Two days after backing a Democratic immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, U.S. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said Friday that while his congressional colleagues are cognizant of his position, immigration reform may not happen this session.
Valadao, a freshman congressman whose district includes a large Hispanic population, joined state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, in answering written questions from more than 100 business leaders, students and residents during a forum at Bakersfield College.
Planned weeks ago, it was envisioned as a primer on next year's election season, not necessarily a discussion of immigration in the waning days of the congressional session nor of water -- the morning's other big issue.
With the Kern River watershed experiencing its third driest year in more than a century, and state legislators considering an $11 billion water bond that would include funding for the governor's "twin tunnels" project to route water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Fuller said "this year is going to be the water year."
For Valadao, however, immigration trumps water at the moment. He said in interviews that while response to his support of H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., has been considerable -- and House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the House majority whip, are aware of his stance -- that may not bring change.
"I've been getting a lot of calls from outside the district, people mad at me, some in the district that are mad, but for the most part, the overall majority of the people are supportive of my stance," Valadao said, admitting that with the support of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, he is only the third House Republican to break ranks.
"They've known all along. I've made my position clear," Valadao said of the GOP leadership. "I've been told all along that it would happen, but it's getting close to the end of the year so I'm concerned that it's going to be tough, so we have to keep putting the pressure on."
The same is true where water is concerned. Fuller said in an interview that she supports reducing the amount of the water bond, but that key Central Valley issues of water storage and habitat restoration must still be funded.
"They cannot mess with storage, because that was what the bond was based on, was twin -- they called them co-equal -- goals, which was $3 billion in storage and $3 billion in Delta habitat restoration," Fuller said.
"We have a lot of uprising right now, and where we need that water is East Kern," said Grove, whose Assembly district includes Bakersfield, Tehachapi and Ridgecrest. "As long as we keep a positive body of Kern County support, we'll be able to control where that water goes."
Salas, a freshman legislator sent to the state Assembly in November 2012 from Ward 1 of the Bakersfield City Council, said access to water has a wide-reaching financial effect.
He suggested improving links between education and employment as a solution.
"I represent areas that have high double-digit unemployment. I think it's about job training. Making sure they have the training they need, but also partnerships," said Salas, whose district includes Hanford, Corcoran and part of Bakersfield.
The 90-minute forum drew BC students from two political science classes, and one who's an intern in Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard's office.
"I think it's great that they came up here and they did the whole question-and-answer," said Alex Dominguez, who is interning for Maggard. "It's good, ones like Shannon Grove, who just kind of give it to you straight. That's the way it needs to get done."