By Joe Taglieri
After more than a decade in Sacramento, state Sen. Bob Huff hopes to return home to Southern California next year as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The term-limited Republican said he never lost touch with the local communities he has represented throughout the San Gabriel Valley and hopes that steadfast local focus will bode well for his run to succeed 5th District incumbent Michael Antonovich, who also due to term limits must abdicate the office he’s held since 1980.
“I’ve always tried to stay close to the people to reflect their concerns because we have too many people in government who are in there for their own purposes,” Huff said. “If you go back to my original supporters and talk to them, I think you would find that they still hold me in high regard and delivered on the promises that I made even back when I was running for city government.”
Huff, who is Republican minority leader in the state’s Democratic majority senate and earlier this month announced his bid for supervisor, was referring to the Diamond Bar residents who compelled him to enter public life.
In 1990 he took the lead representing his church in securing approval for building a new facility. That experience proved to be a turning point toward what would become an extensive career in politics.
“I had to go to city hall to extend a conditional-use permit to build a facility that they had gotten approval from the county before [Diamond Bar] incorporated,” Huff said. “The city had different priorities than the county did. They wanted a tax-generating entity there rather than a church, so I kind of led that battle and became very frustrated with city government, basically, and that led me into speaking out on more issues.”
Huff’s increasing public presence led to appointments to local advisory panels and an eventual tenure on the Diamond Bar City Council.
“I was drafted into the city plan advisory committee, then appointed to the planning commission,” he recalled. “I developed a reputation of speaking what I thought at that point, listening to people, being thoughtful, and I had a group of them that drafted me to run for city council. I told them they were crazy and a lot of other things, but eventually they prevailed. I ran, I won and I found I had an affinity for it.”
Huff served as a Diamond Bar council member and mayor from 1995-2004 in addition to a number of committees devoted to real estate, transportation and economic development. These credits include the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, Four Corners Transportation Policy Group, Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority, Foothill Transit and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.
Mei Mei Huff, the senator’s wife of 15 years, has taken an active role in her husband’s political career and currently is managing his board-of-supervisors campaign. Originally from Taipei and a well-connected business consultant with an accounting background, she noted the senator’s natural inclination for helping others. As an example she harkened back to his childhood, when cancer caused a close friend to lose his eyesight.
“Bob was his eyes. … He took his friend to and from school every day,” she said. “From an early age he was very helpful to other people. … He volunteered most of his time to his church and he helped his friends, so that’s the type of person he is.”
Huff first called the Imperial Valley home, where he was born in the border town of Calexico on Sept. 9, 1953, and spent his early years on the family’s farm in nearby El Centro.
When Huff was 10 years old his father returned to teaching and the family moved from the farm into the small-town locales of El Centro and adjacent Imperial.
“My dad went back to teaching, but he was still partnering with my oldest brother who took over the farm and I was still working out there anytime I wasn’t in school,” said Huff, who attended community college for two years and graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, class of 1975, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
After taking an introductory psych course at Imperial Valley College, Huff discovered he liked that field of study: “I said, ‘oh, maybe there’s something here.’ I became a psychology major because that would allow you to be a teacher or a psychologist.”
Eventually, however, the future legislator gravitated back to his agricultural roots.
“Between my junior and senior years in college I had a job at a grain elevator in Imperial,” Huff said. “When I left there they said ‘when you get your degree if you decide you don’t want to be a teacher or a psychologist,’ which were the two avenues that a psychology degree would open for me, ‘come back here, you’ve always got a job.’ So … I’m starting to think a job in the hand is worth two in the bush, so long story short I went there, they hired me [and] I worked my way up to be vice president of operations.”
In 1983 Huff and his family — which currently consists of four children and six grandchildren — relocated to Diamond Bar. There he bought the Ray S. French Co., a small commodity wholesaler, which he managed until winning a state Assembly seat in 2004.
Now with his electoral sites set on a board seat, Huff summed up his county-level policy priorities as centering on reducing traffic congestion, lifting obstacles to job creation and addressing public safety concerns.
“Part of removing obstacles is you have to have good transportation [and] good water infrastructure,” said Huff, who last year was a lead negotiator for the statewide water bond to build two new water storage facilities and clean up contaminated drinking water in the San Gabriel Valley’s underground aquifer.
“Certainly affordable electricity rates, renewable energy comes in there, it’s a great thing to have but it becomes very expensive,” he added, in addition to noting the importance of “making sure that our regulations aren’t keeping jobs away. All of those things tie into jobs.”
Huff and a number of politicians statewide have lamented the recent increase in property crime in many cities that they connect with recent legislation aimed at relieving prison overcrowding by reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders.
He suggested the following: “Make sure we have enough probation officers to keep an eye on the felons we have let out; make sure we have good metrics in place to accurately assess our growing problems caused by the state’s AB109 and also Prop. 47; do the best job we can with training programs to strike at the root of the issues that lead to incarceration; secure more funding from the state for the problems they have shifted to us; build a new jail; and frankly, continue as I have in the legislature to support and reform our educational system so we have fewer dropouts and more graduates who are job- or college-ready — a less than adequate educational system is the root of much of our crime problems.”
With the departures of term-limited Republicans Antonovich and 4th District Supervisor Don Knabe, a successful run could place Huff as the GOP’s lone board member.
“I grew up with a Democrat father and Republican mother. I was the youngest of six kids, so I’ve always been in the minority you might say,” Huff observed. “My reputation in Sacramento has been one of working across party lines to get things done. For the nine years I was on city council and working on SGV COG, Foothill Transit and chair of the ACE project, the regional governance was all Democrat majority. But we got significant things done. While I have gotten things done in a partisan environment, my track record is one of more results in nonpartisan office. That is the experience I will bring to a Democrat-dominated board.”
The board of supervisors primary and general elections are in June and November 2016.