Grove brings news from state legislature to IWV

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Grove brings news from state legislature to IWVBeing part of a marginalized political minority and a self-described outsider to the world of professional politicians, Assembly-woman Shannon Grove shared with her audience at the last meeting of the Ridgecrest Republican Women, Federated, the challenges of representing conservative Kern County in liberal California.

Since being elected in 2010, Grove has tried to reform the political bureaucracy at a State Capitol largely protected from the very laws legislators create for the rest of the state, and advocate for solutions that empower growth in the small-business sector and accountability across the board.

She told the News Review that with a group populated largely by attorneys and lifelong politicos, it is difficult to represent the voices of those who lack established special interest groups. As a mother of five, a veteran of the U.S. Army and an entrepreneur, Grove said that she believes she represents a significant number of Californians, even if those demographics are not similarly reflected in the state legislative body.

“I love coming to Ridgecrest because you guys think like me,” said Grove. “I can stand on the floor of the Assembly saying, ‘Don’t you get it?’ until I’m blue in the face. But they don’t.”

She said that part of the dysfunction of the state comes from writing broad policies that target narrow interests, creating a destructive wake of unintended consequences.

She cited AB 1266 as just one example. In an attempt to address gender identity issues in students, the bill forbids educational institutions from using gender-specific classifications for restrooms, locker rooms and other kinds of facilities.

“So now there is nothing that prevents a 15-year-old boy from deciding to shower in the girls’ locker room,” said Grove. “The women are always appalled when I tell them about the bill. The men all say, ‘Man, I wish we had this when I was in high school.’”

Grove said that a better solution would have been establishing a process for medical evaluations or counseling to serve the conflicted students, rather than a carte blanche that potentially raises more problems than it solves.

She said that legislators also overstepped their authority in a recent contract negotiation involving the Honda Center of Anaheim. When the Aramark union contract expired, Honda negotiated a nonunion contract to run concessions. The union appealed the decision in court, but lost.

“So they went to their legislators and complained. And our legislators wrote into the budget for fiscal year 2013 that the Honda Center has to cancel that contract and renegotiate with Aramark. Can anyone tell me what that has to do with the state budget? Yeah, me neither.”

Grove predicted that residents are going to start feeling the squeeze when healthcare premiums go up, despite a continuing recession in economic growth.

She also noted that while communities like the IWV were faced with negative impacts such as the 20-percent paycheck reductions that came with furloughs, entitlements increased 28 percent this year.

“I voted no for all of this stuff because it doesn’t help California families. But what really bothers me the most is the lack of transparency.”

Thousands of pages of budget language — including one trailer bill that weighed in at 1,200 pages — were e-mailed to legislators at 3:25 a.m. when the budget was to be voted on at 9 a.m. Conservative legislators objected that they were cut out of the process of crafting the budget as well.

“Our country is in a very, very strange time. We are now a nation of laws and not a nation of men.”

But despite the political challenges, Grove said she has identified some areas where she has been able to effect positive change.

One of those opportunities started as what was probably intended as an attempt to stick her with political oversight of a low-profile assembly committee.

“I now oversee the state services for people who disabilities. I think it was supposed to be a punishment, but I’m sure now they wish they hadn’t put me here.”

Grove said that as society has began to change its outlook on people with disabilities, relatively few are now in state institutions — putting the ratio of state workers to those in state care at less than a 1:2 ratio.

What she discovered were horrifying accounts of abuse — ranging from rape to torture to murder — at the hands of the caregivers.

“They found 26 cases of rape — and hundreds more that were undocumented. How was it dealt with? They put residents on birth control.”

Instead of those employees being fired or incarcerated, they were “retrained.” And the agencies meant to prevent abuse were simply given more money, with no formula to evaluate how effectively they would improve care.

Grove said that the state is currently spending about $400,000 per year for each resident in an institution. She proposed that the state close those institutions — which hold only about 1,500 in the state — and pay community facilities some $65,000 annually to provide local care.

“My position is that if you are beating them, raping them, killing them, we are not giving you more money.”

Unfortunately, many of these residents don’t have a special interest group advocating for them.

Grove said that although the response from the residents has been one of gratitude, many of the families have expressed concern about how their loved ones will be cared for if state institutions are closed.

“I had two parents approach me at one of these hearings telling me that institutionalization was the only answer. I looked at one of those mothers and asked her just one question. ‘Does your son’s room have a window?’ She immediately started crying.”

Grove said that she hopes that shining a light on the issues, and on the potential for better solutions, will bring about a resolution that will prevent further abuse of a population of Californians who, for the most part, cannot advocate for themselves.

Story First Published: 2013-07-24