State Assembly candidates tout differing sets of skills

Business experience vs. legislative acumen

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comJune 25, 2012 

Established, middle-aged, conservative small-business owner or politically active young Democratic Party upstart.

Those are voters' choices in the race for California Assembly District 21.

The résumés of Republican Jack Mobley and Democrat Adam Gray detail different sets of skills and experiences, but both insist they have the right qualifications for the job.

"I think I've gained an expertise on how the state Legislature works," Gray said. "I've worked on bills and successfully helped pass bills."

Mobley acknowledges he doesn't have any legislative experience. "But I think what separates me from Adam is my private sector experience. I know what it's like to run a business in California. I know the frustrations of the regulations and the taxes."

Controversy surfaced around Gray's position at the college when he listed himself as a university lecturer/adviser on election materials.

After Mobley inquired at the college, UC officials denied Gray's claim.

"Adam Gray is a course tutor, not a faculty member or a lecturer," Scott Hernandez-Jason, senior public information representative for UC Merced, wrote in an email to Mobley.

"He's misrepresented himself to the voters of the 21st Assembly District," Mobley said. "He's trying to bump up his resume. And he needs to explain it."

Gray continues to stand by his claim: "I don't feel like I've misrepresented myself. That's what I do. At UC Merced I serve as a lecturer slash course assistant."

While this issue has taken center stage recently, both candidates have diverse backgrounds that motivated them to seek public office, facing off in the Assembly District 21 race in November.

When Mobley moved to Merced with his wife, Sandra, in 1989, he was in his early 30s -- about the current age of his opponent.

Mobley, born in Mississippi and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., acquired a bachelor of science degree from the University of Tennessee. Then he served in the military and was stationed at Castle Air Force Base before returning to Tennessee in the late '80s to become a banker.

Shorty after, he and his wife relocated to Merced to be near her family and Mobley bought a franchise of ServiceMaster Commercial Cleaning Services.

From 1990 to 1991, Mobley served in Iraq during the first gulf war flying refueling planes.

"The discipline of thinking under pressure, dealing with different personalities, those kinds of intangibles, those are all things that I did in the military and are the types of things I will do in the Legislature," Mobley said

At this time, Gray was growing up in Merced. In 1996, he graduated from Golden Valley High School. Shortly after, he took classes at Merced College and transferred to UC Santa Barbara.

Two years into the program, Gray was offered a staff position working for Dennis Cardoza, a state assemblyman at the time for a district that included Merced County and some of Stanislaus County -- very similar to the newly drawn District 21.

Gray quit school and moved back to Merced where, two years later, he worked on the team that helped Cardoza get elected to Congress.

"I've got a great set of experiences to do great for our community," Gray said. "I grew up in Merced, and I've lived here my whole life. I very much want to do right for the community."

About this time Mobley became more politically active, joining the Merced County Republican Central Committee. Shorty after, fellow committee member Mike Nelson appointed Mobley to the Merced County Planning Commission.

"The Central Committee has let me get an eye into California politics," he said. "I've learned who the players are and the structure of the party. Going to the conventions and meeting the leaders in the party gave me an appreciation for the political processes."

From 2002 to 2011, Gray said he worked for three Southern California legislators.

Gray said he continued to live in Merced the entire time, working as a Central Valley legislative liaison and commuting to Sacramento when needed.

"That's one of the things I bring to the table," he said. "I've gotten to work with legislators from other parts of the state. It's been a positive experience to learn about the priorities of other parts of the state. That experience helped me to learn to work more collaboratively to get more for the Central Valley."

Today, Mobley is the vice chairman of the county Planning Commission, where he's served for more than eight years. At the same time, he has expanded his successful franchise, adding outlets in Madera and Fresno.

"There's not a whole lot of entrepreneurs up there (in Sacramento)," he said. "And yet, it's the entrepreneurs that are being taxed to pay for the programs that these people are coming up with. So there's a disconnect between the mentality between the people that are running the state and the people that are paying for the state."

In 2011, Gray started working as an independent consultant, advising businesses on dealing with local government and community groups.

Gray also took a part-time job as a course tutor at UC Merced helping Professor Nathan Monroe, who teaches a political science class called Government in Action.

"It was just personally rewarding to give back to the UC," he said. "Most of my political career was spent with Cardoza and others to make sure the UC was built."

Gray argues his insider experience and knowledge of the system make him the stronger candidate.

Mobley says he knows what's best for California because of his business experience and the rest is just details.

"It's not going to take long to figure out where the bathroom is and who you talk to about instituting a bill and when the caucus meets," he said. "All that stuff, you'll learn in the first four or five months. I'm not worried at all about that deal. It's like joining any new company."

Voters will decide in November who goes to Sacramento to represent District 21, which includes all of Merced County and the southwest part of Stanislaus County.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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