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76th Assembly District candidates (from left to right) Kristie Bruce-Lane, Joseph Rocha and Darshana Patel. Courtesy photos
76th Assembly District candidates (from left to right) Kristie Bruce-Lane, Joseph Rocha and Darshana Patel. Courtesy photos
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Three candidates look ahead to 76th Assembly race in 2024

REGION — Three hopefuls for the California Assembly have hit the ground running with campaigns to lead the 76th District in next year’s election. 

Republican Kristie Bruce-Lane, Democrat Joseph Rocha, and Democrat Darshana Patel are all vying to replace longtime Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, who will retire from the assembly next fall and clear the seat for a challenger for the first time in 12 years. 

It’s a group of candidates split along party lines and with state-level campaign experience. This will be Bruce-Lane’s second time throwing her hat in the ring to represent the 76th District after she fell just short of Maienschein by two percentage points in 2022. 

“Coming within a couple of percentage points of winning last year against a 20-year incumbent of the legislature and local office who had unlimited resources, I demonstrated the strength of my candidacy and campaign,” said Bruce-Lane, former board director for the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. 

Rocha is entering an Assembly race for the first time after running to represent the 40th Senate District in 2022, where he came in around seven percentage points behind State Sen. Brian Jones. Patel has not run for a state seat before but is in the midst of her second term on the Poway Unified School District board.

“I decided to run for State Assembly about a year and a half ago when I was approached by community leaders to consider running for the open Assembly District seat,” Patel said. “I realized that the challenges we are facing with public education are similar in many sectors of our economy, and we need a representative with a holistic, systems-oriented mindset to bring a strong community voice to state policies.”‘

The 76th District, redrawn in late 2021, encompasses San Marcos and Escondido in the north and Rancho Santa Fe, Carmel Valley, Carmel Mountain Ranch and Rancho Bernardo in the south, stopping just short of Poway.  

Much of the current 76th District used to be in the 77th District, and candidates can expect stronger Republican voting power in the 76th than before. However, Rocha is not deterred and is relying on the base built during his Senate campaign in some overlapping district areas. As a Latino candidate and a veteran, he said he is focused on connecting with and representing those communities in the district.

“Last cycle, we overperformed in these areas of Escondido and San Marcos as a first-time challenger,” Rocha said. “We learned the power of the grassroots campaign… and over time, we went from someone with no name ID to a million-dollar campaign that came close to unseating the top Republican in the California legislature.

“I think there is a tremendous chance to elect someone like ourselves, and we have connected with the voter and would do well in representing them.”

While Patel has not previously run for state office, she said her experience on the Poway Unified school board has provided valuable leadership experience. Since 2016, she has helped the district get back on track from financial mismanagement and embezzlement scandals by developing a Facilities Master Plan, overseeing the rebuilding of financial reserves, and approving the special tax reduction plan, saving taxpayers over $1 billion, among other efforts.

School board rooms are far from apolitical, and as president of the San Diego County School Boards Association, Patel has also led countywide workshops for good governance. 

“When I see a problem, I don’t wait for others to solve it; I actively seek solutions through collaboration and shared values,” said Patel. “Our region and state need an elected official who is trusted, experienced, and qualified.”

Homelessness, housing and the rising cost of living are just some of the hot topics drawing attention in this race, with all three candidates emphasizing the need to make things more affordable.

Bruce-Lane, the founder of child homelessness and domestic violence nonprofit The Thumbprint Project Foundation, said homelessness policy must include thorough wraparound services for those with mental illness and drug addiction. She said she supports increased court-mandated treatment and does not support a housing-first approach.

“The issues that we are dealing with — high taxes and high cost of living, the homelessness crisis and increased crime — are not partisan issues,” Bruce-Lane said. “These are issues that are affecting all hardworking families. People want common-sense policies that reduce their cost of living, solve the homelessness crisis, and they want to feel safe in their neighborhoods and communities.”

Rocha said he is committed to increased veteran support as part of his plans for affordability. This includes the promise to finally eliminate taxes on veteran pensions, a policy unique to California that many say has caused veterans to leave the state.

When it comes to housing, he said he wants to increase opportunities for first-time homebuyers who lack generational wealth, as well as remove the “red tape” that limits the creation of more housing. 

“We hear a lot of candidates and legislators talking about building more homes, but not so much making sure they have the capacity to build up that infrastructure,” Rocha said.

Despite Bruce-Lane’s claims to the contrary, Rocha said he does not take a “soft on crime” approach, as evidenced by his years as an attorney and Marine captain.

“I have a really strong background in fighting bad actors, which I would really want to make a priority,” he said. 

Patel, a research scientist, said she wants to clear the way to remove the current obstacles to affordable housing construction and foster high-paying jobs that support workers and the economy. Rising health care costs, she said, also need to be addressed to reduce the cost of living. 

All state Assembly seats are for two-year terms. 

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