THE
LEGISLATOR'S
LIFE

KSEE24's Evan Onstot spends a day with three Central Valley legislators for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at their daily lives


By EVAN ONSTOT | February 2, 2017

"This is going to be a huge challenge for the state of California."

Assemblyman Jim Patterson is in his element. Leaned back in his chair, behind his desk. On the other end of the phone is a conservative newstalk radio station out of Bakersfield. The subject? Patterson's nemesis: High Speed Rail.

"It just seems they are making it up as they go along," Patterson said into the phone, "and spending every bit of money they can get their hands on."

This is exactly how the people who voted for Patterson picture him in Sacramento. Fighting the over-budget project, even if it means swimming against the political current.

But Patterson's living situation in the capital might surprise you. The assemblyman sleeps on a boat – a 30-foot Bayliner on the American River.

"A lot of us see a straight line between a problem and a solution, but it takes a long time to even get that line drawn."

"It's a floating bedroom," he said.

Patterson bought the boat a couple years ago, after growing tired of spending three nights a week in a hotel. Rent is $400 a month – including utilities.

A bonus? His grandkids love to visit.

"Because they know they'll go on a boat ride," Patterson said, after revving the boat's engine for effect.

"I love that sound."

This is a peaceful retreat from the political combat of the capitol. But even here, work is always on his mind.

"It's frustrating at times," Patterson said, "because a lot of us see a straight line between a problem and a solution, but it takes a long time to even get that line drawn."

That's something State Senator Andy Vidak can understand. The Republican is always looking for solutions in a state government in firm control of Democrats.

"I would not do this if I did not think I was helping my district and with ideas"

Vidak doesn't have a boat, but he does have a roommate – a fellow legislator. Many members of the Assembly and Senate share apartments to save money while in town three nights a week. They don't spend much time there anyway.

Making an impact, Vidak said, is the best thing about the job.

He prefers to listen, turning in his chair to face whoever is talking

"Now, my name might not be on every bill that goes through," Vidak said behind his desk, just down the hallway from Patterson. "But I may be co-authoring, or changed something in committee – just tweaked it enough that it made it better for my constituents."

"I would not do this if I did not think I was helping my district and with ideas," he said.

Vidak's staff said he rarely talks on the floor of the Senate chamber. He prefers to listen, turning in his chair to face whoever is talking.



Sen. Andy Vidak always has three pairs of boots behind his desk (plus the ones he's wearing)

And if you want to get a sense of what this Hanford cherry farmer is doing in Sacramento, ask him about a can of carrots he keeps at his desk.

"Actually a product of China," he said, holding the can in his hand. "said right here. And these were being passed out in food lines. These came out of the city of San Joaquin."

Chinese carrots feeding Valley families.

It broke Vidak's heart.

He ran for office, and he got it changed.

"Never happened again," Vidak said. "Not as far as I know. Nobody wants to be responsible for something like that."

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula is the new kid on the block. The Democrat and emergency room doctor recently bought a loft in Sacramento with his wife Elizabeth, who comes up about every other week.

 

"To do the people's work and do it well, you have to commit yourself to it."

Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address in January was their first. Both stuck around after to talk with fellow members on the floor of the Assembly chamber.

"It's a lot of work," Arambula said. "To do the people's work and do it well, you have to commit yourself to it."

 

Evan Onstot at the 2017 State of the State

Undoubtedly, one issue that will take time and commitment in the near future is healthcare. Arambula, a former emergency room doctor in Selma who made headlines when he recently saved a man at a restaurant using the Heimlich maneuver, sees an opportunity to make a difference.

"We're at a special time in our history. And I think as a physician I can help lead how we reshape healthcare 2.0."

Arambula is the new chairman of a budget sub-committee that puts him in position to influence how money is spent on healthcare in the future. He supports the Affordable Care Act and Covered California, but admits healthcare can be improved.

"We're at a special time in our history. And I think as a physician I can help lead how we reshape healthcare 2.0."

Of course, in Sacramento, when many here the Arambula name, they think of Joaquin's father, Juan. The current Assemblyman said one of the hardest parts of his job is finding time for his three kids. Something he remembers from his own youth. He didn't like it.

"I think the thought was that I wasn’t going to go into politics because of it," Arambula said.

Now he's the one juggling family and politics, and determined to make the best of both. And he thinks he can.

"I feel like I'm the right person at the right time," said Arambula.
 

Representing a district is an exclusive club

California State Capitol building

Back in Patterson's office, the Assemblyman's chief of staff and another staffer are briefing him on a recent meeting with a fellow lawmaker's team.

"Their words – they didn't have to ask," the staffer said. "They've offered joint authorship, working together."

"I think we're going to run into labor," said Patterson. "So who's going to kill it?"

January and early February are spent crafting legislation. Patterson is working on a bill intended to speed up trucking licenses with the DMV.

"To think I am one of 3,500 - it gives it a lot more meaning, and seriousness."

Patterson hopes to co-author the bill with a democrat in the Assembly. The meetings are going well.

"An outside third-party testing site," Patterson said, almost as if he's thinking out loud. "I mean that is an answer for so many people that the state is messing with their licenses across the board."

Representing a district is an exclusive club. There's only been about 3,500 legislators in California history, according to Patterson.

On his boat, coffee cup in hand, the former Fresno Mayor and self-described history buff thinks about that.

"To think I am one of 3,500," Patterson said. "It gives it a lot more meaning, and seriousness."
 

80

Number of Assembly members

40

Number of State Senators

200

Miles Senator Vidak drives from Hanford to Sacramento every Monday

210

Height, in feet, of the Capitol dome

4

Number of terms served by Governor Jerry Brown

104115

Legislator's salary, in dollars (highest in the country)

California State Assembly (80 members)

California State Senate (40 members)

EXTENDED

INTERVIEWS

Senator

VIDAK

 

Senator Vidak talks about two of the things that surprised him when he first came to Sacramento.

Assemblyman

PATTERSON

 

Assemblyman Patterson explains how he loves his job, even as a member of the minority party.

Assemblyman

ARAMBULA

 

Assemblyman Arambula talks about how he hopes to use his position to create positive changes to healthcare in California.

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