Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Hernandez to seek 21st Congressional rematch against Valadao

John Hernandez

Last year, Fresno Democrat John Hernandez ran a low-budget, debt-ridden campaign against Hanford Republican David Valadao for the 21st Congressional District.

Valadao spanked Hernandez in the November election, winning by more than 15 percentage points — even though the district, on paper, appears to be drawn for a Hispanic Democrat.

Undaunted, Hernandez says he’s going to once again challenge Valadao. He plans to officially kick off his campaign Saturday with events in Bakersfield and Sanger.

“We’ve been working all summer,” Hernandez said. “I’m the candidate for this district.”

This time, though, it might not be so simple for Hernandez.

The main reason is Amanda Renteria, who looks like she will have the backing of most, if not all, of the Democratic Party establishment.

Hernandez has already torpedoed the Democratic Party’s plans once. Last year, it backed Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong in the 21st District race, but in the June open primary, Valadao and Hernandez finished one-two and moved on to the general election, leaving Xiong in the dust.

But Xiong got a late start and his campaign never caught fire.

This time, Renteria is getting an early start and has some intangibles that Xiong didn’t — she is Hispanic and a female.

The 38-year-old graduate of Woodlake High School, Stanford and Harvard Business School was the first Latina chief of staff to a U.S. senator, and has now moved back to the central San Joaquin Valley to run.

This week, she picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a group that supports female Democratic candidates.

Hernandez is undaunted.

“The key is we have the name recognition up and down the district,” he said. “Amanda has none of that. She’s going to have to start from scratch. Nobody knows her at all.”

Some of that echoes what Valadao has said about Renteria.

In the district, 73% of the 712,866 residents are counted as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census Bureau records.

Democrats also enjoy a 47%-32% voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district, which includes all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties on the Valley’s west side.

Still, no Hispanic has ever been able to turn that kind of advantage into a victory.

Next year, the three hopefuls — Valadao, Hernandez and Renteria, as well as any others who jump in the race — will square off in the open primary. The top two vote getters move on to the November general election, regardless of party.

Assuming Valadao moves on as the likely lone Republican, the question is who will be his opponent — Renteria, the Democratic Party’s favored choice, or Hernandez, once again upsetting his party’s apple cart.

Chowchilla police chief joins Madera sheriff’s race

Chowchilla police Chief Jay Varney announced plans Wednesday to run for Madera County sheriff next November.

Varney, who has 30 years experience in law enforcement, is seeking the post currently held by John Anderson, who plans to retire next year.

He joins Madera County Undersheriff Michael Salvador, retired California Highway Patrol Sgt. Dennis Fairbanks and Fresno police Sgt. Greg Noll in the campaign to replace Anderson.

Jay Varney

Varney, 52, says he began his law enforcement career in Dallas where he rose to sergeant and led a felony team. He moved back to his hometown of Lansing, Mich., in 1993 where he reached lieutenant.

He became chief of the Chowchilla Police Department in 2004. The department has 17 sworn officers, two reserves and six community service officers.

In addition to being police chief, Varney also was named city administrator from July 2009 to April 2011.

Chowchilla has a population of about 18,500 that includes two state prisons.

Varney’s work as city administrator, he said, makes him uniquely qualified to serve as sheriff: “I have worked in just about every kind of environment. I am still excited about law enforcement and about being a leader.”

Varney has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in criminology from Fresno State.

He serves as a licensed presenter for Pointman Leadership Institute and has traveled internationally training others in leadership and integrity.

Varney and his wife, Amy, live in Chowchilla, and have two children.

Republican George Radanovich weighs gubernatorial bid

With former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado’s gubernatorial bid foundering, another Republican candidate is dipping his toe in the 2014 race.

Former Republican congressman George Radanovich announced that he is mulling a run with an email Thursday touting a “program of rebuilding the private sector and then cutting government.”

“I believe Californians are ready for change and the time is ripe for a new approach,” Radanovich said in the email. “That is why I am considering entering the race for governor of California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown appears so far to be in prime position to win a second term. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll gave the governor an overall approval rating of 49 percent among likely voters. Though a mere 23 percent of Republicans approved of the job he’s doing, 65 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents backed him.

The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert has the full story.