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Criticism can sting, yes. But if presented in the right way, it can also shape growth or spur action.

Groups advocating for change — be it gun control, immigration issues or tax reform — have discovered that shining a light on how lawmakers actually cast their votes is a pretty powerful tool. I caught up with California state Sen. Ben Hueso Wednesday to hear his take on one such tool: the new Report on California Food and Farming Legislation.

A coalition of 19 food policy groups spread through the state analyzed dozens of bills that could impact our state’s food system. While it’s not quite a true report card – the report keeps track of how California lawmakers voted on food issues the California Food Policy Council deemed important. The report noted that Hueso voted yes on five food-related bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, including one that allows undocumented immigrants to receive a drivers license; another that requires community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to register with the state and one focused on establishing Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.

VOSD: Do you think San Diego voters care enough about food issues that they’ll watch how lawmakers vote on related policy?

Hueso: I do think they care. Food is on everyone’s mind. We’re obsessed with food and food production. For me, it’s important to my district, which is heavily agricultural-based. We support organic growers near the Tijuana Estuary, and Imperial is one of the most productive ag areas in our entire state – many people don’t know that.

I have a district that has a lot of issues around food insecurity and hunger. Around childhood obesity. We have people who work in the fields harvesting food, and yet, at the end of the day they’re standing in lines where Catholic Charities is handing out food. There’s a lot of work we still need to do to provide healthy food choices.

Were you aware of the new report? And how does it feel to have your votes tracked in this way?

I wasn’t aware. As a lawmaker, we get graded on many things. [He’s right: Like this or this.] Sometimes the groups are very political. They’ll examine how we vote, on say small business, but the group that’s grading us? Only in name are they small business. The message being sent to the public is that we’re being scrutinized. I’m OK with being scrutinized. It’s necessary. But these organizations need to be scrutinized too.

Would a report card, or knowledge that a group is tracking you, sway how you vote?

I vote what I believe in. I vote for bills because they’ll help our community, and I vote against them when they fall short. I took a brief look at this report and they left some bills out. It was a superficial view. Every vote we take up here has something to do with food – 100 percent you could make that claim. Some bills did more to provide access to help those who are underserved, more than the bills they mentioned in this report.

Clare Leschin-Hoar

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @c_leschin or email her

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