Assemblyman Vince Fong representing California 34th which includes most of Bakersfield
(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)
Your official bio says that you “wanted to positively affect the region you have always called home.” Where were you born and where were you raised?
I am proud to say I was born and raised in the district I now represent. I was born in Bakersfield, California, at Memorial Hospital, my hometown. I attended all local public schools starting at Sandrini Elementary. After Sandrini, I went to Thompson Junior High and graduated from West High School. From there I went to UCLA for undergrad where I received my bachelor’s degree in political science then went east to Princeton University where I received my master’s in public affairs.
Was it something you saw, witnessed or experienced growing up that influenced your decision to serve in elected office?
Not really. I kind of fell into politics and public service. When I was growing up, I think if you asked my father, he would be shocked today to see me in a role as a public figure since I was shy and had a stutter when I was young. The last thing I think most people would have imagined for me was to be out front in a role like this.
Was your experience as a Capitol Hill intern your first foray into the public policy and political arena?
It was. My internship with Bill Thomas happened right after I graduated from UCLA. That’s when I also met Kevin McCarthy, who was the Congressman’s district director. Both Bill and Kevin were great mentors and gave me a chance to see how valuable public service was and how important it was to give back to your community. The internship launched everything that has happened since then. During that time, I was very tied to Kevin. I spent the whole summer in Bakersfield answering phones and cutting out news clippings and doing other errands. You can learn a lot from watching successful people. It was a really eye-opening experience for me. They say timing is everything and in this case, it really was.
You have had the opportunity to work for both former Congressman Bill Thomas, and current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. How did your work in D.C. and in the district help prepare you for your job as assembly member?
I learned a lot from working with such great leaders as Bill and Kevin, but three things in particular come to mind. One is: “Be the first in the room and last to leave.” Second: “Always get a seat at the negotiating table because decisions will be made with or without you.” And lastly, Kevin taught me, “You must have the courage to lead, but the wisdom to listen.” Basically, you just have to work hard, listen to your constituents and do the best you can.
How do you describe your ideology?
I am conservative—but more importantly—I see myself as a problem solver. I believe elected officials are there to solve problems. I apply my principals when working to solve any problem facing my community.
What platform did you run on this past November?
When I ran for office in November the number one issue was water. That was—and still is—the number one issue within the community. Tied to that is the need to improve our business climate. The two issues are linked and provided the main platform that I ran on. We need to bring water to the Valley, and in doing so, we can improve the business climate so we can grow and have a healthy economy. I’ve never seen a time since I have been involved in government that one area of the state—the Central Valley—has been so negatively impacted by decisions made in Sacramento. Whether it’s water policy, ag overtime, or all of the environmental restrictions coming down from AB/SB 32—they all directly and negatively affect us.
What are your priorities as a newly-elected assembly member?
My legislation is all tied to the platform I ran on during the election cycle. My first bill, AB 77, is an attempt to reign in state agencies. It says that any regulation proposed by a state agency that costs $50 million or more must come back to the Legislature for a review.
I also announced a major transportation funding package to try to build more roads and fund infrastructure projects. My proposal doesn’t raise taxes or fees, and tries to accomplish funding these necessary projects in a positive way.
Additionally, I plan on making changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and pursuing reforms to the Private Attorney Generals Act (PAGA). The PAGA process has been abused over the last few years and needs to be looked at.
Those are our major bills. Of course, I will be involved in water discussions, however a lot of those discussions will be done through the State Water Board and through the regulatory process. The more I can be involved, the better.
What is the biggest issue or challenge you see facing your district?
As I mentioned, water is still the biggest issue even though we have been recently blessed with storms and rain. The storms just made the need for solving conveyance and infrastructure issues all the more apparent. We still need to get water from the Delta region down to the Central Valley and we still need to invest in more water storage like the Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat. The Oroville Dam issue is a clear wake-up call that we cannot ignore our water and transportation infrastructure needs. We need to invest in those things. Lake Oroville is the center piece of the State Water Project and it needs to be modernized and improved. And our roads, highways and bridges need attention too. We need to get our products to market.
It’s also critical for us to improve our business climate locally and statewide. Our long-term prosperity as a state relies on improving local and regional economies, especially in the Central Valley. We obviously need to send a message that California is open for business. We need to continue to attract and encourage innovation and encourage small businesses, farming, and manufacturing. Those are the industries that need to be successful in order for our economy to be healthy.
It seems farmers are being constantly barraged with laws and regulations that affect their ability to run efficient and profitable businesses. Is there anything that can be done to stop farmers from being regulated out of business in California?
I always remind people that California is an agriculture state. Ag is one of our state’s top industries, so we must be vigilant and engaged on all levels as an industry. It is possible to stop regulations that make it difficult for farmers to farm by staying engaged on all levels. That means being engaged not only in the legislature, but in our communities. We need to bridge the disconnect between the industry and the public and help them understand the value and importance of agriculture to the economy. We also need to help them better understand what farmers provide and how their products improve everyone’s quality of life. Food and fiber are critical to families everywhere. Farmers and ranchers need to be the messengers because they live it every day. The more visible and out there they are, I think the better off we are.
What advice would you give farmers who are fighting the “good fight” on the federal, state and local levels about the best way to convince policymakers that they are not the bad guys?
There is a lot of negative information and misinformation out there about ag. Unfortunately, the public doesn’t hear enough about some of the great things farmers do to be good stewards of the land—their livelihoods are reliant on being good stewards of the environment. People need to hear more about their water conservation measures, the technology they employ that reduces inputs and the innovations farmers utilize to show how productive and resourceful they are. It’s critical that those stories are communicated and shared, not only in the Central Valley, but throughout the rest of the state as well.
Tell us something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know.
I’m not very fast, but I do enjoy running. I try to do some races once in a while just to prove I am in decent shape. I’ve done 5 and 10ks and some half marathons, but I can’t say I won any medals!
Our state produces the largest variety of fruits and vegetables in the country. What are some of your favorites?
Growing up in Kern County I get my share of carrots, grapes, almonds and pistachios.