The controversy over Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointment of an out-of-work politician to a six-figure government job continues to create controversy. The Los Angeles Times came out in an editorial, calling Isadore Hall, III appointment to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) as political patronage.
Hall, a Compton Democrat, ran for and lost a seat last November for the U.S. Congress. Previously, he served as an assemblyman and state senator. Opponents have criticized his lack of any experience in the ag industry. Others see this as a political thank you from Brown.
Last week (March 1), the state Senate Rules Committee approved Hall’s appointment by a 3-0 vote. The three Democrats approved: Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Connie Leyva (D-Chino). The two Republicans, who happen to represent farm-rich Fresno County, did not vote. Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) failed to show up. His office says he had an excused absence, but would not elaborate what that was. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) abstained from voting.
The 1 hour and 42 minute hearing was to vote on Hall’s board position, as well as Julia Montgomery as general counsel to the ALRB. Here are some of the highlights of Hall’s portion (the hearing for Hall and Montgomery were held concurrently with both taking questions at the same time):
“I’ve always put people of California first, and that’s why I am here today,” Hall said in his opening statements. He said he would put people first three times during the hearing.
Leyva asked Hall about how many pending cases are in front of the ALRB currently. After looking back for an answer, Hall said that only one case is before the board. Another one currently in the courts that could head back to the ALRB is Gerawan Farming. The Fresno County-based fruit grower has been in a long term battle with the United Farm Workers (UFW) over whether the union legally represents the Gerawan growers.
The lack of case load impressed Leyva. Leyva pressed Hall on other pending cases, but he opted to not discuss business in front of the courts. Hall also vowed to meet more often in public. Hall’s first public meeting an ALRB meeting is March 23 in Sacramento.
Atkins asked Hall how he would balance the needs of farmers and labor. Hall harkened back to his time as 17 years as a publicly-elected servant. “My goal is to make sure to sit down with all stakeholders,” he responded. “It is important in order for me to govern, in order for me to make sound decisions, is to sit down with an open mind and to speak to all stakeholders. That means going out the farms, visiting the farms to see what happening there.” He said he wants to speak with both the growers and employees.
Cannella, the only Republican and Central Valley member present, then spoke. He lavished Hall with praise from their time in the state senate together. “He’s always been very fair to me. He’s always had an open door,” Cannella said from the dais. Cannella said his constituents have concerns but they didn’t know Hall like he does.
Hall then answered Cannella’s questions about the role of the ALRB. “This is a board for fairness,” he said “the same way I have acted in eight years as fair and (and have had an) open door.” Cannella pointed out the speed of Hall’s appointment hearing, saying he believes Hall would be unbiased. Hall says he will visit with the farmers, even though he knows they are in opposition.
“There have been some attacks on you since your name has been brought forward. Look, we are in this business, that’s what happens, we get attacked. I appreciate your willingness to let that go,” Cannella continued. He then joked with Hall about forgiving those who didn’t support him in the first place.
Cannella then brought up Hall’s legislative record, specifically supporting overtime for farm workers and a march Hall participated in against Gerawan. Hall reiterated he would be fair, focused and unbiased. Asked if he would recuse himself from a potential Gerawan decision. “I never signed a resolution. I never was part of a signatory, if you will, to support or to go against any company that we are representing today. I don’t think recusing myself would even be a thought.”
De Leon, who once called the Central Valley “the middle of nowhere” and “in the tumbleweeds,” admitted his lack of knowledge of the citrus industry. Finally, de Leon asked Hall the one question on everyone’s mind: Hall’s lack of agricultural experience.
Hall responded by saying he was elected to the school board with no prior experience. He was elected to the Compton city council without experience on the council; same with the assembly and state senate; same with being sworn as a reserve deputy sheriff. “But, I know the issues. I think I’m pretty quick to learn as well,” Hall continued. “I would use all those collective experiences…to be a great member of this board.”
Up next were comments from the public, first those in favor and then those against. Esperanza Ross of the UFW was first off. She compared objections Hall’s lack of experience to President Donald Trump’s, saying Hall would do a much better job. Other farm workers also spoke in favor.
The committee had a unique system to help translate comments made in Spanish. The speaker would talk into a cell phone, with a Blue Tooth wearing translator literally standing next to them.
After about 15 or so of those in support, the opposition spoke, led by former U.S. congressman George Radanovich, now president with the California Fresh Fruit Association. He was upset that they were not consulted about Hall’s appointment, but hope they get to know him in the future. He said Hall’s voting record appears to be biased for UFW.
Sylvia Lopez, the Gerawan Farming worker in the middle of the UFW fight spoke. “It is not fair. We are losing the hope to get justice so the ALRB can count our votes,” she testified. Labor attorney Anthony Raimondo, who represents Gerawan and Lopez then spoke. He said he respected and supported Montgomery’s appointment, even though they were legal adversaries. But, he would not extend the same courtesy for Hall.
Raimondo then showed a picture of Hall allegedly supporting UFW. “Despite Mr. Hall’s statements today, he has had no meetings with workers I represent today,” Raimondo said. He charged Hall with bias and unfit to serve on the ALRB board.
A number of representatives of a group called Pick Justice also spoke out in opposition. The group supports workers at Gerawan in their battle with the UFW and ALRB. [clarification 3/10: the original story said Pick Justice supports Gerawan; the group actually supports the workers at Gerawan. It has been updated]
Then came the roll call vote. Cannella explained why did not record a vote. He wanted to wait and see how Hall does as a board member. “My hope that by the time you come to the (senate) floor, you’ve been able to have those discussions (with farmers and labor) so I can vote for your nomination to the ALRB,” he said.
Hall’s appointment now goes to the full state senate floor, although the date of that vote has not been established. Hall can serve up to a year on the ALRB without senate confirmation. The yearly salary for the position is $142,095.
The full hearing can be watched here.
Contact David Taub
Phone: 559-492-4037 / e-mail