Hughson residents were treated with the opportunity to ask questions of their federal, state, county and city elected officials on Thursday at Hughson Government Night, where one thing was clear: the issues facing the Valley aren’t Democrat or Republican — they’re ours.
It was the second such event hosted in the rural town by Stanislaus County Supervisor and Hughson native Vito Chiesa, who regularly brings local legislators together under one roof throughout his district.
“We want to prove to you that we’re working together,” Chiesa told the crowd of about 75 that gathered at Samaritan Village. “I know that at the state and federal level there are some partisan politics…but that’s not the case here. We’re constantly talking and we’re trying to make this a better community and this a better county.”
Chiesa was joined by Congressman Josh Harder, Assemblyman Heath Flora and Hughson Mayor Jeramy Young, who touched on issues most important to both Hughson residents and the Valley as a whole: water, healthcare, jobs and transportation. Each lawmaker expressed their enthusiasm about working with one another to better these issues in the area, despite their different parties.
“The challenges we have in the Valley are not created by a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, and not by a lack of great teachers,” said Harder. “They’re created by a lack of political leaders with the courage to actually move the ball forward, work together and get the job done.”
Flora, a Republican, echoed Democrat Harder’s sentiments.
“When you get to Sacramento — and I know the congressman sees it in D.C. — you realize very, very quickly that our issues are not partisan…you are going to see us building off of each other because of this issue,” said Flora. “Our job is to represent all of you…we, collectively as local, state and federal electives are here fighting for you. We come from different parties, but each one of your issues, we take them on ourselves and they become our issues.”
Young said he is proud of how he is able to work alongside Harder, Flora and Chiesa in order to achieve greatness for Hughson.
“A lot of cities and a lot of states as you look across the country have that divide, but in the Central Valley we share so much, and it doesn’t really matter what’s after your name as far as an ‘R’ or ‘D.’”
Both local and national issues were brought up by those in attendance, like Hughson’s sole dependence on groundwater. Chiesa asked Young if Hughson has any long-term plans to join in on the surface water treatment facility spearheaded by Ceres and Turlock, which is under construction just west of Fox Grove Fishing Access northeast of Hughson.
“I hope so,” he said, explaining that Hughson is still in debt thanks to a waste water treatment plant they built some years ago. “I would love to be a part of it…it’s definitely on my mind, and I hope we can find a solution to where we can participate in the surface water treatment plant. I know it’s expensive, but I just don’t see any other way for our future.”
One attendee asked Harder if he would endorse Senator Elizabeth Warren for president, as well as whether or not he supports the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Harder declined to comment on who he thinks would make the best Democratic candidate for president, but said transparency is key when it comes to the Trump administration.
“Even in this room, we’ve got every possible opinion on this issue, and that’s the beauty of the Valley in that we span the spectrum of political ideology,” he said. “I think the people are right to demand real accountability.”
However, Harder said, he’s more focused on issues within his own committee appointments, which include the House committees on education and agriculture, such as the stripping of funding for literacy programs and free lunches for students in other parts of the country.
A main topic on the night was jobs, and therefore, infrastructure. Chiesa asked the legislators what it will take for Stanislaus County to catch up to the Bay Area in terms of higher-paying jobs, to which Flora explained that during meetings with Silicon Valley leadership, they’ve made it clear they see the Valley as a “gold mine.”
With agriculture continuing to shift towards automation, tech companies see opportunity to unleash an entire new industry here, he said. But, there’s one drawback.
“One of their biggest hesitations right now is infrastructure and transportation. They cannot send their people our direction in a meaningful way,” Flora said.
He also highlighted the need for more certificate programs.
“Programming a tractor to drive itself, that doesn’t require a four-year education with $90,000 in debt right off the bat,” he said.
Harder also emphasized the need for more career technical education training, for which he recently introduced a skills package to invest in. As students struggle to find post-high school jobs and companies search for skilled workers, it’s a no-brainer, he said.
“This is a matching problem. What can we do to better equip the folks in our high schools to do the jobs that our businesses have openings for?” Harder said. “If you want to go to college that’s fantastic, but if you don’t, then you actually have the opportunity to work hard and get ahead.”
“I think we need to go sell ourselves,” Young added. “We have a lot to offer right here, and I know some people say there’s not the workforce in the Valley for these jobs. But I see all the traffic leaving the valley and going to the Bay Area, so I know that’s not true.
Young also highlighted the improvements Measure L has made possible for Hughson, which boasts the highest pavement index, or best roads, in Stanislaus County. Santa Fe Avenue was recently repaved from Whitmore Avenue to Hatch Road, and the second phase will see improvements into the city limits of Hughson.
“Measure L has helped us keep the roads good, and we keep improving on that,” he said.