Idyllwild’s Assemblyman Randy Voepel (R-Santee) was in town Thursday, Nov. 2, for his District 71 “Listening Tour.”
Photo by Peter Szabadi

Assemblyman Randy Voepel who represents the Hill, a small portion of Riverside County and a large swath of San Diego County from Riverside to Mexican border, was in Idyllwild last week.

He came to Town Hall on his “Listening Tour” of District 71. More than 30 people attended and posed questions on topics such as healthcare, immigration, housing, public funding of elections and climate change during the 90-minute session.

Most of the attendees are active members of the Idyllwild Indivisible group who are not supporters of Voepel.

But the questions, answers and deeper discussions were insightful and helpful to all, including Voepel, who learned where many in Idyllwild stand on the political spectrum.

Introducing himself, Voepel said, “It’s an honor to represent you in Sacramento. I’m a very conservative Republican. A supermajority of Democrats is running the state.”

He continued with his honesty and some humor. “My right-wing credentials are all in order, which I assume will play well here.” His conservative philosophy begins with “very little government, a balanced budget and an equal opportunity for all.”

Despite his political views, or perhaps because of them, Voepel remained calm, open and direct. This impression was re-enforced with his comments that he has “… Democratic friends in the Assembly.”

He said when he asked them why he was given such good committee assignments, their reply was, “You’re a low-priced consultant.” This was reference to his diligence reading and evaluating the bills, which come before his committees.

He is the vice chair of the Aging and Long-Term Care Committee and a member of the Insurance, Local Government, Veterans Affairs, Communications and Conveyance committees and the Education Budget Subcommittee. Voepel stressed that almost all the action in Sacramento happens in the committee meetings.

Voepel began with some praise for Gov. Jerry Brown. “My very conservative friends get on Gov. Brown, but I tell them that Gov. Brown has vetoed more bills than [former Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger did. [Brown] runs a tight ship. And he put $3 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.”

The Indivisibles prepared a list of six questions for Voepel (see the accompanying table), and the first one asked was whether he considered healthcare a right or privilege.

“It’s a right, certainly not a privilege. Yes, everyone should have healthcare, but who pays for it?” he responded. He pointed out that everyone in California who is poor, by the federal definition, has access to health insurance, Medi-Cal.

When asked about single-payer insurance, he emphatically opposed it. He does not favor one type of insurance for everyone. He called his recommendation “layering.”

In his example, the federal government would be responsible for health costs exceeding a high level, the state would cover costs in a middle level and local governments would be responsible for the small level of costs.

This did raise substantial feedback from the audience about Canada’s health insurance and how family members living there do prefer it to the U.S. insurance system.

One female member of the audience expressed displeasure with the mandated requirements of the Affordable Care Act. She claimed that she has been paying substantially more for health insurance since the ACA was passed and she attributed this to the mandate requirements.

“I’d be happy with a high-risk policy,” she stated. “Not every policy should cover everything. I don’t buy maternity care now.”

These comments led the discussion into the topic of women’s healthcare and their right to decide whether to use birth control or to elect abortions. Voepel was asked to explain his “no” vote on Assembly Bill 569, which prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against employees for reproductive health decisions.

“I voted ‘no’ because it was worded very anti-business,” Voepel responded. “I’m a businessman first and very conservative … it required birth control and required abortions to be offered. A very small employer can’t afford that. This raises the price of doing business.”

This answer elicited several rejoinders about the rights of choosing which insurance policy and other medicines (such as for coronary, and who should have the right to choose.

When questioned about climate change, Voepel acknowledges its occurrence but questions its cause.

“I take a conservative stance. No doubt we have climate change, but what is the human impact?” he asked, and answered, “Most conservatives think it’s about 1 percent. The conservative response is long-term climatic cycles, volcanic eruptions and God.”

Again, the audience debated his view and countered with other reports.

While he opposed publicly financed election campaigns, he believes “more wealth is concentrated in fewer hands ever since 1929. Something’s got to give. It’s a privileged ruling government — both Republicans and Democrats. I resist that and would like to see a change.”

Requiring candidates to release tax returns is not a policy Voepel supports, but he pointed out that the state requires lawmakers and employees to complete forms, which do shed considerable light on income, its sources and assets.

Admitting that Donald Trump was not his choice for the Republican presidential nomination (Ben Carson was his first choice), Voepel believes people should give Trump more time to accomplish some things, such as changing the wealth patterns.

As the evening moved toward an end, Voepel was asked what bills he was working on. He discussed a bill to support all veterans, including LGBTQ, and not just Vietnam veterans for state and employee preferences.

“While they may not have received an honorable discharge, it was a general discharge and they served,” he argued. “They should have the same opportunities in housing and jobs as Viet vets. I’m very passionate on this.”

He also discussed a bill for funding off-road restoration from off-road vehicle taxes.

Indivisible questions for Voepel

Editor’s note: In preparation for Assemblyman Randy Voepel “Listening Tour” stop in Idyllwild, the local Indivisibles prepared these questions:

1. Because we live in the mountains, we are very concerned about climate change, the environment, and our air quality. You voted “No” on AB 617 which would establish regulations to improve California’s air quality. Additionally, you were once quoted as saying climate change is good.

What is your stance on improving and then maintaining a healthy environment, including air quality?

2. Women’s health issues affect everyone — men, women and children. Ensuring women have the healthcare they need is imperative, just as is protecting their rights to care for themselves as they see fit. We see that you voted “No” on AB 8569 which protects women from losing their jobs because they chose to use birth control or to have an abortion.

How do you plan to protect women’s health, ensure health care, and guarantee their right to make personal decisions affecting their bodies and their lives?

3. We are home to a California State Park and proud of it. We see that you voted “No” on AB 18, which authorized a ballot measure allowing California voters to approve park funding. If passed, this will allow restoration and preservation of California State Parks and improvement of community parks.

What is your stance on preservation, maintenance and protection of community and California State Parks?

4. Many Californians are impacted and/or concerned with immigration policy and its impact on immigrants, their families, “Dreamers,” and many businesses and industries. You voted “No” on SB 54 which established California’s statewide sanctuary policy.

Please explain reasons that led you to this vote.

5. Undeniably, every single person needs or will need health care in his or her lifetime, and with the outrageous associated costs, most people cannot afford to be healthy without affordable, comprehensive health insurance

Is health care a right or a privilege? Please explain.

6.  A significant portion of your constituency represents the LGBTQ Community.

What is your position on LGBTQ rights?