Illustration by Patrick Tran / The Collegian
While most Fresno State voters focus on the choice of their next president, a smaller but just as significant Nov. 4 race is going on, right in their backyard: the election of Fresnoâ€™s next mayor.
Henry T. Perea and Ashley Swearengin, who are both in their 30s, each would bring dynamic ideas to the job of leading the stateâ€™s sixth largest city.
Perea grew up in Fresno. He went to Fresno State and has been a Fresno City Council member for six years. Swearengin moved to Fresno while in high school. She, too, went to Fresno State and has been working on campus for 10 years.
In separate interviews with The Collegian, Perea and Swearengin explained their positions on some of the most important citywide issues that face student voters.
What issues are students and young adults showing concern for in this election, and how do you plan on addressing them locally?
PEREA: I have heard many students show concern for the economy. Iâ€™m going to [address] that in a couple of ways. Number one: Iâ€™m going to invest more in renewable energy; it creates green-collared jobs. The second thing Iâ€™m going to do is invest more in entrepreneurship, making sure that we are providing the resources that our future entrepreneurs need while they graduate. They may have a good idea but donâ€™t have the money to take it out to the marketplace.
The other issue that I have heard young people show interest in, in terms of quality of life, is downtown revitalization. That means more mixed-use urban housing. Today, for example, if you wanted to live in the suburbs, you could do that in Fresno, but if you want to live in a more urban, higher-density area, where, say, you want to live in a loft or something, itâ€™s a lot harder to do. I really want to attract and build that kind of housing and create more entertainment districts so that there are more places for people to go.
SWEARENGIN: The issues that I have heard students show concern on are jobs and things relating to their economic security. Iâ€™ve also heard a lot about mass transit and downtown revitalization. I would add air quality to college studentsâ€™ concern. I think the intensity that college students have for these issues is greater than that of other folks.
How does your stand on these issues differ from your opponent?
Illustration by Patrick Tran / The Collegian
PEREA: I am different â€¦ from my opponent in my experience. Iâ€™ve been doing this for the last six years as a councilman. Should I be elected mayor, I would have authority to do more.
SWEARENGIN: I think the difference between Henry and me is our experienceâ€¦ These are the kinds of issues that I have been addressing, hands on, for the last 10 years in my field of economic development.
Where do you stand on Proposition 8, the marriage initiative? Do you think it has a big impact on students?
PEREA: I am opposed to Prop. 8 because I believe that when we look at history and what the Constitution is for, we see that it was meant to guarantee our rights as individuals, not take them away. Anytime you start messing with the basic philosophical function of the Constitution, I think itâ€™s the wrong way to go. The government attaches certain rights to married couples, and if youâ€™re not technically a married couple then there are a lot of things that you will not be able to share in. When I look at this issue, I see discrimination. Coming from a background where my grandparents were discriminated against when they first came to this country, I could never do that to somebody else.
SWEARENGIN: I think student views are much like that of the voting population. There are many people in my support base that agree with Prop. 8 and there are many people that donâ€™t. Itâ€™s not a campaign issue for me, although I will let my personal views be known and say that I will be voting for Prop. 8.
The position of Fresno mayor is a non-partisan position. Do you think your stances on issues follow party lines and how might that affect how you guide Fresno?
PEREA: No, I donâ€™t think it will have any effect at all. Iâ€™ve been on the City Council for six years and one of the things Iâ€™ve learned is that good ideas come from Democrats, Republicans and Independents. I think that at City Hall, the most important thing is to embrace good ideas no matter where they come from.
SWEARENGIN: It absolutely is a non-partisan position. If you look at the work that Iâ€™ve done over the last 15 years and if you look at the coalitions that I have pulled together and the teams of people that I have brought together to address the serious issues of Fresno and the Valley, [my work] is completely bi-partisan.
How do you think your time in Fresno and at Fresno State would influence how you run the city?
PEREA: Growing up in Fresno gives me a deeper understanding of the needs of our community. Having grown up here, Iâ€™ve seen Fresno change over the course of the last 30 years, some for the good and some not. I think having my roots and â€¦ going to Fresno State really gives me a unique perspective that I think my opponent doesnâ€™t get.
SWEARENGIN: Fresno State really was the thing that anchored me in this community. I came here as a freshman in high school and I think that if I hadnâ€™t had gone to Fresno State as a freshman in college, I probably wouldnâ€™t have decided to put roots down in this area.
I just love this city. I think that Fresno has so many wonderful things to offer. We have gotten the short end of the stick time and time again from our leadership in Sacramento and Washington D.C. I think that Fresnans ourselves have had a negative view of our own city. I think all that that is changing is that Fresno has always had a little bit of an underdog kind of an image. But I think that our future is going to be one of vibrancy and of a high quality of life for the people who live here.
How important do you think Fresno State is to the community?
PEREA: I think Fresno State is extremely important. Anytime you have a university in a town youâ€™ll find that those cities that thrive have a strong relationship with their universities. I think maintaining a strong relationship with Fresno State is critical to Fresnoâ€™s success.
SWEARENGIN: We canâ€™t get to where we want to be without the university. Fresno State really is a cornerstone of this community. It is the major vehicle to provide college education for people in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. â€¦ There is not a thing in this community that isnâ€™t positively influenced by Fresno State. Frankly, that is why I decided to go to work at Fresno State eight years ago; I am the director of economic development, and I realized that if we really wanted to move the needle on economic prosperity in Fresno and in the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno State would really have to be front and center on that.
How important do you think it is for students to vote? Do you think this election is different from past elections in that more students are showing a need and a want to vote?
PEREA: I think itâ€™s vitally important. But what I have found is that most of our youth are pretty engaged and pretty active in whatâ€™s going on. We have even had a lot of students especially from Fresno State, that have volunteered for our campaign. Iâ€™ll tell you, thereâ€™s a real excitement in the air right now. Not only for what is happening locally, but also [for] what is happening nationally. I think that kind of excitement has really generated a lot of buzz on college campuses. Our campaign has certainly seen the benefit of that.
SWEARENGIN: I think itâ€™s critically important for students to get out there and vote; people need to take ownership of their communities. Thatâ€™s one thing that I learned from a very young age, something that my parents instilled in me â€” the sense of responsibility that we all have for our own community. I think itâ€™s terrific that college students seem to be inspired in this election. There has been such a layer of cynicism over our country and I think the only way to break that is for the young people of our country to say itâ€™s not so and make a conscious choice to reverse that cynicism with their civic actions. I think itâ€™s time.
For more information on the candidates, visit their campaign Web sites:
â€¢ Henry T. Perea
â€¢ Ashley Swearengin