California governor promises small business-friendly administration

California enacted more than 1,000 new laws in 2018, many impacting businesses like furniture retailers.

That’s why so much of the news you see on Home Furnishings Association communications channels comes out of California. Not to mention the fact that California initiatives tend to migrate eastward.

This can create a challenging environment.

“Small businesses often do not have the means to hire in-house legal counsel or a Human Resources team to keep up with the changing laws,” Laura Curtis, a policy advocate for CalChamber, recently wrote in Capitol Insider. “I cannot imagine opening say a cupcake shop in California. It is one thing to be a great baker, but having to keep up on California’s labor and employment laws with changes each year would be impossible for someone just trying to run a business in the Golden State.”

Yet, Curtis pointed to one sign that things may change: a line in new Gov. Gavin Newsom’s inaugural address, which he delivered Jan. 7.

“And those who dream of building something of their own – a restaurant, a bookstore, a family farm – they will get our support. Our small businesses help explain why we have one of the biggest economies on Earth,” Newsom declared.

Newsom, a Democrat, was mayor of San Francisco and then lieutenant governor before he was elected to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. But he rose to prominence in his 20s as a successful entrepreneur.

“For me this is personal,” Newsom said in his address. “I will never forget the day I got a $20 tip bussing tables at Ramona’s restaurant in San Rafael. I was 16 years old. Trust me, busboys don’t get tips like that. I know it sounds strange, but it changed my life. It meant that my hard work mattered, and it motivated me to keep going. Eight years later, I started my own business. So I know how much hard work and sacrifice is behind every small business in this state – and how good it feels when that hard work pays off. California must never turn its back on the entrepreneurial spirit that has always defined us.”

He also saw at a young age how unreasonable regulations can undercut a business.

“One of Newsom’s early interactions with government occurred when Newsom resisted the San Francisco Health Department requirement to install a sink at his PlumpJack wine store,” according to Wikipedia. “The Health Department argued that wine was a food and required the store to install a $27,000 sink in the carpeted wine shop on the grounds that the shop needed the sink for a mop. When Newsom was later appointed supervisor, he told the San Francisco Examiner, ‘That’s the kind of bureaucratic malaise I’m going to be working through.’ “

Just the other day at the Las Vegas Market, I met an HFA member who told me a similar story about municipal bureaucrats who are giving him an exceedingly hard time about a business project he’s trying to get done. He believes it’s almost a personal vendetta, and all he wants to do is sell furniture, create jobs and make a living. He’s not in California, but in Minnesota.

Furniture retailers work hard over long hours to make a living, provide employment, pay taxes and contribute to their communities. They face constant challenges, from online competition to trade policies to customers’ changing expectations and demands. They deserve government’s support, not its opposition.

Don’t get me wrong. Government plays an important regulatory role in our lives. We need an ordered society. I’ve been in countries where that’s lacking, and disorder does not serve the majority of people. All you need do is go back 40 to 50 years to see how much progress our country has made in cleaning up our air and water to appreciate the importance of an agency like the Environmental Protection Agency and supporting legislation. We don’t want to go back to the dirty old days.

The furniture industry is subject to many laws and regulations, all intended for good purposes. The industry also follows voluntary standards – for example when it comes to furniture stability. It’s tragic if a child topples a poorly balanced dresser onto himself and is injured or worse. No one wants that to happen, and HFA strongly supports efforts to prevent such accidents.

On the other hand, HFA will oppose government initiatives that fail to reasonably address positive purposes but instead unfairly burden our members. California may be the No. 1 state when it comes to such actions. Part of my job is to help monitor the state and federal regulatory environment, keep our members informed and, when required, to project our voice to policy makers. For the most part, this is what I’ll be writing about in this blog as well as in our magazine, Retailer NOW, and on other HFA social media channels. Hence the name of this blog: Policy Matters.

I hope California’s new governor will indeed draw on his experience as a businessman and consider how proposed laws and regulations will affect each and every small business in the state. California should never “sink” the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, nor should any government.

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations staff member for the Home Furnishings Association. Please call him at 916-757-1167 or email him at dclark@myhfa.org. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/doug.clark.58173000