Hagman’s GOP Bona Fides Belied By His Staff Choices

The transition in the make-up of San Bernardino County Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman’s office has continued, with Chino Hills Councilman Ed Graham having quietly retired last month as district director for the Fourth District. Meanwhile, a good number of Republican activists and public pension reformers expressed dismay with the office’s restaffing.
Graham’s departure came less than a month after the official departure of Mike Spence, who had been Hagman’s chief of staff from the time he had become supervisor in 2014 and was Hagman’s chief of staff when he was assemblyman prior to that.
Four days after Graham, who had reached the age of 65, retired on December 2, Hagman hired Graham’s Chino Hills City Council colleague, Councilman Peter Rogers as the Fourth District’s senior field representative.
Like Spence, Graham worked for Hagman from the outset of his time as supervisor and for the six years, from 2008 to 2014, when Hagman was in the Assembly.
That Hagman has turned to Rogers to fill the senior field representative position is not surprising. Before he was in the state legislature, Hagman was himself on the Chino Hills City Council, as both a councilman and as mayor. The Fourth District encompasses Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario and the southernmost portion of Upland.
Still the same, Hagman is a Republican, one who in 2014 used his image of fiscal conservatism and advocacy of governmental fiscal reform to galvanize the members of the GOP in the Fourth District. He was able to succeed in the election, even though Republicans are significantly outnumbered by Democrats in the district. Republicans turned out out in sufficient numbers to defeat what many saw as a formidable opponent – Democrat Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who at that time was an incumbent congresswoman. Since the California Assembly is universally considered to be lower down on the political food chain than the U.S. Congress, and because the Fourth District’s status as a jurisdiction in which registered Democrats overwhelmingly – by a margin of 73,278 or 42.9 percent to 48,465 or 28.4 percent – outnumber registered Republicans, Hagman is particularly beholden to the members of his party for showing an enthusiasm for his supervisorial candidacy in 2014. What is more, in 2013 Hagman lead the charge in the makeover of the GOP locally and statewide. As a subset of a larger strategy for the Republican Party involving former state senator and assemblyman Jim Brulte’s ultimately successful quest to capture the leadership of the state Republican Party, Hagman displaced Robert Rego as San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee Chairman. The 2013 remaking of the party, both statewide where the party is woefully outgunned by the Democrats and in areas such as San Bernardino County, where the GOP still has something of a political toehold despite growing Democratic numbers, was intended to stanch the political bleeding in the Golden State in the wake of the 2012 November election, which stands as the most resounding electoral defeat the GOP had ever sustained in California.
The Republicans, historically and more recently, particularly in California, represent a bulwark against what they have characterized as a trend toward socialism, including the growth of government. A roiling issue in this regard is the degree to which public employees, through their unions, have exhibited control over the electoral process. By pooling their money, oftentimes in the form of union dues, and using that cash to back candidates of their choice, particularly ones willing to raise public employee salaries and benefits, in particular public employee pensions, public employees have come to exercise an influence over government in greater proportion than their actual numbers. Overwhelmingly, the candidates the public unions support, in California and nearly everywhere else in the United States, are Democrats.
Hagman’s recently departed chief of staff, Spence, in many ways was considered Hagman’s alter ego, offering a reflection of their shared pro-business, pro-economic development ethos favoring the private sector over excessive public sector superimposition of excessive regulation and bureaucracy. Spence is an anti-tax advocate who has long crusaded for cutting government red tape and alleviating the financial burden on taxpayers. Among his bona fides is that at the age of 32 in 1998, he was so spirited in his efforts to prevent the City of West Covina from imposing several hundred dollar-per year assessments on homeowners that City Hall sued him over that opposition. Ultimately, the city was unsuccessful with that lawsuit and, inspired by his example at fighting City Hall, the city’s voters rejected the proposed tax increase. Spence was also for four years the taxpayer representative on the Mount San Antonio Community College Bond Oversight Committee.
Spence and Hagman share a hard-edged Republican streak, which was evident in the bare knuckled campaign waged against Gloria Negrete-McLeod for supervisor in 2014. Negrete-McLeod, an incumbent Democratic congresswoman, was portrayed in hit pieces originating with the Hagman campaign as soft on crime and an advocate of policies that are unfavorable to business interests. Spence served as the chief strategist for Hagman in the campaign.
Spence has long crusaded for paring back the bureaucracy of government and alleviating the financial burden on taxpayers. He was the youngest person ever elected to be a vice chairman of the California Republican Party. He has served on the executive board at the state and county level of the GOP.
Nevertheless, Spence is a creature of the government. Spence was student body president at Edgewood High School and he then attended and graduated from UCLA with a degree in political science. He had a quarter century experience in various political roles in the state capital, including serving as the chief of staff for then-assemblyman Joel Anderson (R- El Cajon) and for Hagman. He was elected six times to the West Covina Unified School District Board of Education. He was elected to the West Covina City Council in 2013.
As a government employee for a quarter of a century, Spence is a participant in various governmental pensions systems, including the California Public Employees Retirement System and the San Bernardino County Employee Retirement, and thus feeds at the very trough reformist Republicans are battling to eliminate or curtail.
In the same way, Graham, who had a 34-year career as public employee as a teacher and vice-principal, participates in the public employee retirement system. In the six years he was with Hagman while Hagman was in the Assembly, Graham participated in the California Public Employees Retirement System. During the last two years working as Hagman’s county representative, Graham received $83,000 in annual salary for a 30-hour per week job, while participated as a member in the San Bernardino County Employees’ Retirement Association (SBCERA).
Since Graham’s departure, Hagman has not filled the position Graham occupied.
He did, however, hire Rogers and in one fell swoop advanced him to the position of senior field representative. Rogers will work 25 hours a week for a salary of $44,300. He will participate in SBCERA. Unlike Graham, Rogers has worked in the private sector most of his life. But he is now experiencing the benefit of a public sector job, which provides benefits that are generally superior to those provided in the private sector and which many reformers believe are too generous and should be targeted for being brought into line with those in the private sector, even as the commitments to current and future public sector pensioners have created what governments refer to as an unfunded liability that has the prospect of pushing local and state governments to the brink of seeing as much as a quarter of their operating budgets committed to paying pensions to retirees.
In 2015, Hagman hired Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner as his office’s policy adviser. Wapner is a former Ontario police sergeant who retired on full disability as a result of an injury to his hip from constantly wearing a gun holster on the job.
Hagman’s penchant for choosing retired government employees collecting substantial public pensions to man key positions in his office overseeing local governmental operations such as Spence, Graham, Wapner and now Rogers is seen by some Republican advocates of government reform and particularly government-pension and benefit reform as running contrary to the conservative, anti-big government principle Hagman has ostensibly built his political career around.
Hagman contested that view.
Hagman said that he valued Spence, Graham, Wapner and Rogers because “they are local elected officials. They are basically paid very little, in terms of and as far as their experience goes. On a grander scale, I’m buying all that time they served in local positions and the knowledge that comes with that. I’m getting a full spectrum of work out of people with both short term and long term experience. Peter and I have been working together and he is up to speed with what the city and county are doing and he understands my goals. He could get that started immediately. It would take years to build up that kind of a relationship with someone completely new or unknowledgeable. He did not make a living off government before this.”
Hagman said he was very much alive to the need for pension reform at every level of government in California. “I agree there is a need for change,” he said. “When I was in the legislature, I wrote bills to stop the abuse and protect the taxpayers. The Democrats, who had complete control, did not support that, and those bills did not pass.”
In his current position as supervisor, Hagman said, he is being frugal with taxpayer money in terms of his staffing. “As far as my office staff goes, my people are making less, on average, than those for the other supervisors,” he said. And his people are not receiving perks, either, he said. “I made sure reforms were enacted so that our staff is not double dipping and not getting any extra benefits that are enhancing their pensions like cell phone allowances and car allowances. I believe I’m getting the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck with my staff for my district’s residents.”

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