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July 20, 2017

LEGISLATOR PROFILE: Assemblyman Devon Mathis Representing California’s 26th Assembly District encompassing Tulare, Inyo and parts of Kern counties

You were born and raised in the California’s Central Valley. Tell us a little bit about your family and your life growing up.

I was born in Porterville into the Jarvis family. The family had agriculture roots in California extending back at least four generations. Growing up we mostly had animals on our farm including goats, chickens, peacocks and horses—a little bit of everything if you will. The family itself is very large and tight knit, and I am the middle sibling of nine brothers and sisters that are part of extended families. My dad was, and still is, in the oil and trucking business and after my mother and him split up, he moved to Texas. She remarried and ended up on five acres at an elevation of 4,000 feet east of Orange Cove which is where I lived.

I attended Miramonte Elementary, Dunlap Jr. High, and Reedley High School, which was about a 90-minute drive, one-way, from our house. In junior high, I started my own handy-man business. That kind of work is especially rewarding since you regularly get to see the fruits of your labor. I think it is one reason I appreciate agriculture so much. I also participated in Boy Scouts and worked a lifeguard at YMCA camp at Lake Sequoia and at Wild Water in Clovis.

In high school, I was the captain of a small debate team and also participated on the water polo and swimming teams. Though I enjoyed sports, I learned it was more satisfying to debate. I enjoyed developing logical policy arguments that could help win debates for both the team and for me personally. I found it fun to win arguments through words. Plus, being from tiny Reedley, we were always underestimated, something I feel I have been my whole life.


You are a Purple Heart recipient who served your country as a sergeant in the Army National Guard for over 10 years, having done two tours in Iraq. We are indebted to you for your service and sacrifice. Can you tell us about your military experience? Do you come from a military family?

Yes, not only a military family, but also one dedicated to public service. My older brother, for example, graduated from West Point because he wanted to serve and later switched services and ended up in the Navy. I looked up to him so I joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. Several other family members over the years have been involved in civil or public service, so part of me felt compelled to serve. I guess you can say we have a “family culture of service.”

And it just wasn’t my family. Many families in Porterville had sons and daughters who served in various capacities. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Porterville has one of the highest—if not the highest—number of veterans in any county in the country who were Killed in Action (KIA) or Prisoners of War (POWs). So serving was quite a natural thing to do in that area.

In high school, we never talked about what we were going to do after school. I was never quite sure until the time came. Joining the Guard was a good way to not only serve, but a good way to pay for college. I went to basic training in Oklahoma in 2001. I was there during 9/11. In basic training, they are prepping you to go to war, but after 9/11 happened, we knew it was only a matter of time when we would be seeing action.

One thing they drill into you in training is to “Shoot, move and communicate.” It’s a valuable lesson. If you don’t know how to communicate, you don’t know what to shoot at or where to move to. That applies to just about everything you do. This, along with the Boy Scout motto of, “Be prepared,” are two important lessons I carry with me through life.

While in the Guard, I moved up through the ranks fast and always found myself in a leadership position because I learned quickly and I ‘got it.’ It’s in my nature to always get things done and in military, if you got things done, you move up and get better responsibilities which means you are leading instead of doing grunt work.


Did your distinguished service in the Army National Guard influence your decision to serve in elected office? Tell us a little bit about your ideology, how you got to where you are now and who inspired you.

It affected me big time. I am very conservative, love the Constitution and I’m all about getting it done. That’s how I was in the service and that’s what I want to do for the region I represent. I didn’t come from a very rich family. I grew up in one of the poorest districts in the state and I want to change that for the people there. I had many inspirations, but my grandmother certainly influenced me. She was very political and many of my beliefs and positions I have come from her. I also think the time I spent on the debate team prepared me for holding this office.


You serve as vice chair of the Agriculture Committee in the California Assembly. What legislation is being considered that has the potential to help or hurt the ag industry?

There are lots of bills that affect agriculture. The hard part is that the majority of bills that affect ag, don’t go through the Ag Committee. They go through committees like Natural Resources, Labor, and Water and Parks and Wildlife. I also happen to sit on that committee. I do what I can to help the industry on bills that come through my committee and of course any bills that the Assembly votes on.


Earlier this week, the Assembly voted on AB 450, a bill that puts private employers in a no-win situation between federal immigration enforcement and state enforcement by punishing employers who voluntarily comply with federal authorities. Can you tell us your thoughts about that egregious legislation?

That bill is all about the left side of the political spectrum going after President Trump. The bill is nonsense. If another candidate was elected, would all this be going on? It’s truly asinine and it does not serve the people well.


What are the biggest issues or challenges in your district?

Water is by far the number one issue that I have worked on. Unfortunately for the general public, the really heavy policy stuff isn’t very sexy. Often times, the news about what we are doing, say for instance about a establishing a grant/loan program to get wells or septic systems fixed, doesn’t always get picked up by the regional media outlets. It can be really hard to get the word out. We rely on social media to reach people and we have one of the better followings in the whole Republican Caucus.


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?

The UFW represents a very tiny fraction of the state’s food and ag workers, but they seem to have a big voice. It’s sad that a minority of people can have that much influence in the Capitol and we have to ask ourselves, “Why is that the case?”  The core definition of politics, I think, is using communication to get what one wants. For some reason, they seem to be able to appeal to the emotional side of an argument while we try to have logical policy discussions to work through issues. While we are doing that, they are bringing busloads of people to the Capitol with emotional pleas. Emotional messages seem to resonate better with legislators and the public and I think that is key. We are just not as good as that. We need to get better.


Tell us something about yourself or your family that a lot of people don’t know about.

For me on a personal level, I have a thirst for knowledge. I watch channels like the Discovery Channel to see how things are made and learn about them. I find it fascinating. I love studying human nature and culture as well.

One thing related to my work as an assemblyman that I enjoy doing is going out seeing how people run their operations because everyone does everything a little different. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth and having ‘boots on the ground’ is important. I love that. I’ve been to operations that grow pistachios, citrus, strawberries, peppers, green beans, stone fruit operations, and even chicken farms. So if anybody would like me to come out and take a tour, contact my office. I’d love to come out.


As the nation’s leading agricultural state, California produces a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. What are some of your favorites?

I have always been a pistachio and broccoli fan. In my bachelor days, I’d get a steak and cook it up with steamed broccoli with cheese. Of course because where I am from, citrus is a big favorite too. Not long ago I was afforded a tour of citrus orchards by WG Board Member Tom Mullholland. What a wealth of information he is and what a great family. He had me eat a mandarin right off the tree. It was the sweetest mandarin that I ever had. My kids love them too. If you put mandarins in front of them, they will just devastate them.