As part of her campaign tour, State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-8th, stopped on campus Friday afternoon to hold an intimate press conference and voice her stance on issues ranging from higher education to immigration.

Currently running for Lt. Governor of California, Speier said that, if elected, her main focus would be on improving higher education in the state, as well as increasing its funding – two issues she is already well known for supporting.

“If we don’t reinvest in University of California and CSU system and community college system, we are not going to have the research capabilities that we have really relied on in the last 30 years in building new industries,” she said.

Speier said she hopes to “transform the Office of the Lt. Governor into the guardian of higher education,” citing the detrimental effects of fee increases imposed on students over the years. When she was a UC student, she said, 50 percent of the University’s funding came from the state, whereas now the figure is 27 percent.

“It’s all about priorities,” she said. “And, much like we did with K-12 education, we have allowed the priority of higher education to start to shift downwards. I don’t think it was intentional, but it was a reaction to our ‘tough-on-crime’ mentality.

“I compare the 165,000 students at UC and 170,000 inmates in state prison. We spend four times as much money on inmates in state prison as we do you, the students of the University of California. In the last 25 years, we’ve built 21 new state prisons and one new UC in the last forty years.”

The senator also touched on recent controversies at the highest levels of the UC over inappropriate compensation practices. Although nearly identical problems happened over a decade ago, Speier said, the state is now better equipped to monitor UC payment practices, as it has given increased powers to the state auditor.

Along with other internal changes to prevent improper compensation practices, Speier said the UC Regents should perhaps be given an independent staff to analyze information and documents in order to more efficiently run the university. She also suggested that the Regents – or at least a small portion thereof – might be more effective if elected, as opposed to the current system of appointment by the governor.

While three of her fellow senators recently came out saying President Robert Dynes should resign because of the scandals, Speier disagreed. She said Dynes presented himself well when answering questions from the Senate Education Committee – on which Speier sits – about the scandal.

“He was apologetic, he identified areas of weakness and had indicated his intention to make kinds of changes we would expect him to make,” she said. “I am going to give him six months to show whether or not he can do that.”

Speier answered questions on such topics as gay and lesbian rights and affordable housing. She voiced support for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infrastructure bond measure, which is set for a vote in the November election. In addition, she commented on the current controversy of illegal immigration, saying she believed a guest worker program would be the best solution, but that illegal immigrants must wait in line to gain citizenship behind those who came to the country legally.

Speier, who, other than a two-year hiatus, has been in the state legislature since 1986, is running against two other Democrats in the primary race. She faces State Sen. Liz Figueroa and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who is currently leading in the polls over Speier. Garamendi, a one-time candidate for governor, has focused his campaign on the environment, cracking down on workers’ compensation fraud and helping consumers work through insurance companies’ sometimes burdensome practices.

If Speier wins the June 6 primary, she will face Republican State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-19th, another former gubernatorial candidate. McClintock ran for governor during the 2003 recall election of Gray Davis, placing third after Schwarzenegger and current Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante.

“Tom McClintock would be an outstanding candidate in a red state,” Speier said. “California is a blue state. We believe in investing in the future. We believe the government has a role in investing in the future. Senator McClintock in my view does not share those views. I think the distinctions between us are great on so many levels.”