MARC’S ANGLE - A California Republican is a rare sighting in elected office, but a quarter of the California Assembly members are Republican, and one of them is Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon), who hails from the almond capital of the world in the Central Valley.
Flora had a robust resume before entering public office and that was very clear in his presentation at the CTA panel but what was striking was the ease in which he was able to talk about real effects on the average Californian. He also has a longstanding relationship with the CTA due to his family background and his own Class A license, calling it “a natural fit”.
His background includes being a firefighter, businessman and farmer. Elected to Assembly as someone unafraid to take on the Sacramento insiders, he also showed the ability to work with Democrats and move the needle to the right, taking a mentorship approach to those who don’t think like he does. This was evidenced when he brought a Democratic colleague to the CTA Conference to expose his colleague to the real concerns of this important sector.
Heath cited AB-5 as the band-aid that was ripped off, exposing a lot of issues that had been brewing for a while.
Citing labor shortages as a big issue, he sees that “coming out of the pandemic, when we're paying so many people to stay home on unemployment, a lot of times they make as much money as if they're actually getting off the couch and going to work.”
Heath also cited the trucking side, saying “there just simply aren't enough truckers that are willing to do business in the State of California, based on the regulations and the regulatory burden that we put on them to run a business in the state. So they're moving out of state to become quite frankly, more successful.”
The solution is for government to stop meddling and exacerbating the problem. A laissez faire approach is overdue. “Anything we can do to deregulate the industry, just let the system work itself out. Right now, over the last few years, we have dumped dozens of legislation and new laws on to the industry. We continue to do that every year, and the industry never has had time to catch its breath to figure things out. As soon as they figure one thing out, we dump in 10 more on top of them.”
Heath made an important distinction between the federal and state proclivities, “The Trump administration deregulated things for a little while. California had a reaction to that and doubled down on some of the things. Let's just stop, let things sort itself out. And then we can kind of build from there. I don't think we actually know what's hurting us the most. I think we all have our thoughts. And I might have a different perspective than an owner-operator, or a corporation.”
Being in a superminority, Heath reminds us there are only 19 Republicans and legislation moves forward with 41 votes, so he has to make 22 friends on the other side of the aisle. “You make 22 friends by being collegial, working with them on issues to educate and spending time with them. So for me, it's all about relationships.” Even members of his own party out of the assembly like Corrin Rankin, CA GOP Central Valley Regional Vice Chair speaks positively of his work, “Assemblyman Flora is a remarkable representative. Heath’s belief in compromise and his ability to work across the aisle is key in making his legislative efforts effective.”
Among those accomplishments, he sees the devil in the details and focuses on influencing compromise and making “bad bills better”. That’s a lot of patience. But among his wins was in a dispute between the labor and construction sides. Tony Thurman was a labor person and Heath represented the construction side. There was a meeting in the rules room at the Capitol, where both sides laid out their arguments and two weeks later, there was a solution. The bill went through with no opposition. He also has a strong relationship with Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a prolific sponsor and author of many bills ranging from supporting human trafficking victims to skills-based education to supporting small businesses.
The commonality is to find solutions and partnerships with whoever they can. Heath believes that Democrats actually want bipartisan legislation. “They like to have Republicans on things. So we’ll make amendments, put a couple of Republican votes on it.” He finds these different games and a results-focused approach to be “quite fun”. Heath asserts, “I'm the number two Republican in our caucus. So I'm the floor leader. My job is counting votes and figuring out what bills we can actually play in and where there's an ability to make a bad bill a little bit better. There's a lot of times where you're not going to kill a bill outright”
Combating blind partisanship works both ways. Heath holds his own party accountable. He says, “we have to make sure that the party starts to change a little bit too. I'm a relatively conservative guy by nature, at my core. But when you're in Sacramento, it's a simple math problem. If you want to be successful and represent your community that you were elected to represent, I could be a flame thrower. I could be a firebrand. But I'm gonna get relegated to the back bench and nobody will talk to me and I don't think that's good representation.”
Results are his focus. His strategy is not to just rail about the Speaker Anthony Rendon, who he has a great relationship with. He approaches him with issues and says, “this is important to me for XYZ reasons and he can engage” but at the end of the day, it is the chairs of committees that he needs to go to. Says Heath, “the speaker doesn't typically engage in those fights, unless it's single payer health care, then he obviously engaged. But my goal is to get the chair of that committee, and even more importantly, their staff to support it. And then I’m off to the races.”
Heath is optimistic about Republican chances in the midterms.”I think the wind is on the Republicans’ backs right now. If Republicans recruit good candidates like we are, and we stay motivated and industries, like CTA, stay engaged and support us, I think we can be successful. So I am actually very optimistic. We've got a couple tough, real elections for a couple of our members. But the data is there that says they can win. And we do expect a fairly significant red wave, because a lot of independents do not like what's going on in the Democratic, progressive side. I don’t see them necessarily jumping to register ad Republicans, but they tend to break our way by a significant margin. So as long as Republicans don't get in our own way, and shoot ourselves in the foot, [it will be a good year.” The Roe v. Wade narrative after the Supreme Court decision around June could be a wild card, he thinks. But he sees the trend towards voters registering out of Democrat and becoming Independent in his own district and constituents.
You can find Heath Flora at www.heathfloraforassembly.com.
(Marc Ang ([email protected]) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He focuses on the minority conservative experience. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” will be released in early 2022.)