Meet the chairman

When the Assembly reconvenes in January, groups with business before the Public Safety Committee will notice a marked change. Gone is the liberal chairman, Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who has moved on to chair Assembly Appropriations. In his place is a Latino freshman from Orange County who is significantly less liberal than his predecessor.

The new head of the committee is Jose Solorio, a former Santa Ana councilman who may bring a new tone and direction for the Assembly’s top crime committee.

“Solorio is kind of a moderate on the immigration issue,” said George Urch, a former chief of staff to Solorio’s predecessor Tom Umberg.

As a council member, Solorio opposed issuing drivers licenses to illegal
immigrants, a stance that can be seen as atypical of a Mexican-born immigrant, but not something he sees as anti-immigrant.

“I’m an immigrant and so I know all to well the struggles and challenges that immigrants have in our country,” said Solorio, “I was actually the only one on the Santa Ana city council that actively participated in the pro-immigration reform rallies during the year.”

His first bill, AB 37, is designed to help create better programs for English-learner students, “To give you a sense of why it’s so important to me. I judge that a big part of my success in this country was learning English.”

Umberg, who endorsed Solorio’s campaign early on, was optimistic about the future of the new assemblyman and pointed out Solorio’s open-minded and pragmatic political style. According to Umberg, Solorio’s biggest challenge will be as Public Safety chairman, specifically in regards to prisons. “He’s [going to] be in the middle of the continuing ‘tough on crime’ debate.”

But Solorio has some deep ties to traditional Democratic groups. During his campaign, Solorio received over $300,000 from labor groups, his primary source of fundraising. “I think Jose is a pretty independent-minded guy. While I’m sure that he will listen to all sides, I don’t think he’s [going to] be unduly influenced by labor or anybody else,” said Umberg.

Solorio is no stranger to the legislative process. He assisted Umberg and Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, in legislation that banned small motorcycles called ‘pocket bikes’ from being used on public streets. The phenomenon hit Southern California neighborhoods hard as gangs of pocket-bike riders began to flood the streets. “There were hundreds of them,” said Solorio. “You’d hear these loud, obnoxious motorcycle sounds every 30 seconds just because kids would go up and down the same street.”

Future legislation on Solorio’s list will aim toward addressing gang-related crime in the district, directing state funds toward transportation and infrastructure concerns, and, most notably, education. “Education is clearly my No. 1 one issue priority–that was such a big part of my campaign as well as such a priority for our district,” said Solorio.

Born in Michoacan Mexico and having immigrated to the United States with his parents as an infant, freshman Solorio has struggled for his success but still holds his immigrant roots close.

Solorio was raised in Kern County, half an hour north of Bakersfield. “My parents were farm workers

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