VISALIA, CA — California Citrus Mutual held it's 35th annual meeting far from the hurricane winds of Sandy, but the effect was felt on the opposite coast anyway.
Rebecca Bech, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service-Plant Protection & Quarantine, was scheduled to speak. She lives in Maryland and escaped major damage to her home there, but she was not able to catch a flight to California in the wake of the storm.
Instead, CCM President Joel Nelsen moderated apanel of Republican politicians from California, which included state Sen. Jean Fuller, Congressional candidate and current Assemblyman David Valadao, and Republican Caucus Chair Connie Conway, a Tulare-Visalia assembly representative.
The focus of the panel was the ever-apparent issue of partisanship in Sacramento. The three graciously agreed to step in at last minute, since they had planned to attend the annual meeting. Approximately 350 people attended the annual event, held Nov. 1 at the Visalia Convention Center.
Shirley Batchman, CCM director of government affairs, addressed citrus growers and their families prior to the panel discussion, saying, "We must play the hand we are dealt. We are dealing with democrats who believe that California agriculture is no longer relevant. In response, [CCM] has stepped up our political engagement this election season by increasing contributions by 300 percent."
CCM joined the Western Grower's Association and the California Grape & Tree Fruit League to raise over $500,000 in one month. The money was spent on targeted elections to keep Democrats from gaining a two-thirds majority.
"We want respect in the halls of government," Ms. Batchman added. "And it will not end on November 6."
Mr. Nelsen added that Gov. Jerry Brown is not happy with CCM because of its heightened political activity.
Assemblywoman Conway expressed her frustration at the dysfunction she has experienced in the state legislature. She compared the situation to a monopoly, where the minority is always ignored and treated as not relevant.
Assemblyman Valadao's biggest frustration during his two years in office has been with citizens who don't pay enough attention to what they are voting on.
Speaking about her frustration with Proposition 30, a tax initiative proposed to increase taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by a quarter cent for four years to fund schools, Ms. Conway stated that temporary taxes never fix things and they are never temporary.
"The money will not go to schools, it will only pay the debt owed to schools by the state," she said. "That's what [California] does. The budget is never balanced."
Sen. Fuller has seen Gov. Brown in action for many years, and while she credits him with being a very smart politician, she believes he does not follow through on implementation. She said she felt that he wanted to do things differently, but overpromised to unions and has had to pay those debts.
"He and I get along on water issues," Ms. Fuller said. "But when he asks why I don't support his tax initiatives, I just tell him that I take orders from my constituency."
She summarized her opinion of Gov. Brown's job by stating that he has not delivered on his promise to reduce regulations.
Assemblyman Valadao added to his list of frustrations with the state of politics by noting that Gov. Brown is a career politician. He believes the government needs people who know about private business.
Mr. Nelsen concluded the evening with the challenge to stay engaged despite the aggravations of working with a state assembly that doesn't respect agriculture's contribution to the state.