Early voting for the May 1, 2021, election starts April 19, so it’s crucial to understand the candidates on the ballot, especially those running for Plano mayor. After Mayor Harry LaRosiliere leaves office in May, one of three candidates will take his spot.
One of those candidates is Lydia Ortega. Ortega is “a Christian, an American by birth and a Texan by choice,” according to her campaign website. She was born and raised in a rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles to working-class parents who struggled to pay the bills.
Ortega got her Ph.D. in economics and was an economics professor for a long time. She is retired now and an empty nester. She spent her life studying the work of economists such as Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams, along with scholars of freedom and small government like Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat.
Her background of growing up in a working-class family makes her “value every dollar of public funding because I know it comes from hard-working people like my parents.” On the other hand, her economics background impacts how she sees organizational systems and what questions she asks.
To find out more about Ortega and her vision for Plano, Local Profile asked Ortega a series of questions to help you learn about who’s running for Plano mayor.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
“First reason: I love my home; it is the first I have ever owned. I love my neighborhood; it is better than I could ever manage. I do not like the divisive nature in the greater community. I do not like the cancel culture that is going on in the schools, colleges and businesses. That cancel culture is why we left California. I do not want to be chased out of Plano. Second reason: We all owe a civic duty to serve. I have no excuses not to serve. My husband and I are retired empty nesters. We don’t own a business to worry about or that might conflict with voting. I have no ambitions for higher office. These conditions give me the time necessary to do this job. Perhaps more importantly, it gives me the freedom to speak loudly and boldly on behalf of the residents.”
Your website states that you’re, “a refugee from California’s dysfunctional economic and political landscape.” Can you tell me a little more about what this means?
“I remember when California was an entrepreneurial haven for anyone — no degree, no influential contacts, or pedigree required: just rent a warehouse/office space and open a business, for example, to build custom desktop computers. That egalitarian entrepreneurship is gone. Now California has almost no middle class. There is a wealthy class and the poor. In 2020 the Census Bureau reported that California continues to have the highest poverty rate in the nation — 18.2 percent of Californians have been impoverished during the three preceding years. In addition to fire season, residents have added ‘rolling-blackout’ season when there is no electricity. Water is tightly regulated per person. Gasoline taxes escalate and hit the working poor the hardest as they drive long distances to get to job sites. The wealthy have Tesla. This didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process that took over 40 years. If you want to stop it, awareness of the danger has to begin now.”
According to your website, you plan to “guide business forward” in Plano. How would you accomplish this if chosen for mayor?
“We have to make businesses a priority for resources when they are available and the circumstances warrant support. For example, at the April 6 council meeting there was a vote to direct over $1.6 million dollars of unallocated funds. The funds went to support an across the board 2 percent mid-year salary increase for staff. It could have [been] used to give businesses a boost. This would require creative thinking, talking with businesses on how best to help, and a council that cared about their recovery. Alternatively, the funds could have been used to support Plano festivals to bring back the community and interaction we lost. This is an expenditure that would help all residents. I opposed the salary increase on economic grounds: the city has no problem filling vacancies at the prevailing salary, and no problem with staff leaving. The argument that a cost of living raise or a raise to match what other cities have done is needed amounts is like a slap in the face to residents who will face rising inflation while they are trying to pay off credit card debt and restore savings accounts that were depleted during the 2020 lockdown. All council members voted to approve the salary increase without discussion. When resources are not available, I plan to make going to restaurants a regular activity. I want to showcase businesses, listen to the customers and to the owners. With information, I may find the regulation that is holding some businesses back or I may be able to connect the restaurant to community resources.”
How would you go about “keeping Plano an affordable, suburban community of excellence?”
“First, you have to build a consensus among the council to pursue that objective. Second, you direct staff to adhere to the objective. Third, get the government out of the way.”
With an extensive background in economics, how do you think that background will help you lead Plano residents if you’re chosen as mayor?
“I’m not interested in ‘leading’ Plano residents. These are sovereign individuals who are making choices in their best interests. The assumption of sovereign individual choice is a critical component in economic modeling. As an economist I know the three necessary and sufficient conditions for economic prosperity. As a mayor I would watch out for policies that may inadvertently weaken any of the three components thereby undermining prosperity. I know that in the absence of market competition, government entities have little incentive to find innovative ways to provide a given level of service at lowest cost. It is the job of the mayor and the council to push for cost-savings. It is the job of the residents to ask local politicians — ‘How much money did you save us this quarter?’”
Why do you think, in comparison to your fellow candidates, that you’re the best fit for Plano mayor?
“I am a creative problem solver: the economic way of thinking makes me adept at problem solving in complex systems. The council needs to come to consensus to get things done. To reach consensus I know that everyone has to hold the same definition of words and we must agree on two or three major variables to consider while holding other variables constant. We have to identify and discuss underlying assumptions. Only then can a group of people with different viewpoints constructively work towards a solution. We would make proposals, consider the direction of change and estimate the magnitude of change. The last step is critical: we must examine the proposed change to evaluate long-run unintended consequences. I am an advocate for Plano residents: Plano is a corporation with a city manager as CEO. The council is a board of directors (BOD) with a mayor as chair. The stakeholders are the residents. The CEO represents the interests of staff and the BOD represents the stakeholders. Unfortunately, I do not see the BOD/council acting as representatives of the residents. The April 6 council meeting, where they were ready to pass the 2% mid-year salary increase by consent (no discussion), demonstrates that the council is not looking out for the interests of the citizens. They should have challenged the proposal, asked for more information about long-run budget impacts, and asked about alternative uses of the taxpayer’s unallocated $1.6 million funds. I would ask these questions as a strong advocate for Plano residents.”
What is one thing you would like to say to the residents of Plano?
“I am the mayor that Plano needs. Voters ask me how can they trust me not to ‘California my Texas.’ Folks, cancel culture is already in Plano. Don’t blame me. It was here when I arrived. If you can’t see it, that means you need me more than you realize because I see it. In companies, individuals are holding their cards close-to-their-vest, unwilling to reveal political opinions. Of course, some people don’t share political or personal views because they do not consider it polite. That is not a problem. The problem comes when you refrain from speaking because you are afraid of repercussions such as losing your job. Cancel culture is rampant in the universities and even in K-12. In Plano, I found the treasures that were destroyed in California, e.g. neighbors speaking their mind, raising your child without interference from the state, and many others. But as I explored the city and talked with Texans I realized that this is not the haven I thought it was. I have to fight for Plano because there is nowhere else to run. I know how cancel culture spreads. I know how to find it buried in policies. At this stage in my life I have the unique latitude to speak freely — they can’t threaten my business, I don’t have one; they can’t threaten my future political aspirations; I don’t have any. I can speak boldly to embolden others. We can fight this and we can win. But we have to start now.”