(Both the question and answers have been edited and paraphrased for clarity and brevity)
Where did you grow up and tell us a little bit about your childhood?
I have lived my entire life in a small town north of Madera called O’Neals. It is located in the center of the state. I had a routine childhood that one has growing up in small town America. I went to school there and when I finished, I followed in the footsteps of my father and my grandfather and did the same thing we Bigelows have been doing since my grandfather came here in the late 1800s: I went to work at the local phone company and on the family ranch. We are ranchers and farmers. We farm some tree crops and we raise Shorthorn cattle.
From that idyllic life, how and why did you get involved in politics?
Because of the challenges we were involved in with our ranch, I slowly got involved in local issues. I began speaking out on these issues and one issue led to the next and I started speaking out on some of the bigger issues. In our community, the school is the hub of activity and so my first involvement was working on school issues trying to make better schools for our kids. And that led to some road issues and other local regulations affecting us. As I got more and more involved, it was a natural step that, instead of complaining, the best way to get my point across was to run for the county board of supervisors. I ran and won in 1998 and again in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
The same scenario led me to the Assembly. As a member of the board of supervisors, I got involved in county issues and became president of the California Association of County Supervisors and then got involved in the National Association of County Supervisors. The counties are having lots of regulations and costs thrust upon them by the state with no one thinking about the consequences. That got me involved in bigger issues and I decided the best way to get involved and try to make changes is to be in state government. I’m just trying to make a difference and I thought I could do that in the Assembly.
In the Assembly, you represent a larger constituency; can you still be an advocate for Madera County?
I represent nine counties in my district as well as my own. I do advocate for the counties — all of the counties across the state — in the Assembly. I know the county issues and I know how they can get affected when the Assembly passes regulations or transfers costs to the county.
You have now been in the Assembly a couple of years, what are your views of the way our state government works?
Our legislative system has evolved to the point where we spend very little time on policy discussing the consequences of what we do. The real tragedy of this is that the members of the Legislature are voting on bills all of the time with very little knowledge of what the bill says or what it is going to do. Elected officials in state government are trying to do what’s right, but we are just running too fast and don’t have time to really consider what we are doing.
What do you think it will take to change the system?
It is going to take the will of the people. At some point, the people are going have to rise up and say “I can’t take it anymore. Stop taking away my property rights. Stop regulating me!”
It will be the people’s will that creates change but I don’t see a movement in that direction. Fewer and fewer people vote every year. I think most people have just given up.
Were you surprised at how Sacramento worked when you took office?
I knew what I was getting into. In fact, it is why I ran for the Assembly. I wanted to come up here and fix it and make California a state we can all be proud of again.
The diversity of opinion we have in Sacramento is a very good thing. That is how you improve the system by different opinions coming together and working together on solutions. But what has happened in Sacramento and doesn’t work is that just because you are a Republican or a Democrat your ideas are labeled as good or bad by the other side. No one talks about policy and what’s good for the state. We need to do that to break the gridlock.
Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?
I’d like to think so. We had 38 new freshmen come into office in 2012. I believe we are starting to see some signs that we are moving in a positive direction.
Where do you put yourself on the political spectrum?
Some call me moderate and some call me conservative. I am just here to do a job and to represent my district the best I can.
Is agriculture underrepresented in the California Legislature?
Agriculture is underrepresented and misunderstood. Just take a look at the Floor. I am the only member with a Class A driver’s license. And only one of two that is actively involved in agriculture. There are only two more that have any background in farming. That makes four. That’s a far cry from how important agriculture is to our state. Yes agriculture is very underrepresented. There is a disconnect between what the people in our state need and what happens in Sacramento.
Currently the water bond is being debated in Sacramento, what are your views?
Tomorrow (June 18) I will be in a hearing on the water bond and speaking in favor of a couple of different bills, including AB 2043 that I authored. My view is we have to have a water bond this year and it has to be on the November ballot. It is going to take a long time to build those projects and we can’t prolong the discussion any more.
In my view, the bond is viable if it does a number of things:
• It has to contain money for the building of more storage.
• It has to have a contract agreement for the Delta.
• It has to include a policy that protects water rights.
• It has to have funds to shore up our current levies.
• And it has to have funds for clean drinking water.
I believe we can negotiate a sound water bond that includes all of those things. Right now it is looking like a $9.5 billion bond that I think can be supported by all sides. I am optimistic that we can get a good bill out of the Assembly committee and the Assembly. Then we need the Senate to do the same thing. At that point it will be up to the governor to make a decision.
Immigration reform is a big issue for agriculture. What is your view?
The problem with immigration reform is that we have a lot of immigration laws on the books that are not being used. We already have a prescription for immigration reform that we are not following. I’m not sure we need more laws. We just need to make people follow the rules that are already on the books.
What is in your political future?
Right now, I have people standing outside my door waiting to have discussions on two committee meetings. So right now that’s in my future.
Our members produce the best fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world. Are you a consumer of our products?
Absolutely. I am a seafood type of guy. When I see food, I eat it. California produces the best food in the world and my wife and I enjoy eating many different fruits and vegetables from this state. There is nothing better than a piece of fresh fruit.
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