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ELECTION COVERAGE Trustee Guillen tries for Sacramento

Trustee looks to come out ahead in race for assembly

By Rachel Weaver
On October 25, 2012


The political future of Peralta Community Colleges District Board of Trustees member Abel Guillen will be decided this Election Day, Nov. 6, as he runs for State Assembly.

Guillen has been with the Board since 2006 and now wants to champion public education, among other key issues, for the state of California as he throws his hat into the race.

Guillen grew up on a solid foundation based on the importance of family and hard work. His mom, who is from Nicaragua, is a cook at a hospital; his dad has been a baker at a hotel for the past 40 years.

Guillen is the middle child with two brothers in a large extended family. He attended public school in the Bay Area and was the first one in his family to get a college degree. He earned a master's degree in public policy from UC Berkeley. 

When elected to the Peralta Board, Guillen promised to make decisions relevant to students, teachers and staff. Guillen said he wanted to "increase accountability and transparency."  He feels his work with fellow trustees allowed the board to make great strides toward providing accountability towards management of the district.

Guillen initiated innovative programs such as the AC Transit pass for PCCD students, which saves students on average about $1,000 a year. He also worked with fellow trustees to create the Peralta Health and Wellness Center. He feels his proudest achievement while on the board was building consensus.

"Our meetings used to be quite long and lengthy; it used to be a very divided board and I feel like I've helped build a consensus," Guillen said.

Fellow Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen agrees Guillen has bestowed a great gift on the board, both during his previous tenure as Board President and his present work as a Trustee.

"Abel has been a real conciliator. Right now we get along really well and I date that to his tenure as the board president," Yuen said.  "He had a way of finding the common ground as opposed to inflaming differences among board members. And when you're looking at what works and what's common and where you agree, then you find you can get a lot more done - you focus on that part and that's something that he has been great at doing."

Guillen himself is equally proud of the expert knowledge he brought to the board. "My background is in finance," he said. "I feel I've been able to delve into a lot of financial issues with the district and help my colleagues on the board understand those issues and ask the right questions."

Guillen is now running for State Assembly District 18 which encompasses Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda. He said he first decided to join the race because of a pair of passionate student leaders he was working with.

"A lot of folks were saying, 'You know Abel you've done a good job with the board, you should run for city council.' But I actually went up to Sacramento with a couple of our student leaders, and we were up there for a protest," Guillen said.

"When we came out of a meeting with an assembly member after lobbying and talking about the importance of education, the students said, 'Abel, you need to do this, you need to be an advocate for us. We can see you here.' Those students planted that seed." 

After looking at who was potentially running, Guillen had a realization. "There wasn't anyone in the field who I could get behind, anyone who was a true champion for education," he said.

Since he had dedicated his life to such a cause for the past 12 years, he decided to run for State Assembly. As the first member of his family to graduate from college he "wanted to make sure other Californians have the same opportunity" that he did. Guillen knew he wanted to fight for education, but that it couldn't be done at the city council; he wanted to go all the way to Sacramento.

"Education is a great equalizer in our democracy and it has always been the way for upward social mobility," Guillen said. "In my life I have known education to stop the cycle of poverty. So we need to make sure other Californians have access to education."

In terms of educational funding, Guillen is worried about Proposition 30 and the consequences of what will happen if it doesn't pass Nov. 6. "We're really going to be in the hot seat," he said.  Guillen spoke of a possible $5.5 million budget cut, and how Peralta would have to turn away another 1200 full-time students. 

"We're supposed to be training these students, making sure they get the skills that they need for this new economy,"  he said. "Proposition 30 is absolutely key to us and I'm working very hard as a trustee to raise money for that campaign and to spread the word of its importance." 

Guillen is also concerned about issues such as healthcare and recidivism rates.

In terms of healthcare, Guillen feels President Obama's Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction, but still needs more improvement because not all Americans are going to be covered.

"I think here in California we have opportunities to build on the Affordable Care Act and to try to strive towards a single payer system where we eliminate the various insurance companies. I think it's immoral for health care companies to make excess profits off of sick people. Having a single payer system in health care is going to make a difference," Guillen said.

Guillen returns to his passion for education in his goals for reducing recidivism rates. He said, "Right now prisoners don't receive any type of educational services. If we provide community-college level training, the evidence shows that it will reduce the recidivism rate by at least 30 percent." 

Guillen has many hopes for a State Assembly victory. He hopes to bring his multifaceted skill-set-his background in public policy, as well as his ability to problem solve and build consensus-to Sacramento.

"More than anything, I'll bring my background in public finance, which we need in Sacramento," Guillen said. "I think we need more people who understand finance and budgeting and how that works. I feel that's a skill set that differentiates me from any other candidate in this race."

Fellow board trustee Linda Handy agrees Guillen's attention to detail makes him the best man for the job. "Abel understands the numbers. We count on him to find anything that doesn't add up because that's what he does," Handy said.  "So I think he's the most experienced candidate and the best candidate for the job and I do hope he prevails."

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