The debate was cordial — but tense — between Devon Mathis and Ruben Macareno at the candidates’ forum for Assembly District 26 on October 12. Assemblyman Devon Mathis is defending his seat after his first term in office against Macareno, former Tulare County Chair of the Democrat Central Committee and now publisher of Our Town Farmersville.
The moderator, Paul Myers, posed half a dozen questions to the candidates then allowed the audience to ask follow-up questions. The forum was sparsely attended, but those who came were anxious to participate.
The first question presented to the candidates concerned where they stood on Proposition 64: the ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana.
“I think the proposition is half baked,” said Mathis. He said that the biggest problem with the proposition is that it doesn’t address the level of THC in the product. “With alcohol you know what percent of alcohol you are getting in the product.”
Mathis added that Colorado and Washington have had extremely high levels of children who are overdosing, “So I stand firm with our sheriff and DA and oppose Prop 64. I don’t think we need to have teenagers driving around with a stick of marijuana bubble gum.”
Macareno said that those who support Proposition 64 see the potential for creating revenue and see the expense of criminalizing possession of pot. However, he said, as a family man, and a man from the community, he is not comfortable with his high school aged son being around pot.
“What bothers me about the proposition is, how are we going to know that those using marijuana are over 21 years old? I know it’s used quite a bit for recreation and frankly I am on the fence on it. I lean towards against it,” he said.
The next question addressed the fact that the California legislature just raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with full implementation happening in 2022.
Mathis stated he disagreed with the legislation, stating it has been proven economically that raising the minimum wage does not work because raising the minimum wage results in higher bills and food costs.
“We have seen minimum wage go up and up and up, and it doesn’t solve the problem. The problem is the cost of living,” he said. “My opponent’s buddies, the liberals in Sacramento, are making it tough for families to put on the table.”
Macareno disagreed, stating that families not only need the minimum wage to go up, but cannot wait until 2022. He explained that from his point of view, an increase in the minimum wage is good for everyone because any extra money families make will go directly back into the local economy.
“We have been behind the curve in terms of wages lagging behind the cost of living for a long time and wages need to catch up,” he said. “They will be spending it at the malls, restaurants, and local stores.”
“We live in a district where we are economically depressed, where families have difficulty meeting their bills at the end of the month. […] I’m not talking about liberal politics. I’m talking about everyday lives,” Macareno said.
An audience member asked if the candidates felt it would be a better use of time and money to create more jobs than increase the minimum wage.
“As far as bringing businesses here, one of us standing here is endorsed by the California Chamber, and one of us has been endorsed by the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, that would be myself,” Mathis responded.
Macareno refuted the fact that Mathis has been endorsed by the California Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce saying that both organizations have a policy of not endorsing political candidates.
Staying on the subject of wages, Myers asked the candidates their opinion on the recently signed overtime bill for farm workers. The bill states that farm workers, like other hourly workers, will be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours a day.
Mathis said that AB1066 was written by one special interest group, a farm workers union, who represent only two percent of the farm workers in America, and said that when 98% of the farm workers oppose the bill you need to listen.
“Every single other farm workers’ group opposed the bill. That should tell you something,” he said. “Don’t you think they ought to have their voice heard? That’s what I’m about, listening to the people and working hard for them. Maybe my opponent should get out of LA a little more and get out into the fields and actually talk to the people more often.”
Macareno, who was the 11th child of 13, said he came from a farm working family and disagreed with Mathis.
“When you are a farm worker like I was myself, and working under the conditions like being on your knees or being on a ladder or being exposed to pesticides and all the chronic diseases that come along with that, and the pain in your joints, I don’t see how anyone could challenge the fact that they deserve overtime. I can’t believe it.”
He said that farmers have threatened to not give farm workers any more than 40 hours a week since the legislation passed. But Macareno said that there isn’t enough labor to follow through on that threat.
“They know they do not have enough workers to work their fields,” he said. “I think the law was way overdue. They were the only category of workers who did not receive overtime.”
The next question concerned what each candidates’ role would be in the local Ground Water Agencies.
Macareno said that solving the water crisis needs to be a bipartisan issue.
“I think my opponent is a good guy and that he has a good heart too. Let’s talk about how we are going to solve the problems together,” he said.
Mathis responded that the State Water Control Board is the one in charge and that the board should not micro manage at the local level, “but unfortunately that’s what they plan on doing.” He said the problem is ground water recharge, and that we should be getting the money in Tulare County instead of it going to the state so we can recharge the water here.
An audience member that attended the August 31 forum on water put on by Congressman Devin Nunes, said that Nunes had explained that it’s a cop out for local politicians to just support increased water storage — such as the Temperance Dam — and wanted to know what else the candidates were doing to get farmers their allotted water.
Mathis said that he has pushed legislation to get more ground water recharge and that he ran a bill this year to take excess flood water and send it down to Central Valley farmers so they can use it to recharge the ground water basins.
“We’ve done the legislation. I think the congressman ought to know that,” Mathis said.
When asked the name or number of the legislation, Mathis responded that he’d let the person know afterward.
Mathis added that “The problem is the state is controlled by Democrats. You already have a majority vote, they could vote to do ground water recharge, and they haven’t.”
Macareno countered by stating that “again, our assemblyman blames the Democrats,” stating that it was Mathis’ job to work with the Democrats to try and solve the water crisis.
“The water problem is real, the lack of jobs is real. The income discrepancy in the district is real. That’s what an assemblyman does as a representative of the people,” Macareno said. “He is our representative.”
“When you can’t communicate with your opposition especially when they are the majority, you can complain about them all you want. You can be the protest vote all you want. But what are you bringing back to the district?”
Mathis responded by stating he’s backed by a record of bipartisan work.
“My record stands for itself folks. As a Freshman Republican in a Democrat controlled state, I’ve got nearly 200 pieces of legislation, bipartisanly, through the assembly signed by the governor. As a freshman Republican. That’s doing my job. I have the best freshman Republican record there has been in the state in years and I am very proud of that,” Mathis said. “It’s always great to be the incumbent and have your record challenged.”
Mathis’ staffer then handed out a flyer entitled Assemblyman Mathis’ 2016 Legislative Record that listed four bills he sponsored and four resolutions that were approved.
“This is just a small piece,” Mathis said. “I have nearly 200 pieces of legislation.”
Mathis went through each bill and explained their value to the 26th district, with which Macareno did not disagree. Macareno, however, pointed out that his bills brought no benefit to the district such as jobs, money or water.
Macareno shared with the audience that of 44 key votes held in Sacramento since mid-May, Mathis voted no 39 times.
“So I don’t know where this bipartisanship happened,” Macareno said, adding that Mathis only voted yes twice: one vote for his co-sponsored Assembly Resolution 137 to establish May 26 as John Wayne Day and Assembly Bill (AB) 718 authorizing sleeping in vehicles.
“It’s my opinion that you are not doing your job,” said Macareno.
Another audience member asked another question regarding partisanship, inquiring how successful Mathis would be in passing a water bill with a Democratic majority. Mathis explained that with 28 Republicans and 52 Democrats, any bill needs 41 votes to get a majority to pass.
“So every piece of legislation that I have passed has been a bipartisan piece of legislation. That’s the reality,” Mathis. “As far as water legislation we have done several pieces. But when it comes time to vote on something that is important to the farmers, and this isn’t a lie this is just fact, the Democrats vote against it.”
One of the last questions concerned Tulare County’s two failed hospital bond measures: Meyers asked both candidates about what role they believe the state should play in ensuring the hospitals meet earthquake safety requirements by 2030.
Mathis said that was the reason he is doing a health summit in the coming weeks — to deal with these issues. He said that he was looking into the possibility of a countywide hospital bond, where each hospital could get what they need out of it.
A lot of controversy came from “why should I pay for something whim I’m not in the area,” he said.
Macareno normally votes for bonds like those recently on the ballot, but said that he was opposed to Kaweah Delta’s Measure H and Tulare Regional Medical Center’s (TRMC) Measure I because of the lack of transparency and the fact that they were special elections, not on the November ballot.
“They were not clear on how that money was going to be spent. That’s very important because we are taking about our tax dollars,” Macareno said.
The conversation continued down the path of healthcare with another question from the audience.
“We believe the hospital board (TRMC) is inept and has not been held accountable and our healthcare is horrible. Why haven’t you said what we need to hear you say?” asked a Tulare resident.
“I think you are referring to, ‘why don’t you do a big state investigation, an audit.’ Well when there are already investigations going on, you don’t try and go in and do another one. You stay out of it. You are told hey, the grand jury is talking about it, you have a lot of things in the works, and you don’t want to mess up an on-going investigation,” Mathis said. “So we stood back and said the local guys are doing this, let’s let them do it. Let’s not mess up what is already going on. Let’s not step on people’s toes.”
Mathis added that “an outside organization was going to go and sue the hospital (TRMC). So I stepped in as my ability as your assemblyman to keep the hospital from getting sued because that is the last thing we need is another big lawsuit for the hospital to deal with wouldn’t you agree?”
He concluded by agreeing, “I absolutely agree, their transparency sucks and I have told them straight up to their faces.”
Macaraeno felt that if Mathis had at least called for an audit, even if the state had rejected it, it would mean he was participating in the process. He recounted a story about a Porterville Republican woman who didn’t know him, but was interested in voting for him, partly because Mathis did not follow up on filing an inquiry into the hospital.
Macareno said that a former member of the grand jury claimed that Mathis was doing a political favor for TRMC by not filing the audit. “We have to gain the trust of our constituents. If the people want an inquiry then “it’s as simple as that. She felt that you lost that confidence.”
Mathis countered, “You just don’t mess with ongoing investigations and that is why the DA got out of it as well. If my opponent understood the role of the assemblyman a little better he would understand what the actual powers are. There are already things in the works and I’m not at liberty to say more than that.”
“The fact that you as a reporter don’t know means that the investigators are doing a good job,” Mathis continued, in response to a question from the Voice regarding any investigations done into the hospital.
When asked if Mathis had received donations from HCCA or Benny Benzeevi, CEO of HCCA, he said “You can look up every single donation I have gotten on line.”
Their Final Statements
Macareno said that when you vote for someone, you vote for experience: if they are working for what is best for the district then it comes from their heart.
“We also vote for judgment. I have a lifetime of public service from a child to a teenager to an adult. If this election goes my way I am proud to serve you. If it doesn’t go my way I will continue to be a servant of the public,” Macareno said. “I think it is important that we are all engaged to making our communities better. I can do the job. I feel qualified and I am very confident I can do the job for you.”
Mathis said that his track record proves he’s the better choice.
“Here’s what I can tell you, beside the record, and it is always hard to put it on just one sheet of paper, I’m going to continue to work. I’m going to continue to fight. I’ve shown you I can do it. I’ve shown you I have the track record of doing it,” he said. “I showed you that I am not afraid of getting in to the weeds of tough legislation and actually read it and know what’s in it and get it done. It’s easy for someone to say ‘Look at the record.’ We have seen rays of hope. We have worked extremely hard and we will continue to do that, because it’s what we do.
“I have taken oaths to do my duty to God and my country since I was eight years old and continue to do those oaths. I have raised my hand to defend the constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. I did it for the National Guard and again as your assemblyman. I will continue to fight, continue to work hard.
“I keep an open door policy because I believe in putting people over politics. I believe in representing everybody. My office door is always open, always willing to make appointments, always willing to talk and lay it on the table and come up with creative solutions. I am committed to building a better life for your children and your grandchildren. None of this is about me. This is about us as a community as a county, as a valley, and all the people here who are just trying to get by and put food on the table for your families.”