Brian Domingos with the Fresno Chamber leads a discussion with state Sen. Andreas Borgeas Friday morning. Photo by Gabriel Dillard
Written by Gabriel Dillard
A few months shy of a year in office, state Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) reflected on the differences between local and state government — as well as wins and losses — at a Friday talk with local business leaders.
Sen. Borgeas called Sacramento an “alternate universe” during his chat at the Fresno Chamber’s Eggs and Issues breakfast at TorNino’s in Fresno Friday morning. Instead of the constituents and community members he interacted with daily during his time on the Fresno City Council, he talked of days in Sacramento encountering lobbyists and caucus representatives.
“The sense of connectivity is not there as it is at the local level,” Borgeas said.
Borgeas is one of 11 Republicans among the 40-Senator body. His District 8 — formerly held by Tom Berryhill — spans 11 counties from just east of Sacramento to the north to Death Valley in the south. He shared that in remote Mono and Inyo counties, it can take nine hours to drive there in the winter because of needing to loop around Bakersfield.
He talked of missing the ability to have “intellectual mastery” of the legislation that comes through his desk. He said Sacramento can have a “staggering” 2,000 bills in a session, many of them controversial. Oftentimes, a bill’s language can change substantially over the course of a session — enough so that the decision to support or oppose shifts.
“It’s a changeling,” he said of such bills.
Borgeas said he has taken a practical approach to working across the aisle. Despite a Democratic supermajority, he said he strives to build cross-party relationships when possible. He said being Republican in California’s capital is no reason to throw in the towel.
“What are you going to do? Pout and become orthodox in your partisanship?” Borgeas said. “That will get you nowhere in Sacramento.”
Despite the sprawling nature of his district, he said he is committed to representing every corner. His first legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom was SB 402, which extended the connectivity of off-highway-vehicle trails with designated highways in Inyo County.
Borgeas also talked about SB 559, a bipartisan bill introduced by fellow freshman Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger). The bill found support from the entire Central Valley caucus, including Borgeas, but it failed to reach a Senate floor vote by a key deadline.
SB 559 was designated a “two-year bill” that must pass out of the Senate by January 2020 or die.
The bill would designate $400 million to restore capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal, which is beset with subsidence issues. He said the infrastructure bill was “swinging for the fences” in the face of “coastal elites” who fail to see the importance of water to agriculture. He acknowledged the final funding goal might be reduced in the end.
“It will be a dog fight,” he said.
Borgeas also talked about SB 659, a bill he authored that would’ve required parties filing a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenge to infill housing projects to cover attorney’s fees if a judge decides the lawsuit was frivolous.
Borgeas said he was inspired to draft SB 659 — designated as a “job creator” bill by the California Chamber of Commerce — after hearing Gov. Newsom speak of the need for CEQA reform. It was a bit of a sleeper bill, Borgeas said, skating through without notice until it passed through the Senate Judiciary committee on a 5-4 vote, with three Democrats in support.
It was destined for a floor vote, Borgeas said, but ultimately met its demise in the Appropriations Committee. And two of the three Democrats who supported SB 659 in the Judiciary were stripped of their assignments, he added.
“It was a bloodletting,” he said.
Borgeas also took questions from the audience, sharing about his recent trip to the White House to witness President Trump’s signing of a pair of executive orders related to bureaucratic transparency and environmental regulation. Borgeas said he ultimately gifted the presidential Sharpie he received from the signing to his son for his sixth birthday.
He said his son was underwhelmed, but would someday recognize the significance of the gift.
Asked about a solution to the homelessness problem, Borgeas brought up the issue of so-called “frequent flyers,” or homeless people who often call for ambulance service to hospital emergency departments for minor issues. He said triage services at the hospital could connect homeless people with resources they need.
He said the homeless issue is one he feels state leaders have not taken seriously, and cautioned that local services and resources will likely have little help tackling the issue.
“This is our mess that we need to fix,” he said.