Westmont Magazine An Education in Politics
The first day Bob Huff ’75 drove to work as a California assemblyman, he saw the white dome of the capitol glistening in the Sacramento sunshine. “It was an exciting and emotional moment,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do something I love so much.”
He didn’t start out to run for state office; he only wanted to update his church’s conditional use permit. But the newly formed Diamond Bar planning commission denied the congregation’s request in 1990, so Bob appealed the decision to the city council. By accident, he discovered a brilliant tactic: bringing a court reporter — a fellow church member — to the hearing to get an exact account of the deliberations. Thinking the church planned to sue, the city manager helped them get the decision overturned.
“I had no idea how restrictive and hostile the planning process had become,” Bob says. “We just wanted to extend a CUP that was expiring. We didn’t even propose new buildings.”
Bob had made a name for himself, and he was appointed to the community’s General Plan Advisory Committee in 1993 and to the planning commission in 1994. The next year, he ran for city council and beat 10 other contenders for the one open seat. He served on the Diamond Bar council for nine years, putting in 40-hour weeks for a position that paid $500 a month.
Bob majored in psychology at Westmont, but he pursued a career in grain and commodities. He went to work for a seed and grain company after graduation and eventually became vice president of operations, overseeing a staff of 50 people. But he wanted a slower-paced life, so he resigned his job and bought a small business reselling soy beans, which he continues to operate.
The psychology classes did come in handy as Bob began working with a dysfunctional council. “We were a new city and faced a lot of challenges,” he says. “We had to stabilize the tax base without placing too onerous a burden on local businesses. We also needed to develop sources of revenue to build parks and other amenities.”
Bob took a regional approach to issues such as transportation and conservation. Banding together with other cities proved to be an effective way to solve problems. He was a founding member of the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority and founding chairman of the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority. In addition, he served as a delegate to the Four Corners Transportation Policy Group and president of the Foothill Transit Executive Board. With a poorly designed intersection of two crowded Los Angeles freeways in his area (57 and 60), he took a special interest in transportation issues.
As a candidate for the California Assembly in 2004, Bob supported Governor Schwarzenegger’s reforms and won the election without taking special-interest money. His wife, Mei Mei, served as his campaign manager. She was born in Taipei, and her contacts in the local Asian community proved to be an asset. A CPA and a business consultant, she is fluent in three languages.
Although he is just in his first year in office, Bob serves on three important committees: budget, education and transportation. Because of his experience with transportation issues, he became vice chair of that committee.
“Transportation is my No. 1 focus because it is so important,” he says. “California is 51st in the nation in per capita transportation spending. That’s pretty sad, because there was a time when we were the best. Education gets a lot of press, but spending on transportation is even worse.”
California legislators face many challenges. “Unions dominate the capital and that has been frustrating,” Bob says. “Also, we don’t have enough time to contemplate policy so we tend to make quick decisions on superficial data.”
Like he did as a city councilman, Bob is building relationships, seeking ways to cooperate with others to solve problems and enact legislation. This is no easy task for a Republican in a Democratic stronghold.
But Bob believes he is in the right place. “A few years after buying a business, I had some self-doubt,” he says. “Was I doing what I was called to do? One of my primary life goals was to make a difference. I had always served as a lay leader at church. Getting involved in politics was an extension of that involvement, a way to reach out, to put my faith to the test. I do think I am making a difference.”
Bob has met a number of Christians in the assembly and senate and attends a non-partisan Bible study for legislators. “We build each other up,” he says. “We realize how much we depend on prayer. There’s a reason the Scriptures tell us to pray for our leaders!”