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Firefighter wages 'smashmouth' campaign for 1st District seat

Bret Henry: Fighting county woes with fire

Staff Writer
Editor's note:

This concludes a series of profiles of the seven candidates in the San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor's race.

Bret Henry has spent 20 years putting out fires.

He’s spent 14 years as a firefighter with San Bernardino County's fire department, and was a United States Forest Service firefighter for six years before that. And he's not sitting behind a desk.

“I’m actually a truck captain,” Henry said, with his current base in Fontana.

But now Henry is eyeing a desk job. He’s one of seven candidates vying for the 1st District seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

It was a failed political campaign last fall that set Henry on this path. Measure F would have helped underwrite the Hesperia Fire District — which pays for the city’s fire service — with a new $85 parcel tax. Henry, in his position as Hesperia resident and firefighters’ union president, was the face of Measure F, which was soundly rejected by voters with almost 81 percent of them voting against the measure.

Measure F “was the proverbial straw that pushed me over the edge,” Henry said.

It was only after the measure’s defeat that he started to learn the web of government financing that affected the city’s fire budget. More than 5 percent of the now-defunct Hesperia Community Redevelopment Agency’s property tax revenue was originally meant for the fire district.

“In hindsight, I would have never done Measure F. It was a huge mistake,” Henry said. “I’m no new taxes, period. There are plenty of taxes. ... Money just needs to be spent better.”

During the Measure F campaign, the firefighters who supported it were at times painted by opponents as unwilling to compromise during a down economy.

“I’ve never been one to pound a fist on the table and say ‘more money, less work,’” Henry said. “Ronald Reagan himself said that for every bad labor agreement that we focus on, there’s thousands that go off without a hitch.”

Henry said he’s got a better plan for solving San Bernardino County’s problems than blaming teachers, firefighters and cops.

“I’m obviously a public safety person,” he said. “Without any of that, nothing else matters. ... The county needs to be one of the safest counties around.”

Beyond creating a safe climate for residents and businesses, Henry would leverage the region’s less-stringent air quality standards to attract businesses to the area.

“We have a unique opportunity to attract business here and be a mini-Texas inside of California,” he said.

He’d also cut the county bureaucracy and reduce taxes and fees, plus purge any remaining ties between the 1st District supervisor’s job and former supervisor Bill Postmus.

“I’m one of the few candidates with no ties to (former assessor) Bill Postmus,” he said. “Anyone who was in his inner circle has no place around me, and many of my opponents were in his inner circle.”

Instead, Henry said he’d listen to advisory groups he’d assemble, made up of senior citizens, groups from the different geographic areas of the 1st District and business leaders.

Henry supports the San Bernardino County Elected Officials Pay Reduction Act ballot initiative, in a qualified fashion. The initiative would slash future supervisor pay and cut their office budgets.

“I think they should take salary cuts, just the same as the firefighters,” he said. “I think you’re going to attract a whole different caliber” of supervisor, many of them serving part-time while holding down other jobs in the community.

But there’s also a downside, according to Henry.

“I think it could turn into the (county’s chief executive) running the show,” Henry said, noting that appointed position isn’t accountable to the public.

Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.


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