An ECM exclusive interview by Miriam Raftery
March 13, 2012 (Santee) – Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) announced last week that he is running for reelection. In an exclusive interview, the conservative legislator shared highlights and frustrations from his first term in the Legislature, as well as his priorities for the future if reelected in November.
With reapportionment, Jones 77th district will become the 71st Assembly District. The district picks up some new areas including Pine Valley, Julian, Ramona, and Borrego Springs in San Diego County, as well as portions of Riverside County.
Asked to name his most significant accomplishments, Jones replies, “I did get two bills through the Legislature, both with unanimous consent.”
One of those, AB 959, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. “That reformed the approval process for county welfare departments. We got a lot of good press,” the Assemblyman said. “It streamlines renewals on CALWORKS and saves counties time and money.”
The other measure, AB 952, was vetoed. It would have reconfigured rules for high speed rail commissioners to impose limits on expenditures. “Every dog catcher has limits,” Jones noted. “They had trips exceeding $10,000 to go study high speed rail in China.” While such trips may have some value, Jones wanted to require authorization by the Department of Finance. “I was most proud of that bill getting unanimous passage through both houses.”
Another seven bills failed to win passage, and most never made it out of committee. Jones faults the partisan divide in the Legislature , noting that only 7% of Republican-authored bills made it to the Governor’s desk.
This session, Jones has 10 bills in the hopper, and some are drawing significant attention.
“AB 858, my made in America bill, passed the Assembly unanimously and will have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he indicated. The bill would require that a product can be labeled “made in America” if it meets federal guidelines established by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC standard is that “all or virtually all” components must be made in the U.S. Currently, a manufacturer in California is barred from calling his product American made if even a single small part is made overseas.
The bill has drawn support from manufacturers and opposition from consumer attorneys. Jones argues that the bill could also help create jobs.
Another Jones bill, AB 2615, would make it easier to obtain a concealed weapons carry permit. Current law says a county may issue a permit if applicants meet certain requirements. Jones’ bill would mandate that authorities must issue a permit to residents who meet existing requirements (such as being of good moral character and completing a training course) but would further define “good cause” to include personal protection or self-defense.
Asked his views on the state budget, Jones replies, “The first thing we need to do is protect education and public safety.” He calls the Governor’s trigger cuts “a disaster” and also criticized the shift of prisoners from state prisons to county jails as a “felon release program” that he calls a failure.
He faults the Democratic-controlled legislature for failing to rein in employee compensation and benefits, including retirement. “The Governor is unwilling to talk regarding the last item,” he said, adding, “Republicans endorsed his pension reform plan, because it’s good for California.”
Jones said state revenues last year grew by $8-9 billion, a fact he attributes to tax cuts spurring an increase in sales tax and personal income taxes. “As activity increases there is a bigger bottom line to the state, “ he concluded.
A key challenge remaining is how to move 2.5 million people from unemployment to employment, said Jones, noting that California just dropped to under 11% unemployment, a modest economic improvement.
Jones district includes rural and desert areas of East County slated for development of industrial-scale wind and solar farms. Asked his views of such projects, Jones replied, “I support renewable energy if it’s on private land with private dollars. Where I get sideways is if the government subsidizes it and puts it on public lands.”
Asked his views on the Quail Brush natural-gas fired 100 MW power plant proposed for his district near the boundary of Santee and San Diego, Jones said he has not yet formed an opinion.
ECM asked Jones what it would take to bring some of San Diego’s burgeoning clean tech industry jobs to East County. Thus far, those jobs are clustered largely around UCSD in La Jolla, he noted.
Jones indicated definitions need to be looked at closely. “If a waste refuse hauler changes to clean fuel, I’ve heard the driver is considered a clean tech job,” he said. But he noted that Santee has land and a business-friendly environment that could be appropriate for some clean tech.
What about fire protection for our region? The Assemblyman said he recently toured the headquarters for the National Guard and Air National Guard in Sacramento. “They are highly prepared. Locally, I’ve toured Ramona’s air base. I haven’t heard complaints from local Cal-Fire officials.”
On social issues, Jones is a staunch pro-life advocate who recently issued a press release blasting a bill by a fellow San Diego legislator that would allow nurse practitioners to offer abortion services in rural areas with no doctors who perform abortions.
Given the recent debate in Congress over restricting women’s access to birth control or insurance coverage for the same, the potential exists for a ban at the federal level. If that occurred, state legislators could be asked to weigh in on birth control issues for California women. So we asked Assemblyman Jones his views on this issue.
He called use of birth control a “personal choice” but added, “On the debate of whether government would be paying for it, I don’t know if I have a strong opinion. It’s not an issue we’ve been debating,” he said, but conceded bills may be introduced by others on the controversial topic.
ECM asked Jones his views on keeping state parks open. He pointed out that he voted in favor of AB 62, a measure authored by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries which would have encouraged the state parks department to actively seek to negotiate operating agreements with local governments that may have an interest in operating parks set to close permanently due to budget cuts. The measure failed , with 32 “aye” votes, 19 “no” votes and 28 members not voting.
We also asked Jones why some state park areas have been closed during popular seasons for visitors; for example Green Valley Falls has been closed since last fall with a sign stating it will reopen in July. But who wants to visit a waterfall during the dry season? Jones, a hiking enthusiast, expressed surprised at the closure and asked a staffer to look into the issue.
On the climate for business in California, Jones voiced frustration at businesses moving out of California and faulted high tax rates for businesses, along with lack of willingness by many legislators to address the issue. Asked what it will take to turn the economy around, Jones concluded, “As soon as Republicans get the majority in the Assembly, it will turn around.”