After a successful first term representing District 12 in the California State Assembly, Heath Flora is ready to tackle local issues following his reelection in November as one of few Central Valley representatives in the legislature.
“Being a new legislator in 2016, there were a lot of unknowns,” Flora said. “Once we got elected, we switched our focus to the district issues. We knew if we did that, we’d be successful in the reelection.”
Flora was first elected to the Assembly in 2016, when the first-time politician and Ripon native defeated fellow Republican Ken Vogel in a race where many considered him to be the underdog. On Nov. 6 of this year, Flora tasted victory once again when he beat Democrat Robert Chase by 20 points.
Receiving such a large portion of the vote — which included plenty of support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — in an area which also chose to throw out incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham in favor of Democrat Josh Harder was not lost upon Flora. He said the party differences between himself and others who were elected shows that the Valley chooses their representatives based on merit, rather than if they identify with red or blue.
“This area is diverse and changing, and you have to be willing to change with it,” he said. “Something I like the most about our area is that party politics really goes away. We can actually focus on district issues, and not what either party is wanting.”
Flora did just that during his first term, ensuring support for youth pre-apprenticeship programs in the Valley and working across the aisle to protect small businesses from PAGA lawsuits. Many issues relevant to District 12 are nonpartisan issues, making collaboration with other Valley legislators all the more important when working to pass bills. Flora has worked well with Democrats like the District 21 Assemblyman Adam Gray, he said, when debating with legislators from the Bay Area and Southern California on Valley-centric issues.
“One of our biggest surprises in the first year was that with Central Valley legislators, there’s not very many of us so a lot of our issues are not partisan,” Flora said. “And even with those of us that are Republican — our issues are going to be different. There are different issues that are important to me versus say a San Diego Republican.”
One bipartisan issue Flora hopes the state can come together on is homelessness, which he hopes to help secure funding for in the legislature. The rest of the state should look at how Stanislaus County has attempted to tackle the problem, he added.
“I’m very proud of what Stanislaus County and our city and other local governments are doing,” Flora said. “We’re not saying, ‘We need to do it.’ We’re actually out there trying things.”
In addition to homelessness, Flora would like to push funding through the Assembly for Special Education in the state, which ultimately ties into his goal of providing more Career Technical Education for students. Schools are not receiving proper funding for their Special Education programs, he said, forcing school districts to lose out on money that could be put toward other programs, like CTE.
“We have these state-mandated Special Education programs, but school systems are only reimbursed a small portion and it hurts other programs,” he said.
While there’s been much talk lately about Medi-Cal reimbursements for doctors, Flora would also like to shift some of that focus to dentists, who also receive low Denti-Cal returns. He has met with local dentists, he said, who say their biggest setback is having no guaranteed reimbursements. Flora hopes that the Assembly can pass legislation this session to help alleviate some of those troubles.
Flora’s successes as an Assemblyman have led to him holding leadership positions within the Republican party, like last session when he was the Chief Republican Whip, making sure the party knew what bills were coming up and ensuring they were educated on the topics.
Most recently, Flora was named Republican Floor Leader, where he will work with his Democrat counterpart to make sure the Assembly floor runs smoothly.
“If our parties are going to oppose bills or do certain motions, we are in constant communication with each other,” Flora said. “At end of the day it’s the people’s house, and we need to make sure it runs respectably.”
The new role will give Flora a more hands-on approach to every bill, he added, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun cause we’ll know and be involved in literally every bill that comes to the floor,” he said.