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Courtesy Mari Goodman

Mari Goodman, a Tehachapi Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Shannon Grove for the newly drawn 34th Assembly District seat.

Mari Goodman sat in a small, crowded office of the Service Employees International Union in Bakersfield last week, among filing cabinets, stacks of boxes filled with T-shirts and union organizing materials, papers and posters for union initiatives.

As an SEIU organizer, these are some of the tools of her trade: mobilizing union members around the state to take action on labor issues, collective bargaining demands and state law beneficial to them.

The Tehachapi woman is taking the same tact in her challenge of state Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, for the new 34th Assembly District seat. With only two candidates in the running, Goodman and Grove will face each other in the June primary and again in the November general election.

As a Democrat, Goodman faces an uphill battle as almost 50 percent of district voters are registered as Republicans. Her strategy, she said, is getting people out to vote.

"If we were to get all the Democrats to get out to vote, we wouldn't even have to worry about running a race. We know we'd do well," Goodman said.

"I want to be able to excite some of the base," she said. Getting more people in Kern County to vote would show the Republican Party that, "there are people who are interested in running against a Republican in a very Republican county."

And were she to make it to the state Assembly, Goodman said she'd keep her doors open to constituents.

"I don't want to be in Sacramento all the time," she said. "I want to be here, working on the issues of this area, this district."

Among those issues are unemployment, jail overcrowding, air quality and transportation.

"I would be looking at clean energy and how we're going to create some jobs here. I'd be looking at the auto industry ... and how can we bring that here," she said.

On the California high-speed rail project, for example, "we need to do it," Goodman said

"We need to focus better on how we're going to have it here, and we need to publicize why it's important to have it," she said. "We're going to save a lot of pollution in this area."

As for Grove's proposal to have state legislators work part-time for a portion of their current salaries, Goodman said that would limit the list of state legislature candidates to only wealthy people. Term limits and making more effective use of the legislature's time would be better measures, she said.

Another idea would be to institute consequences for state legislators, such as a delay in pay, when a budget isn't passed in line with mandatory deadlines. she said.

And on employment, Goodman said, among other things, training and state services could help.

"The unemployment office has changed. They used to have job training there," Goodman said. "You'd have a specialist, who used to just work with veterans coming home ... whether it was Iraq or peaceful countries ... to get retrained, to reinstate them into today's era of what's going on. ... All of these programs have been gutted" because of state budget cuts.

Manuel Rodriguez, an office technician for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the Wasco State Prison and a local president for SEIU, has worked with Goodman for 11 years on union issues, training and representation. He said she's been effective and a good role model in organizing union members to get behind labor issues.

"She's been very effective, very instrumental," he said. "She leads by example. She won't ask anyone to do what she won't do. But at the same time, she knows the ins and outs of what the cause is that she's fighting for."

Candi Easter, head of the Kern County Democratic Party, said Goodman's energy, experience and focus on middle-class issues make her a strong candidate.

"She knows the issues, she's very self-assured and she has so much energy," Easter said. "It would be great to have someone (in the state Assembly) that represents the working-class people, the middle-class people in this county and not just elitist business owners," she said.

As for Goodman's prospects in a heavily Republican district, Easter said, "There's a lot of people that are dissatisfied with Shannon Grove and with the leadership that we're getting from the Republican representatives" in state and federal government. "They should be thinking about the constituents, not about party dogma, and I think Mari would do that."