Valley Legislators Bring New Verve

JAN. 6, 2011


It only took one brief legislative session before newly elected Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) asked, “Are the people of California ready for a part time legislature? And we should meet every two years. We only have a nine percent approval rating. How bad can it be?”

Grove is already disgusted by the Assembly’s business-as-usual attitude. When she complained to a colleague about members who didn’t arrive on time for the first session earlier this week, she was told that she’d get used to it.

“No, I won’t,” she replied. “I refuse to. This is the people’s business and they pay us.” Coming from the private sector, Grove said an employee who wandered in late for any job would be fired.

Grove is part of a new crop of legislators in the Assembly this year from the Central Valley — dynamic, forceful individuals with private sector experience. They bring energy and insight to the Capitol that’s almost refreshing.

Grove owns a large staffing firm specializing in employee safety training for food processing and manufacturing. She said she knows firsthand the difficulty of doing business here. She has decided to expand her company in Colorado where many of her big clients are moving to escape our state’s unfriendly business practices.

Grove said there are many companies in her district with the same problems. Like Grimmway Farms, which processes nearly all of the baby carrots in the state.

“Mr. Grimmway recently passed away,” she said. “The following day, his management team was meeting with employees to plan for how to continue operating the business, when an agent for a regulatory agency appeared at their main plant demanding to inspect the company. A senior manager met the agent and explained about the death of the owner, and made sure to let the agent know that Grimmway was not trying to get out of anything, but the employees were having a difficult time at the moment with the death of their owner.”

Grove said the regulatory agent refused to leave, and instead insisted that they let him enter or he would get a warrant and “bring his friends.” The agent stayed at the processing plant for more than eight hours, finding nothing wrong with any of the food processing equipment, building, safety or working conditions. But right before he left, he spotted a small refrigerator that a manager had brought from home and was using in an office. The outlet in which it was plugged had a crack across the face, so the agent wrote it up as a violation and attached a small fine.

Grove said the Grimmway employees were stunned at the punitive nature of the regulatory agent’s visit to their plant. “Grimmway should be the poster child for organic food processing,” she said. “Instead, we have regulatory agencies looking to penalize them.” Grove said that one of her primary interests is cutting regulatory requirements as well as the negative influence the many regulating agencies.

Echoing Grove is Assemblywomen Linda Halderman (R-Clovis/Fresno), a cancer surgeon in the Central Valley. She said she decided to run for office because of the diminishing access to medical care across the state.

In fact, Halderman recently worked in American Samoa as well as on a Native American reservation, where she witnessed the devastating effects of rationed medical care caused by a lack of  health care providers. She said medical care is already being rationed even for those with insurance, and it’s going to get far worse. “It’s not good for patient choice,” she said.

Conditions in American Samoa were so bad that Halderman said patients had no access to preventative medical care. “I only saw patients when surgery was no longer even an option,” she said. “That’s what the federal health care bill will do to health care in America.”

As a sole practitioner and private business owner, Halderman said that she experienced the difficult regulatory environment in California first hand. “Politicians are obsessed with medical coverage, but 60 percent of the residents in the Central Valley have a difficult time just finding health care providers,” she said.

Neither Grove nor Halderman has ever held an elected office before. Both members said they decided to run because of the dire forecast for California. “The time has never been a better for change in this state,” said Halderman.

Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, a former Modesto City Councilwoman, agrees about the timing and need for big changes in California. “My priority is that government should work for people,” said Olsen, who despite being new to the Assembly is a Republican Whip. ” We need citizens directing government for it to work.”

Olsen said she’s going after government reform and job creation. With her municipalexperience, she’s pushing for more local control at the local level. “Take control out of Sacramento and give it to the local governments, who can provide services for much less money with a bottom-up approach,” she said. “I am already hearing rumors from the governor’s office about realignment, however I propose to cut state government when local government steps in to provide the services.”

Olsen is working on a bill to formally reauthorize state agencies after 10 years, instead of continuing to allow agency existence indefinitely. “State agencies get a case of mission creep,” she said. “The original purpose for the creation of the agency gets eroded over the years and it becomes instead only about the need to exist, and not serving the people of the state.”

Olsen’s plans for job creation start with regulatory relief for small business owners and farmers in order to get people jobs. “The people in my district would love unemployment at only 12 percent,” Olsen said. “We are suffering at 20 percent unemployment in many areas of my district.”

A common issue for the new members was a significant loss of trust of state government by California businesses. “Even if we are able to improve the business climate in the state in the next year or two, business owners who have already moved out of state or expanded in other states no longer trust legislators’ promises to improve the business climate on a long-term basis,” said Olsen. “We somehow have to change that distrust if California is going to recover.”

Halderman said that every legislator from the Central Valley is concerned about California’s ongoing ability to produce food for the world. “Water and agriculture has been so heavily regulated without any consideration for how we will continue to produce food,” she said. “This has to change immediately.”

Halderman said she already has a big bull’s eye on her back after introducing AB 20, a construction defect bill which would require an attorney who solicits a potential client to file a residential construction defect lawsuit to provide total financial disclosure to the client, including a description of a seller’s duty to disclose certain facts concerning real property. The bill also reiterates that any financial recovery goes to the lender and/or lienholders. Halderman said the California trial lawyers are not happy with her over the bill, and she expects a nasty fight over it.

Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, has also been a champion for the Central Valley. In addition to her new leadership duties, her office confirmed that she also is focusing on the three big issues of water, agriculture, and job recovery. Conway has been the leader of the bipartisan Central Valley Rural Caucus, formed in 2003.

Conway made sure that each of the new Assemblywomen landed important committee assignments, and even leadership positions. Halderman and Olsen are the Vice Chairwomen of two committees each. Grove and Halderman are on the Natural Resources Committee and are hoping to have influence in decisions involving the California coast, agriculture, water and land use, as well as air quality and climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energy, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), forestry, oil spills, solid waste and recycling.

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