Elected leaders point to goals and hurdles of the coming year

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Elected leaders point to goals and hurdles of the coming yearFighting on the front lines of the federal and state battles for fiscal accountability and local control are Rep. Kevin McCarthy, state Sen. Jean Fuller and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove. Despite that high level of responsibility (McCarthy as majority whip is held up as one of the most powerful men in Washington), each still takes the time to visit Ridgecrest several times a year.

Those elected officials, along with newly elected Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, shared their perspectives on the political landscape, challenges and goals for 2013.

“My focus is going to be entirely fiscal,” said McCarthy “We have got to get our debt under control and end this uncertainty.”

McCarthy identified that uncertainty — rather than a shortage of resources — as what is truly hampering economic recovery.

“We have more cash on hand than at any time in the last 50 years. We don’t have a lack of money, we have a lack of confidence. People don’t know what their tax rates or their health-care costs or their energy costs or their regulations are going to be. So they hold onto their money until they find out what’s going to happen.”

McCarthy highlighted incentivizing investment in the private sector as the fastest way to promote growth and recovery. That would lead to productivity and job growth, which feeds revenue to government without raising taxes, he said.

He also underscored the importance of reining in spending, which has increased our national debt to unfathomable trillions and shackled us with debt to foreign interests.

“We can’t keep borrowing 47 cents on every dollar we spend,” said McCarthy.

Even in the face of the crisis, McCarthy noted, that the gulf has only increased. Two months into the budget, we are an additional $292 billion in the hole.

McCarthy and conservatives have offered as an alternative to tax increases, a form of tax reform that simply closes loopholes. “Do you realize that we let people write off gambling losses? Why does this country allow that?”

Democrats have consistently resisted cutting programs like Medicare and Social Security, but McCarthy said if those programs are not reformed, they will go bankrupt.

“The one positive here is that now that we’re talking about it, now that the public understands the crisis, we are in a position to solve it,” he said. “I’ve always believed that divided government has created some of our greatest solutions. In the ’80s we had Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, in the ’90s we had Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich working together to make America prosperous. We have the same opportunity here — it will just take a little more leadership from our president.”

McCarthy said that he believes IWV has plenty of positives on the horizon this year — chief among those, the $57 million federal grant to improve schools. He is also working with his congressional colleagues to move forward the process to establish FAA test sites that will incorporate unmanned systems into federal airspace. He said that given the high desert region’s natural resources, as well as its role in the RDT&E of aerospace in general and UAVs in particular, we are a natural fit for consideration as one of those sites.

But a light on the federal horizon alluded to by analysts is McCarthy himself. The growing influence of the Bakersfield Republican could be an advantage to the community and region he represents.

McCarthy’s meteoric rise in politics has eclipsed that of even his former boss and congressional predecessor, Bill Thomas — whose own career ended with him as chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Following McCarthy’s rapid rise in the state legislature — Republican Whip within a year, Minority Leader within two — McCarthy won a seat in the House after only two Assembly terms. As a freshman congressman he was identified as one of three “rising stars” to watch, along with Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor. Just last week McCarthy was tapped by Matthew Boyle in the conservative Breitbart blog as a natural replacement for Speaker John Boehner.

GOP strategist Dee Dee Benkie told Brietbart News that, with McCarthy as the third-ranking member of House leadership, it’s not a stretch. “Kevin is very likeable. He’s got a different personality — he’s from California. He’s not the typical guy. He has a tendency to make things happen. For the sake of the change we need, we need to do this. We need to show Americans, and we need to show our party, that we are starting anew.”

McCarthy has been noted for his ability to bring together parties with divergent views, and Benkie said he represents the modern approach to problem-solving necessary to revive the Republican Party, as well as a stalemated Congress.

There is no predicting what his advancement would mean to those of us in the Indian Wells Valley, except that it gives us a very powerful ally in one of the highest offices of our nation’s government.

California legislators have a different challenge: effecting change in a state where their Democratic colleagues have no political compulsion to work with them. With any ability to reduce expenditures or block taxes out of reach (at least for the time being), both Fuller and Grove said they are going to be focusing on revenue generation.

“The people have spoken,” said Fuller. “Republicans have been trying to find a way to reduce spending to bring that in line with what we are bringing in. But based on the outcome of elections, I see my job as finding a way to increase our revenue to match what we are spending.”

But she noted that the Republican-heavy district wants to accomplish that without raising taxes.

“So I’ve started a program called California Asset Management Plan, which will focus on increasing our gross domestic product. That would improve our economy, create more jobs and increase revenue for the state. It’s a good thing for everyone in California.”

The plan identifies eight components of the GDP, and Fuller is working with leaders in each of those industries to find what will improve output. Fuller’s team will establish target areas for growth and track performance accordingly.

“My focus is going to be ‘what can your government do to help?’ Whether it is helping advertise or procure new technology or help with deregulation, that’s what I will be working on.”

Geographically, Fuller has one of the largest districts in the state. She said that she believes hers is also one of the most resource-rich. “Think about it — we have everything we need. We produce nearly every form of energy, we have agriculture, we have aerospace, we have defense.

“We are just looking at ways to improve what we’re already doing in California.”

Fuller said that in addition to performance targets, she is looking for grassroots focus groups that can bring a real-world sensibility to state governance. “I would like to look at the legislature itself. Are we really getting the highest, most efficient, use out of our resources? I think we need to form task forces that explore, for example, whether the money allocated for education actually goes into the classroom.”

Conservatives criticized the so-called education tax passed in November as misleading, when funding has been diverted to projects such as high-speed rail.

While Fuller’s career has been marked by her ability to work across the aisle — she takes each new Democratic member of the state senate to dinner to identify areas of common ground, and has taken a proactive role in such issues as water, which are divided by region rather than partisanship — her counterpart in the Assembly has focused on bringing to light dysfunction in an attempt to reform state government.

In Grove’s first term, she asked legislators to look at the thousands of committees, boards and commissions, which critics say serve as landing pads for termed-out legislators and their friends. Each of these is populated with six-figure salaried boardmembers and supported by office blocks full of staff — all paid for by the taxpayer.

Grove questioned not only the necessity of these boards — some of which went years without meeting — but also how these contributed to the burdensome, and sometimes conflicting, regulations imposed on industry.

She also launched an the effort for a part-time citizen legislature, now headed up by President Ronald Reagan’s son Michael.

But Grove noted that in light of recent changes on the state political scene, she has also shifted her focus to working within her district to promote economic growth.

“I am going to work on solving problems for my district — promoting reasonable conservatism and private-sector job creation,” she said.

“Right now there are people who think getting free cell phones or free rent or free cars or free food is the American dream. That’s not the American dream. I represent Kern County values — the freedom to work to feed, clothe, protect an provide for our children and families through self investment and hard work.”

Grove grew up in Bakersfield, served in the military, and returned to start her own business — Continental Labor. When she was elected to the Assembly, she described the culture shock of dealing with a legislature made up primarily of former political staffers and lawyers.

“I stopped trying to find someone who had built a business from the ground up like I had, because that’s just not who gets elected in California. So I settled for seeking out anyone who had even worked in the private sector.”

Out of the 80 members in her first term, she found three.

So Grove continues to bring an awareness in Sacramento to the plight of the underrepresented small-business sector — which accounts for the vast majority of job creation in the California economy.

“We have all the natural resources — oil, fossil fuels, solar, wind — we’re perfect! Kern County has everything we need to create industry. My job is going to be working as an advocate at the state to make sure the regulation makes sense.”

She pointed out that Bakersfield was spotlighted on the front page of the Los Angeles Times for being the most business-friendly city in the nation. Grove said she will continue to work to foster that environment.

“ Who we are is a people who believe in free-market principles — that through hard work and self sacrifice you can build something. Those are the principles this nation was built on, and they are the principles that will ensure success in the future. We just need leaders in place who recognize this, and will fight for it.”

Gleason comes into his office as a newcomer on the political scene. He and his wife Robynn made Ridgecrest their home after he retired from a 30-year career in the Navy, ending in 2008 with a stint as commanding officer at China Lake.

Although he will not officially be installed on the Board of Supervisors until tomorrow, he has been working since his election in November to get up to speed on all the important issues facing the county.

“To be honest, I can’t predict what’s going to happen in 2013. What I can tell you is that the Indian Wells Valley and the 1st District will have the energetic and responsive representation that is important to them.”

He said he still considers the main challenges for his district as those outlined on the campaign trail — water for the western communities, the dam mitigation plan in the Kern River Valley, and support of the Navy’s mission at China Lake.

“The main function of the county is to deliver services. So to a large degree our role, and our resources, are dictated to us by the state government. But it is also my job to bring an awareness to the state of what our issues are.

“ I think another important part of local leadership is being able to bring together problem solvers when you have issues that impact our security, economy, real-estate values, recreation and tourism industries — all the things that impact us on a grassroots level,” said Gleason.

“There are ways that county and city governments intersect, and I want to develop those relationships. Because we are a district of remote communities, it is important for us to be working together and supporting each other in our efforts.

He said he has already formed positive relationships with McCarthy, Fuller and Grove in order to work with higher levels of government when the need arises.

Gleason said that his military background will bring a unique flavor to his representation of the district.

“The Navy presence at China Lake is incredibly important — not just as an economic engine for our county, but because we perform a critical role in national defense. That is one of the reasons I took this job. We need someone in our place that understands, and can foster, a symbiotic relationship between the base and our community. And I look forward to working with our leaders to find new ways in which we can support each other.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-02