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By Miriam Raftery

Hear our full interview with Mike Harrison, originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM Radio: http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/0nrblk7onb/Newsmaker-Harrison-Mike-Assembly71Candidate.mp3

December 12, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) –“The 71s Assembly District is a great district…with a lot of little rural towns and communities,  and great people,” says Mike Harrison, who is running for the seat. He believes it’s important for the people across East County to have someone serving them in Sacramento “who knows each town and its issues" and believes his experience makes him the best qualified candidate for the job. He adds, "I do have a love of public policy and finding solutions to issues that people are facing.”

Harrison is a seasoned political policy professional who has spent 21 years working for political leaders representing East County. A Republican and Ramona resident, he is Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Duncan D. Hunter and previously worked for  Hunter’s father, the former  Congressman by the same name. Harrison also holds a master’s degree in government from Johns Hopkins University and an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Stanislaus.

Harrison is one of three candidates so far who have announced plans to run for the 71st Assembly District –an open seat, since Brian Jones is leaving office due to term limits. The other candidates are Santee Mayor Randy Voepel and electrical engineer Tony Teora, both Republicans.  The vast district runs from the Imperial County line west to the unincorporated areas of La Mesa, and from the international border north to encompass part of Riverside County.

He says he is proud of the many endorsements he’s received from elected officials from planning groups to city councils “because they’ve worked with me, they know my body of work and what I bring to the table. East County is very unique in the challenges it has and the people,” he notes, adding, “These are areas I’ve followed for two decades now.”

One of his top priorities is to improve the business climate. He faults legislators for driving jobs of out state. “We have to come in with common sense, practical solutions to create a business environment that is not openly hostile to business development and job development,” Harrison says.  He carries a list of government agencies that he says is “longer than Santa’s Christmas list” and wants to get rid of redundancies and overregulation.

He calls education “the lifeblood of our future,” adding, “We’re in a global competition now. California is the eighth largest economy, not in the U.S., in the world. We need opportunities for our kids to pursue whatever they want to do.”

While he believes our potential is high, he believes control of education needs to shift away from Washington D.C. and back to the local level.  “You’ve got varying needs from Lakeside to Ramona,” he says, noting that one community may need teachers, while another needs facilities or ipads for students.  “This is an area where I believe the more local control you can provide to school districts, the better education you can provide to kids.”  Father of two, Harrison says, “I have my kids in public school and I’m a product of public schools….Education is huge; I want to invest in that as much as possible, but local control is in the best interest of our students.”

He opposes the bullet train, which he considers a boondoggle.  “Who here is in that big of a rush to get to Modesto or Fresno?” he asks.  He  says that while the original concept sounded good, the project has shifted from providing a high-speed transit from Los Angeles to San Francisco into the Central Valley instead. Billions of dollars spent on the overbudget project would be better allocated elsewhere, he believes.  He also opposes the state exercising eminent domain to take properties including farmlands for the project’s construction. “We are the breadbasket to the United States,” says Harrison, who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a major agricultural area.

On energy issues, he says, “I think renewable energy is a very worthwhile goal. I think it’s important that we become energy independent.” He supports an “all of the above” strategy that would include solar, wind, and geothermal as well as nuclear though with a responsibility to “protect the environment” through “responsible” handling of nuclear waste.

However, Harrison is concerned about negative impacts of some energy projects on communities.  “We have great renewable resources here in Southern California, but it has to be done in a manner that respects the community,” he says.  “If you’re putting wind turbines in and people are getting sick and it’s adversely affecting quality of life,” then that’s the wrong location, he believes.  Similarly, siting is important with desert solar to choose remote locations that don’t harm communities or take land away from off-roaders he believes.

He also voiced concern over the state taking away incentives for rooftop solar.  He is supportive of rooftop solar but notes that while the state is pushing for energy independence, California is also taking away tax credits and incentives for going solar once a certain percentage of the population has done so.  Similarly, selling surplus power back to SDG&E will soon yield far less benefit.  “Why can’t we exercise free market principals and common sense?” Harrison asks.

Asked his views on climate change, he says that on all environmental issues, “I have two criteria: sound science and common sense.”  Harrison says he believes changes in climate have occurred but “I don’t think it’s at a degree of concern where we need to change all of our regulatory processes…we have to be prudent,” he adds.  He voiced skepticism over climate scientists who “are predisposed to a position” but says regardless of climate change, moving toward renewable energy is “smart policy. It’s practical. I’m all for energy independence” and doesn’t want to see the renewable industry overregulated.  “I don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil. Let’s invest in renewable energy.” He also wants to see investment in oil refineries, however, so that California won’t have the highest gas costs in the nation.

A fiscal conservative, he is proud of sign a pledge not to support any legislation that would impose new taxes. “I do not think that we have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem,” he states.  He believes resources should be reallocated to shift money from projects such as the bullet train into building water infrastructure, firefighting and funding programs for the disabled.  “I’m not against all taxes; obviously there is an important role of government to take care of the community..but you’ve got such mismanagement of taxpayer dollars,” he concludes.

He opposes a proposed ballot initiative that would create a split tax role to modify Proposition 13.  Prop 13 protected property owners from hefty property tax increases.  The initiative would apply Prop 13 protections only to primary residences, so secondary homes and some business properties would be subject to property tax increases. “ “Prop 13 is the one thing that California has that actually attracts property development and investment,” he says, adding that it’s important for people purchasing property to know that taxes won’t rise dramatically. “That has created job growth and property investment.” If that  protection is taken away, he asks, “Who in their right mind is going to come here and invest?”

As for water issues, he faults Governor Jerry Brown for mandating 20% cuts statewide even though San Diego has been “fantastic in diversifying” its water supplies over the last 20 years through projects such as raising the San Vicente dam, water reclamation and building the desalinization plant in Carlsbad. San Diego used to import 90% of its water but now gets about half from within our county. 

“We as ratepayers invested millions of dollars” to improve our water supply, he notes, adding that when the state fails to give credit to areas that have been conserving water or creating new water supplies,  or require more of areas that have not conserved, “what you’ve done is you’ve disincentified water agencies from ever doing anything proactive.”  

 He also wants a more “equitable, common sense” approach to water—including having San Diego County get a fair share of state resources for further diversifying our water portfolio.  “Israel has half our coastline here in California, but it has five desalinization plants.” He wants to see more such facilities here, noting the Carlsbad project took 20 years due to “stringent environmental rules and over-regulation.  We’ve got to have water.”

Harrison also wants to be sure our region is protected from wildfires. As a senior staffer for Congressman Hunter, Sr.,(who lost his home in the 2003 Cedar Fire), Harrison says a lot was learned from the 2003 to the 2007 wildfires.  “We were so much better prepared; communication at different levels of government was happening more frequently.”  He wants to be sure Cal Fire has the resources it needs to fight fires, but also wants to help coordinate state and federal resources to help constituents after a wildfire occurs, as was done at a one-stop-shop event he participated in to help Ramona firestorm survivors, bringing together multiple government agencies in one place.   That could be something as simple as helping people get driver’s licenses quickly so that they can have identification needed for banking transactions after a fire, for instance.

On social issues, Harrison is a staunch conservative. “I do believe in right to life.  I do believe life begins at conception,” he says, but says life of a mother should be taken into consideration if a woman’s life is at risk . He says he is “willing to talk” about other circumstances such as pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, but adds, “I stand on what I believe in.”

Harrison wants to help veterans, but not by duplicating federal programs at the state level. “We owe them so much,” he says of military vets, “but where a state government can do a better job is to find unique ways. I’ll give you an example.  Now, you get credit if you hire a veterans at your business. But we know the first two years of anyone separating from the military is a crucial time.” He wants to see businesses given a higher tax incentive to hire veterans in those first two years after they leave the military.

He believes California needs to do a better job of protecting its agricultural industry, which provides food for much of the nation.  Harrison is concerned to see much of the Central Valley barren due to “water policies” and thinks state government should “get out of the way and let farmers do what they do best,” not dictate which crops should be grown. Crops such as alfala and almonds have been staples of our economy for generations—and 80% of the alfala grown in Imperial Valley stays in California to feed livestock, he points out.   

San Diego’s boutique wineries have huge potential to thrive and attract people to San Diego’s backcountry, Harrison believes. He opposes state regulation of the wineries and wants to see the county work with large and small winery owners and vineyard owners to craft solutions.  That said, he notes, “Sometimes they get so over-regulated that they worry about who’s strumming a guitar.”

Our interview was conducted shortly after the Paris terror attacks, amid growing concerns over Syrian refugees.

 “I think it all comes down to the realization that 911 made border security a national security issue,” he says. “11 was the wakeup call he e in America; we have the right to defend our borders, and  as sovereign nation…we should know who is coming across and how long they wil be here.  I don’t think we lose our compassion for knowing who is coming in.”

He faults President Obama for refusing to reevaluating his plan to lift the cap on Syrian refugees from 1500 to 10,000 immigrants in the next year, despite Paris and other terrorism attacks. ”This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s a national security issue. When he has  the majority of governors and many in Congress, even in his own party, saying we need a more secure vetting process, he should listen. God places people in positions of power for a reason,” he reflects, “ but he also places people around them for a reason.” He believes the President should listen to advisors and people in communities, including here, who are concerned. 

“I want to be sure they are safe,” he says of refugees, adding that he understands people wanting to escape dangers in the Middle East or elsewhere but “at the same time, we have a prerogative and due diligence to protect our community.”

…would do him great benefit to listen to concerns of other people; lot of people particularl in this community who are concerned…want to be sure they are safe…I understand not wanting to be in that situation and trying to escape from it, but…I feel that in this time and place in our world history we have our due diligence to vet everybody.”  He would apply the same standards to all who seek to come to America.  “I think anybody coming from Iraq as a Chaldean Christian or a Mulsim from Syria deserves the same time of scrutiny, the  same type of backgound check to make sure that if they will come to America, they will benefit the community as well as receive benefits…That’s a better way to assimilate and I think we can take pride in things they bring from their culture and things they(receive from our culture,” he says.

Given that the both houses of the state Legislature are controlled by Democrats, how would Harrison stay relevant—and what would his practical priorities be if elected?

“Politics is chess not checkers,” he says. “If you do not understand the political environment and you go up there [to Sacramento) to pound table and yell and not be effective, I don’t have any interest in that. I also don’t have any interest in going up there and not doing anything.”

He says he will stand on his principals but also work across the aisle where possible, putting out many ideas to see “what sticks” and how he can benefit the communities he serves.  He hopes to serve on committees where he can work to improve water infrastructure I our region and the business environment.   He also wants to solve problems in the district where possible and has pledged to hold town halls if elected.  “The best ideas come from your citizenry,” he concludes, citing as examples business regulations that can be changed or helping constituents get a closed public trail reopened.  Despite the political climate in San Diego, he believes he can remain relevant by “making a difference in people’s lives.”

You can read more about Harrison at his website: http://www.harrisonforassembly.com/

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