By Royal Calkins
Interviewing Wendy Root Askew is about as easy as it gets, which is another way of saying it’s hard to cut her off when she starts talking about things she cares about. There are a lot of those things.
Social services, health care, parenting, child care, nutrition, Natividad Medical Center, emergency medical services — each is high on her list of priorities. When she starts talking about any of them, she’s likely to pull the latest statistics, case studies or budget forecasts from her bag. It’s hard to keep up with her.
Wendy Root Askew
She is for now the only Peninsula resident who has announced a campaign for the District 4 seat on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in the March primary. There is talk of other potential candidates from the coastal side of the district, but Askew has an advantage in that she began with the endorsement of her boss, the current District 4 supervisor, Jane Parker.
Askew, 41, knows so much about social services, health care, child care and the like because those have been her specialties as a two-term aide to Parker. Parker’s other assistant, Kristi Markey, oversees the planning, land use and public works side of the organizational chart.
“I feel very fortunate to get paid to do the things I’m passionate about,” Askew said over a pre-lunch snack at The General, the bar inside a Mediterranean restaurant a short scooter ride from her home in Marina.
Her one announced opponent in the oddly configured district is Steve McShane, the Salinas city council member who represents most of the slice of Salinas that is part of the 4th. Seaside, Marina and Fort Ord form the bulk of the district, giving Askew a numerical advantage but McShane has been an effective, high-profile campaigner throughout his political career.
In some ways, the upcoming campaign is an echo of the race of three years ago when Parker was challenged by former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue. It was a case of Parker, the thoughtful Peninsula progressive, vs. Donohue, the hard-charging businessman, backed by development-minded interests who invested heavily in his campaign. He lost in large part because he went low and accused Parker of taking positions she hadn’t taken.
Parker remains a favorite of the Peninsula’s large progressive population and she has led the supervisors in the areas of social services, health care and the environment, often clashing with the board majority, however, on land use issues. Askew says she shares Parker’s core values.
McShane is more closely identified with the business side of things with a pro-development bent, partly because his former father-in-law and landscape business backer is contractor Don Chapin, who heads the highly pro-development Salinas Valley Leadership Group.
McShane insists, however, that he is more of an environmentalist than most people might think and isn’t receiving significant support from Chapin’s group.
“I even oppose fracking,” he said recently.
Askew grew up in a military family, traveling around the world while her father pursued his career as an Army officer. She enjoyed that experience but seems even happier to have landed on the Peninsula, which had been home to her great-grandparents and grandparents.
She graduated from Pacific Grove High School and Cal Poly with a degree in business. Before becoming a legislative aide to Parker, she worked as a broker for a frozen food company and served as the founding executive director of the Parenting Connection of Monterey County, following the footsteps of her mother, who remains active in parenting support work.
In 2015, Askew was elected unopposed to a seat on the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, where she has dived into all the big issues, from curriculum to bond financing. She is proud of the district-wide improvements that have occurred during her tenure, especially the budget-balancing and the decision to put mental health counselors in all the schools. Despite the obvious need, psychological counseling on campuses remains a rarity in most places.
Her husband, Dominick, is an architect. They are parents to a 7-year-old son.
Askew was heavily involved in Parker’s last two campaigns, knocking on doors throughout the district.
“When we went door to door, what most people said they needed was health care,” she said.
Askew said many of the constituents don’t quite understand the role of various government agencies and are surprised to learn that the county supervisors play a key role in providing social services and health care to a large segment of the population, even those who live in the cities. She said that’s what attracts her to the position, the chance to help deliver important services as effectively as possible to people who truly need them.
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