On May 31, Braden Murphy declared his candidacy for the District 1 seat on the statewide California Board of Equalization (BOE). This five-person board consists of members elected from four districts and the State Controller. It is a constitutional office, sworn in by the governor. District 1 sprawls across most of 30 non-coastal counties from the Oregon border south to Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The primary is next year on June 7, and the District 1 incumbent is Roseville Republican Ted Gaines, currently in his first term.
A 31-year-old Folsom Democrat, Murphy is a public policy advocate on universal health care and universal expanded child care. He is a father of four, including two adopted foster children and has used a wheelchair since being born with cerebral palsy.
His campaign may also be an historic one. The Sacto Politico contacted multiple levels of government throughout the state, and it appears, if elected, Murphy would be the first individual sworn into California office with cerebral palsy. We discussed this and more in the below Q&A. For more info, visit BradenForBOE.com.
Sacto Politico: Explain to voters what the California Board of Equalization does, why it remains important, and what you think you can bring to it.
Braden Murphy: The California Board of Equalization [BOE] is a very obscure office that was established at the end of the 1800s because counties were assessing property values very differently. It led the state to have to fill holes in funding. County officials were doing it to keep getting re-elected. So the state Board of Equalization was created to make sure all counties more uniformly assessed property values throughout the state.
Fast forward to today. The board’s main role is to provide oversight of property tax collection, which is important for education, roads and fire departments. But geographically, property assessments are pretty darn equal. So the BOE is just providing oversight there, and when laws change, BOE is providing new forms and paperwork to the different counties to assess property taxes.
But where we do see variations that the Board must rule on is often in the area of assessing corporate assets. Somehow, we see a lot of corporate assessments are not quite right, whereas the smaller mom and pops have been paying the full assessments the whole time. What I think I will bring to the office is a solid middle-class voice trying to keep the cost of low corporate assessments from being shifted to middle-class homeowners.
This seat is also a constitutional office sworn in by the governor and connected to a lot of legislatures. So I would like to go beyond the office and work with legislators on things like relieving the burden on middle-class homeowners and making corporations pay their proper amount. This is very important because property taxes are keeping many Californians from buying homes and causing some to lose their homes due to how expensive properties have become.
SP: All five current members of the Board of Equalization have past experience in elected office. This is your first campaign. Why do you think having no past elected office experience isn’t that critical?
Murphy: I don’t think having elected-office experience is necessarily a bad thing, but I certainly don’t think it solely qualifies you for any office. We’ve all seen different politicians climb the political ladder and make our system worse or more corrupt in the process. Take Congress. It is filled with experienced, career politicians and currently a 31% approval rate. And yet, 90% of incumbents are re-elected cycle after cycle.
We all agree we don’t like our elected officials as a whole, and yet we keep re-electing them. To break the cycle, I think voters should look more closely at some fresh faces and their policies, beliefs and plans for once in office.
SP: Your district – the Board of Equalization District 1 – includes the metro areas of Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, and San Bernardino, but also dozens of traditionally Republican counties along the Sierras and in the Central Valley. Is this a winnable district for a Democrat?
Murphy: Yes, I definitely think it is, but perhaps only by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins. It is definitely not something that will be done by a landslide or even by 5 percent. My Republican opponent won by less than 3 percent last time, but good news is the numbers have gotten even better for Democrats. We do need to see what happens after redistricting, but certainly the landscape is there for the Republican to go down.
What I like about this race is in the next three weeks I am scheduled to speak to the Central Committees of Tulare, Kern, Placer, Mono and Shasta counties. None of those counties are expected to turn blue in the near future, but in this race, they will have a huge impact. Because if we get an extra percent or two in those traditionally red counties, that will be huge and combine with expected strong turnout in more blue areas like Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton and parts of Los Angeles County. If we can excite Democrats and independent voters tired with hyper-conservative politics in those traditional Red counties to turnout for a rare winnable race like this, then yes, we can win by a small margin.
S/P: It looks like a key to your race is winning a majority of Independent/No Party Preference voters (29% in District 1). Gaines won a majority of them in 2018 and won by 3 points. How do you assess your appeal to these voters?
Murphy: I am hoping non-partisan, no party preference [NPP] voters throughout my district come out and put an end to the craziness we see in an increasingly extremist-controlled California Republican Party. I think these voters are looking for fresh faces and not establishment politics from either side. That is really who I am running against: establishment politics on both sides. I identify with the non-partisan middle-class voters who see that their health care costs are sky-high. They wish their kids could go to preschool, that their property taxes were as easy to pay as for California’s biggest corporations; and who wish our establishment politicians could actually shelter our homeless at a reasonable clip.
S/P: The current 5-member Board of Equalization is fairly diverse. It features three men, two women, including Board members who are African American, Latino, and Asian American. You would be the first person in a wheelchair and with cerebral palsy to serve on this board. Why is this representation important?
Murphy: I applaud the diversity already represented on the Board. We definitely need to elect more people of color, more women and other candidates from underrepresented communities. This includes from my own disabled community. This is because diversity allows a wider range of perspectives to be heard, which leads to fairer, more effective policy and legislation.
What is exciting about my background as a homeowner in a power wheelchair with cerebral palsy is the many relevant experiences I’ll bring to the Board. For example, not many people are aware how challenging it is for people with disabilities to achieve the dream of homeownership. They are often forced to stay low-income in order to keep Social Security and their health care to survive. If elected, I hope my unique perspective can help educate and influence lawmakers to pass laws that help more people with disabilities achieve greater independence through homeownership.
S/P: You don’t wish to be defined by your disability, but if elected, you will symbolize how someone with a disability is just as capable to contribute to our government as anyone else. How gratifying would that be?
Murphy: It would mean a lot, and I hope it would open doors to other people with disabilities and in a wheelchair to become elected officials. Honestly though, I don’t see myself in the mirror too often as someone in a wheelchair, and I am mostly focused on making the campaign a success. This means meeting new people and explaining my ideas to as many people as possible in this large district.
But when people bring up how unique it is that someone in a power wheelchair with cerebral palsy is running for a high office, I do understand its importance. Some of my heroes are Ady Barkin who is a huge advocate for single-payer healthcare. There has also recently been people in power wheelchairs who have become delegates to the Democratic Party, which should also open more doors.
S/P: One of the Board’s duties is to review insurer tax assessments. Your opponent Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) is owner of an insurance agency. Does this pose a conflict of interest in any way?
Murphy: I don’t wish to go tit for tat with Ted or go too negative on him. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that when there is a conflict, he will recuse himself. But I will say based on his 2014 candidacy for California Insurance Commissioner, we do not share the same view of insurance at all. I believe we should pool our money together for single-payer health care. He has no problem that insurance companies are profiting billions of dollars off events that ruin families and lives. Ted’s view is to just let the richest quarter of one percent make billions of dollars on things we need for survival. We just don’t agree on that.
I also recognize the tragedy that is happening right now in our district’s rural communities with fire insurance. People now can’t get their homes insured because they live in areas considered high risk. Thus their insurance costs are skyrocketing, sometimes rising as much as 10 fold. And the conservative answer is to let the free market have its way. I think that is crazy and that we should look at a public option for all major forms of insurance. There is no reason why when 9 out of 10 people drive cars and 9 out of 10 people are paying either homeowners or renters insurance, there can’t be a public option in those areas.
This difference in attitude toward large corporations is also relevant because the BOE does rule on many corporate assessment cases. Ted says leave these questions to the free market. I’m of the view if your organization is making billions from tragedy and hardship in our communities, then you need to contribute more proportionally than a middle-class homeowner. The same goes for these huge hospital nonprofits like Kaiser and Dignity Health that are paying their CEOs seven- and eight-figure salaries but don’t have to pay any property taxes to support local schools near their facilities. That needs to be looked at, and because the Board of Equalization has regular contact with state legislators, if elected, I will be in there regularly making the case to change that.
S/P: What else do you think voters should realize about your candidacy and this race?
Murphy: Yes, I understand the challenges of home ownership for so many. My mom and dad helped me make the down payment on my home in Folsom. I do make a monthly payment, but my parents pay a portion of the mortgage as well. I realize this is a tremendous privilege to be able to live in a very safe environment in Folsom. This allows my two oldest children to go to good grade schools, and my two youngest will do the same when they get older.
This is important because you are going to hear a lot throughout this race that I want to raise your taxes. But that is not the case. Unless you are in the top fraction of a percent and live in a house with more than 4,000 square feet, that’s not going to happen. I don’t want the assessments on my middle-class house to increase. I want everyone to get ahead in California to experience everything that I have been very lucky to experience. And that only happens with a fresh face who is committed to average, middle-class homeowners.