Rep. TJ Cox speaks with business owners at the Fresno Chamber's Eggs and Issues Breakfast Friday morning. Photo by Gabriel Dillard
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno) regaled local business leaders Friday morning with his recent run-in with the Trump administration.
At the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast, Cox said he recently had the opportunity to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives, directing traffic during floor debate, when he got a message that White House representatives were present to deliver President Trump’s budget proposal.
He shared the story in response to a question about proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Education. While a $10 million cut in funding to the Special Olympics (later rescinded by the president) has gotten the most ink, Carole Goldsmith, Fresno City College president, expressed concerns about hits to federal programs including TRiO and GEAR UP, which aid low-income students and those with disadvantaged backgrounds.
“There are a lot of cuts to things that matter to people,” Cox said. “I don’t know why they do those sorts of things.”
He assured the group — which Chamber President and CEO Nathan Ahle called the largest for such a breakfast he’s seen in his three years at the post — that the new majority in Congress will fight such cuts.
“We are going to make the investments we know will pay off for our communities,” Cox said.
As a freshman in Congress, Cox shared some of his unique experiences on the job, including how he is tracked when traveling. When he’s running late making a connection, sometimes a car or golf cart will magically appear to get him to where he needs to be. In one instance, he said a plane he was on was routed to another gate at an airport to keep him on schedule.
He also shared about attending a Congressional “spin” class — on an exercise bike, not propaganda — led by Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, where a tardy House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) received some good-natured ribbing.
Cox revealed that the Congressional delegation from California has a standing weekly lunch, attended by the likes of Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also talked about a Monday meal Democratic Congressional freshmen recently shared with former President Barack Obama, where Obama cautioned the group to consider the price tag of some of the liberal ideas taking hold in the caucus.
Cox fielded questions from Ahle and audience members on a number of issues, including health care, immigration, high-speed rail and water.
On health care, Cox said he supports “quality, affordable health care for all,” and said reducing the cost of coverage to employers would result in a pay raise for employees.
On immigration, Cox is a cosponsor of the Agricultural Worker Program Act, the so-called “Blue Card” legislation that would allow undocumented farmworkers to work on a path to legal status and eventual citizenship.
“The problem we have with immigrants in America is we don’t have enough of them,” Cox said, adding that as a businessperson, he believes they are important to bolstering the workforce.
On Gov. Gavin Newsom’s change in scope to the high-speed rail project in California, Cox acknowledged there is no economic rationale for having a system running from Bakersfield to Modesto only. But he said it’s the sort of “100-year” investment we should be making, and is hopeful the original Los Angeles to San Francisco route could some day be realized.
Regarding water and environment, Cox — a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources — said he’d like to redirect the conversation from “Fish vs. Farmers” to the “provision of clean, fresh drinking water to everyone’s tap in the Central Valley.” He’s also focused on clearing out California’s forests to help eliminate the air quality threats from forest fires.
Cox was also asked about when the economic development community could expect final regulations on federal “Opportunity Zones,” part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that provides tax incentives for investment in certain qualified areas.
He posited that much of the investment that could benefit from Opportunity Zones would likely take place without the incentives.
“What creates jobs is having a well-trained workforce,” he said.