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Aloha: Three Valley Republicans Defend Controversial Hawaii Conference

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Portrait of state Sen. Andreas Borgeas
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At least three Central Valley Republican lawmakers are at a Hawaiian legislative conference while California officials are discouraging out-of-state travel.

State Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) say they are conducting business at the event, hosted by the Independent Voter Project.

Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon) also confirmed his attendance at the conference, according to a Wednesday report in Politico. 

The Politico report also said several Democratic lawmakers from California are presumed to be in attendance, but none have not responded to inquiries about their whereabouts.

The trip has been maligned as excessive during the return of nearly the entire state to the most restrictive “purple” tier because of increased COVID-19 infections.

The conference sponsor, Independent Voter Project, describes itself as a group “that seeks to re-engage nonpartisan voters and promote nonpartisan election reform through initiatives, litigation, and voter education.” IVP is best known for authoring California’s successful nonpartisan primary.

News of the legislators’ trips comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom attending a pricey dinner party at Napa’s French Laundry restaurant, sans mask. Newsom has apologized for going, but recently published photos may contradict his account of the event being outdoors.

Borgeas, Bigelow, Flora Defend Attendance

Nevertheless, Borgeas and Bigelow defended attending.

“Yes, I am among the Central Valley Republicans attending the bipartisan annual conference discussing legislative proposals and policy ideas to re-open our economy. I was tested prior to arrival, and am diligently following COVID-19 and social distancing protocols,” Borgeas said via text through his legislative aide.

“Blanket mandates by the Governor aren’t working for families, schools, and businesses in California. That is why I am joining Central Valley Republican Assemblymembers Frank Bigelow and Heath Flora (R-Ripon), on working on legislative ideas on ways to return to normalcy,” Borgeas said.

Bigelow provided similar reasoning in an email to GV Wire℠.

“Yes, I am attending the bipartisan Independent Voter Project conference, where we are collectively discussing how to safely reopen the State of California. The blanket response to Covid-19 does not work for small businesses, schools, and working families in Rural California. I am paying for myself to be here, following the strictest Covid-19 safety protocols, and tested negative to Covid-19 just prior to my arrival. I am taking my role as a Legislator during this pandemic very seriously and will continue to follow Covid-19 safety protocols once I return home.”

Neither Borgeas nor Bigelow were available for follow-up questions.

Flora responded to inquiries from Politico about his attendance on Wednesday.

“Participants are discussing how to safely reopen larger sectors of the economy and the discussion suddenly became more urgent with Newsom’s announcement on Monday,” he wrote. “Simply shutting down 95% of the state might’ve made sense back in April or May, but we understand so much more now than we did then. We’re way (past) blanket solutions.”

Various media reports indicate other state legislators at the conference include assemblymembers Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton), Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), Wendy Carrillo (D-Boyle Heights), and Chad Mayes (NPP-Yucca Valley).

Other Valley Legislators Working in Fresno, Sacramento

Other Valley legislators have been working in the state.

Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) chaired a meeting in Sacramento about food insecurity.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) worked out of his Fresno office on Tuesday, and spoke at a news conference advocating for a Latino U.S. Senator.

A spokeswoman for Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) says he is not in Hawai’i either.

Asked about the governor’s behavior, Arambula said everyone should be following best COVID-19 practices.

“I think it’s important for us during this pandemic of the century to make sure that we are listening to the scientists and experts on the best recommendations. Everyone is encouraging social distancing handwashing and doing everything we can during this pandemic to limit the spread of this vicious virus. And I would encourage all people in our state to continue acting in the best interests and leading by example,” Arambula said.

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email