The race for California’s 37th state Senate district is a crowded one — and features some familiar names for legislative spectators.

The sprawling SD-37, which changed during the decennial redistricting process in 2021, includes at least parts of Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Orange, Fullerton and Laguna Niguel.

It’s the only state Senate seat Orange County voters will see on their ballot this year.

Voter Guide Series

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series breaking down the legislative races in 2024 in Orange County. We explore the districts and candidates’ platforms. For more, check out our comprehensive voter guide here.

Sen. Josh Newman, an incumbent Democrat is running for the seat, as is business owner Gabrielle Ashbaugh, former Assemblymember Steven Choi, neurosurgical technologist Leticia Correa, surgical coordinator Jacob Niles Creer, former Councilmember Anthony Kuo, medical authorization coordinator Stephanie Le, Councilmember Crystal Miles, community organizer Alex Mohajer, BuildersMax CEO Guy Selleck and respiratory therapist Jenny Suarez.

Choi, Kuo, Miles and Selleck are Republicans; the other seven candidates are Democrats.

For many of the candidates, education and health care are their top budget priorities.

Selleck says he would prioritize supporting behavioral health hospitals to address homelessness and drug addiction during the budget process while Mohajer would like to see Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, expanded and universal healthcare coverage implemented.

Newman, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee, is keen on ensuring there’s maximum funding earmarked for California’s education system, particularly at the K-12 level. And Miles, a Villa Park councilmember, says she wants to make sure education funding is spent in the classroom.

Ashbaugh, Correa, Creer, Le and Suarez did not participate in the Register’s 2024 Primary Election Voter Guide and did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

A former Irvine Unified School Board member, Choi served in the Assembly for six years before redistricting pitted him against another incumbent member — and he lost. He says he wants to return to the legislature to aid in efforts to reduce homelessness, and for him, that looks like focusing on more long-term efforts, he said.

“My approach would start with in-depth research of homeless people by a reputable research team to identify the causes of their situation. The research results will be categorized by causes and used to set policies to eliminate or minimize them,” Choi said. “I can only guess that there are largely three categories of them: lack of money, mental health and drug use. A simplified answer to the complex problem is early education by curriculum change.”

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Get to know the candidates in California’s 38th congressional race
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Get to know the candidates in Orange County’s Assembly races

Mohajer, vice president of Iranian American Democrats of California, says the legislature should focus on rising costs and a lack of affordable housing to address the homelessness crisis. He wants to see more development of mixed-use and mixed-density housing near transit hubs, like the Irvine/Tustin railway corridor, he said.

His homelessness plan also involves seniors: “Seniors are the fastest growing rate of homeless people in California. Let’s make Medi-Cal share-of-cost programs more affordable, and housing stabilization subsidies would help 25,000 seniors and disabled people keep or access housing.”

Kuo, too, is interested in how the state is spending money when it comes to homelessness. Citing a state audit of the $20 billion California has spent on homelessness over a five-year span, Kuo said legislators should take an in-depth look at what programs have worked and which ones have not moved the needle.

“We ought to keep up with the programs that are working and put a stop to the programs that aren’t yielding results of getting our homeless resources and treatment they need to be a part of our communities,” said Kuo, a former Irvine councilmember.

Tracking and assessing the vast amount of money already spent on homelessness initiatives, Newman said, comes in tandem with more alignment between public agencies and community groups.

“Here in Orange County, it’s all too common for different programs and organizations to be working in the same areas without coordination or data sharing so there is often very little to show for the costs and effort involved,” said Newman. He pointed to the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, a coalition of 12 cities, as an example of a good centralized coordination system.

Miles, who describes herself as a constitutional conservative, says the state’s new CARE Court program — which gives doctors, first responders, family and other specified people to petition the court for housing and services for people with severe mental illnesses — should be given time to be implemented. Then, she says, the state should consider whether it be expanded.

“The goal is to get the homeless off the streets and get them mental health care that will make them productive citizens and community members,” said Miles.

The legislature, Choi said, should ensure all health insurances cover the cost of mental health treatments. And parents and patients, he said, need to be educated on early treatments and ways to end a “social stigma” that causes people to hide from addressing a mental health problem.

Both Kuo and Selleck say the government shouldn’t set minimum wage standards for specific industries — like California’s plan to implement a first-in-the-nation $25 minimum wage for health workers.

“This is another example of state government unnecessarily picking winners and losers. Let the economy and free market decide the going rate of pay for employees,” said Kuo. “California’s role should be to ensure that employees and service providers are meeting requirements as they currently do through professional licensing but should also be protecting those working to make a living by ensuring fair earnings and conditions.”

“Government should not interfere in private industry,” Selleck said. “Market demand and skill should dictate wages, not the government.”