, and every single time, I’ve voted with my community.”
The candidate wants to keep working on improving air quality in the valley and reducing the impact of wildfires through “reasonable forest management practices, better cooperation between the state and federal agencies, new fire-detecting technology, and less posturing between the far right and the far left.”
Says Gray: “I’m not a climate-change denier. Climate change is a real problem, and it’s one that we must be willing to address. But I’m also not the type of climate change activist that says we should put everybody out of business, and tax everything and everyone to levels that they can’t afford. That’s obviously not a practical solution. But we can do both. We can be innovative and thoughtful, and we can work together.”
Gray took some heat from Republicans in 2017 when he threw his support behind a massive transportation funding bill that was tied to fuel tax increases and new vehicle fees. The payoff, however, included significant investment into regional projects such as Campus Parkway and ACE Rail. And then recently, his challengers have criticized Gray for not participating in a failed Republican effort to create a “Gas Tax Holiday” across the state due to record high prices at the pump. It turns out, Gray and the California Problem Solvers Caucus, have their own proposal in the works to “suspend the gas tax for 12 months, create a reasonable but meaningful enforcement mechanism to ensure oil companies do not pocket the tax cut for themselves, and backfill every penny to fully fund state and local transportation projects.”
“It covered everybody’s concerns,” Gray adds.
The candidate says he will remain a strong advocate for UC Merced, especially its fledgling medical school program and agricultural technology research. Gray wants to improve the physician-patient ratio in the area and bring in more providers. He said one of the first issues he would like to put on the table in Congress is to lift residency caps to retain in California, and the Central Valley, those aspiring doctors who are educated in the UC system.
“In an ideal world, we would have high quality medical education like the med school at UC Merced, we would have a residency slot for them to go to, and we would have a loan repayment program that said if they stayed and practiced in this community, we would pay their loans over 10 years. If we could do all those things, we would be doing a lot of good as far as health care access goes for people who live in the valley.”
The candidate also envisions a new emphasis on Career Technical Education to create opportunities for young people and fill regional demands such as the need for more housing.
“What I see is opportunity,” Gray says. “Can’t we put some robust programs in high schools, and work with our building trade unions, partners and others, to educate a whole new generation of folks who can build, build, build. Let’s build our way out of the problem. Let’s provide high-quality, high-paying jobs to young people who are looking for opportunity, and potentially lowering the cost of housing for everyone over the long term.”
Gray has earned endorsements from local Sheriffs Vern Warnke, Margaret Mims of Fresno, and Jeff Dirkse of Stanislaus; nine county supervisors, 15 city council members and seven mayors. He’s also supported by the Blue Dog Caucus in Washington, known for their pragmatic, bipartisan, and no-nonsense approach to enacting legislative priorities. Gray promises to join the caucus when he gets to Washington, and he’s already willing to wear a Blue Dog pin on his shirt.
“In the valley, being a ‘Blue Dog’ is considered a badge of honor,” Gray says.
The self-described “radical centrist” says he will work with his colleagues to strengthen the criminal justice system and support a multifaceted approach to solving homelessness, drug addiction and mental health problems
At the moment, however, Gray will have to contend with “the distractions” and “the accusations” from both political parties before the June primary, and perhaps, just the Republicans in the General Election runoff, depending on who the Top 2 vote-getters end up being.
And this is where he has that short answer to his opponents, and a strong argument in his favor for voters to consider.
Says Gray: “If you want a congressman who has no record in office, no experience as an elected leader, and doesn’t live in your district. Well then, vote for any of my opponents, because they all fit that description. If you want a congressman who grew up here, who still lives here — and always will — and who will fight for you every day, and more importantly, isn’t just saying he’s going to fight for you every day, but has a record of doing that for 10 years in the State Legislature … That’s who I am.”
Original can be viewed by visiting the Merced County Times website.