Valley lawmakers are putting partisan politics aside during the coronavirus pandemic, coming together to collect supplies for their constituents working on the front lines.
At the beginning of April, Rep. Josh Harder and the North Valley Labor Federation partnered with nearly a dozen other local legislators to launch the Central Valley Personal Protective Equipment Initiative — a centralized effort to collect and distribute masks, protective equipment, surgical gowns and gloves to first-responders and healthcare workers throughout three counties.
The initiative calls on individuals and businesses — particularly dental and veterinary offices and construction companies — to donate supplies. While Harder has coordinated efforts in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and Assemblyman Adam Gray has taken the lead in Merced County, the pair has been joined by politicians from both sides of the aisle, like U.S. Representatives Jim Costa and Jerry McNerney, state Senators Cathleen Galgiani and Anna Caballero, and State Assemblymembers Susan Talamentes Eggman and Heath Flora.
“I’ve been really excited to see the Central Valley step up,” said Harder. “Every day we hear from nurses and first-responders who are scared to go to work because they’re coming into contact with people who have this virus, and we need to make sure we’re keeping them safe. Our community has really stepped up to donate more masks than I ever thought we could get.”
The effort has been successful so far. Over the weekend, Harder and his team delivered 30,000 masks, 2,000 face shields and hundreds of coveted N95 masks to hospital workers, first-responders and other frontline service providers in his district, and Gray has overseen the donations of supplies in Merced County from businesses like Medallion Wellness.
Flora, who is a former firefighter married to a nurse, secured 500 KN95 masks for the PPE initiative as well as 10 COVID-19 test kits for first-responders in Stanislaus County. The Republican assemblyman has worked closely with Harder, a Democrat, on issues including Harder’s water legislation and a recent effort to help a local veteran with his erroneous medical bills.
As the two representatives involved in the coordinated effort, the pair have forged a relationship that forgoes party lines in order to help the Valley, Flora said, which recently has lost out on medical supplies to larger, more populous cities during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is just another one of those times where the party goes out the window and we focus on what the community needs,” said Flora, whose district covers Hughson. “Josh and I are good at working together and making sure the community is protected. “Sometimes we feel forgotten about, so it’s nice to have people from different sides of the aisle work together.”
Flora said it was imperative to collect testing kits in addition to masks when he heard from Stanislaus County officials that first-responders were down to just one kit. His office located and purchased additional testing kits from local labs like Valley Wellness in Modesto to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“They’re the most exposed. You take a city firefighter who’s running 10 to 15 calls a day, at any one of those calls there could be an exposure,” Flora said. “I don’t fault anyone because if you look at the numbers being logged, these urban areas need more test kits...but for Stanislaus County to have only one test kit is unacceptable. No matter what party you are, we tend to play second fiddle.”
Flora applauded both Harder and his Republican challenger in the 2020 general election, Ted Howze, for setting aside political squabbles and focusing on community service-driven efforts instead during the pandemic. Howze has spearheaded “Operation Compassion,” organizing food and medical supply drives for the community and vulnerable seniors.
Working together on efforts like the Central Valley PPE Initiative is nothing new to Valley elected officials, Harder said.
“I think the Central Valley has a long history of political leaders putting partisan politics aside to fight for the Central Valley. Oftentimes in a lot of elected roles throughout the Valley, you don’t know if the person is a Republican or Democrat,” Harder said. “It doesn’t matter, because they tend to work together with both sides of the aisle to get things done.
“We are an area where folks are on every side of the fence, but the biggest challenge is making sure people actually understand our unique needs and we don’t go overlooked or ignored.”
Harder and Flora have not only worked together to get things done in the Valley, whether it be legislation or donations, but also to inform. The pair have hosted joint town halls to inform employers of issues at both the state and federal levels — another difference between the two representatives that has done nothing but help them aid the area.
“We’ve worked a lot together and we have a really strong friendship. I trust him a lot,” Harder said.
Where there are differences between the two, there are also similarities: both are fairly new to politics, with Flora first taking office in 2016 and Harder elected in 2018, and, of course, they both want to see their communities thrive.
“Obviously the congressman and I would probably disagree on a few issues, but we also are fiercely committed to protecting our district and I appreciate that very much about him. I think there’s the political side of what we do and we both understand that part of it, but when it gets down to protecting the district, that’s ultimately what I know he cares about and what I care about,” Flora said. “I feel there’s a new age in politics here where it doesn’t have to be so divisive. There can be politics, but at the end of the day we stand beside each other and work together.”
Moving forward, Harder hopes to secure even more tests for the district, as well as medical supplies. The Central Valley PPE Initiative is ongoing, and those interested in donating supplies can drop them off at Monte Vista Chapel in Turlock, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 259-3856.
“This is a virus that doesn’t just infect Republican or Democrats,” Harder said. “It affects all of us and we are all in this together.”