Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017 11:00 am
By John Bays/News-Sentinel Staff Writer
On paper, Assemblymen Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove representing California’s 9th District and Heath Flora, a Republican from Ripon representing the 12th District should be political adversaries.
Despite their opposing party affiliations, the two found common ground in both their history as public safety employees and their commitment to advocating for California’s agriculture industry.
Cooper, a second-term assemblyman, served in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for 30 years, reaching the rank of Captain, and spent 14 years as Elk Grove’s founding mayor and councilman before joining the Assembly in 2014.
Flora, who is in his first term, is a small business owner from a farming family, served as a volunteer firefighter for 15 years in Ripon, where he lives to this day, before joining the assembly in 2016 with Cooper’s endorsement.
“I met Heath and thought he was a good fit. His family is in farming, and he was a firefighter, so we have that bond from our histories working in public safety, where you get used to working with other folks. All that matters to cops and firefighters is getting the job done, (political) parties and race don’t matter” said Cooper.
In addition to Cooper’s law enforcement background, Flora was impressed by the Elk Grove Democrat’s dedication to learning as much as possible about agriculture.
“Jim didn’t know anything about agriculture when he first started, but nobody else in the Assembly educated themselves like he did. We want to take his model and educate other Democrats as well,” said Flora.
The two were quick to work across party lines to represent the Central Valley’s needs, including water conservation and agriculture, which Cooper says are different from the rest of California.
“Eight percent of the U.S.’s agriculture output comes from the Central Valley, even though it only makes up one percent of the country’s farm land,” said Cooper.
Some of the largest issues facing the area’s agriculture industry include water shortages and competition from Mexico, South America and the Far East, where Cooper says labor is cheaper and regulations are less restrictive.
Flora added that the proposed Delta tunnels would be devastating for the local agriculture economy, a sentiment shared by Cooper.
“The combined agricultural and public use of water pales in comparison to the amount released from dams and reservoirs into the ocean,” said Cooper, who believes that the tunnels would only take more water away from the area’s agriculture industry.
Cooper added that California even competes with the rest of the U.S., as he says agriculture and labor regulations in California are among the most restrictive in the country. Joe Valente, manager of Kautz Farms, agrees with Cooper’s feelings on agriculture regulations and finds the assemblymen’s bipartisan teamwork refreshing.
“We need to get the parties to work together. There’s so much bickering in government these days, nothing is getting done,” said Valente.
Flora echoed Valente’s statement about convincing legislators to reach across party lines in the interest of addressing issues that impact not just California, but the U.S. as a whole. He hopes to work with Cooper and other assembly members to bring their colleagues out of their comfort zones and into the parts of the country that they serve.
“We need to get as many of our colleagues out of that beautiful white building that we’re all proud to serve in and out into the fields to learn about agriculture issues affecting our country,” said Flora.