A month ago, Hanford Republican Andy Vidak released the results of a 16th State Senate District survey that — surprise — said he was the “clear front runner” in the race to replace Michael Rubio, who resigned in February.
Not to be outdone, Vidak’s main opponent, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, put out her own survey memo this week that found a tight race — but with her as “the favorite.”
These dueling memos, which always seem to be addressed to “interested parties,” are staples of campaigns and often feel like spin. After all, who knows how each question was asked? In what order? Were opposing candidates called ugly names before the key questions were posed?
No doubt there was legitimate polling done, but that isn’t always what is publicly released in these campaign memos.
Both sides in their respective memos did say that only “likely voters” were polled. Interviews were done in English and Spanish. Those with both landline and cell phones were interviewed.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff
Vidak’s found him up 45% to 21% over Perez when those polled were asked who they were backing in the special election. It also found him with a sizable edge in name identification. And it said 22% of those polled were undecided.
Some of the findings had the air of believability. For instance, it stands to reason that Vidak — who ran a tough 2010 congressional campaign against incumbent Jim Costa — would have a name identification edge. Perez is just four months into her first elected political office — Kern County supervisor.
It also stands to reason that Perez would close the gap. Perez’s polling found her down just four percentage points — 45% to 41%. She has a ton of money to get voters to the polls and increase her name identification in Fresno and other parts of the district were she isn’t very well known.
The key part of Perez’s claim to be the “favorite” is that she’s at 49% and Vidak 38% “after positive info” is shared.
This could mean anything, but it almost certainly means voters were asked who they supported again after all kinds of nice things were said about Perez — and, probably, some less-than-flattering things about Vidak.
What’s it all mean? Probably not much.
In a special election like this, when no other races are on the ballot and voters are barely paying attention, it all comes down to which side does a better job of getting its respective backers to actually cast ballots.
To that end, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff will be in Hanford Saturday to rally the troops to get voters to the polls. Huff will be joined by fellow Republican Senator Mimi Walters of Lake Forest.
Monday was the first day voters living in the district could cast ballots for the May 21 special election to fill the seat of Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who unexpectedly resigned in February to take a job with the Chevron Corp.
Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said her office mailed out absentee ballots on Monday to 16th District voters who live in the county. Clerks in Tulare, Kern and Kings did the same.
But starting Monday at 8:30 a.m., Orth’s office was also open to anybody registered to vote in the district who couldn’t wait a moment longer to cast their ballot. And, Orth said, a few did just that.
There are five candidates seeking the seat: Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif of Bakersfield, Fresno Democrat Paulina Miranda, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, Riverdale Democrat Francisco Ramirez Jr. and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
If none of the candidates gets 50% of the votes, plus one, in the May 21 election, the top two vote-getters will face off in a July 23 runoff.
The district favors a Democrat, but Republicans say they like their chances because special elections typically have low turnouts, which often favors the GOP.
Political Data Inc., which collects voter information, said registration in the district was 50.7% Democratic and 28.6% Republican as of Feb. 22.
But that support is not spread even across the district.
For instance, in Fresno County Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 30,000 registered voters.
But in Kings County, Republicans outnumber Democrats, though only by a few thousand. In Tulare County, Democrats outnumber Republicans, but not by much. Kern County is another Democratic stronghold.
Still, it is clear that any winning strategy must center on Fresno County. Though it is at the district’s northern end, Fresno County has, at slightly more than 48%, the largest number of voters in the district.
Political Data has also collected some other interesting information.
For instance, almost 60% of registered voters have an average income below $50,000, and less than 1% are above $100,000.
The City of Fresno has, by far, the most voters — 25.9% of the district’s total. Next is unincorporated Kern County at 8.5% and Bakersfield and Hanford, each with 7.8% of the voters.
Local and national Democrats think a Bakersfield City School District member might make the perfect challenger for first-term congressman David Valadao, a Hanford Republican.
Andrae Gonzales is currently the board’s president pro tem. Democrats call him an “up-and-comer.” Even Bakersfield Republican political consultant Stan Harper calls him “viable” and “bright.”
The question is: Can he unseat Valadao in the 21st Congressional District?
Democrats are still unhappy that they failed to even put up a fight for the seat last November. They hold a 15-percentage-point registration advantage in the district over the rival Republicans, but Valadao thumped Fresno Democrat John Hernandez, 58% to 42%.
Despite the registration advantage for Democrats, it never looked good for them during last year’s campaign.
Hernandez never seemed to get off the ground. His campaign seemed unfocused and not nearly visible enough. It was also dogged by debt.
Democrats never wanted Hernandez in the first place. They preferred Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong, but in the state’s new top two primary, Valadao and Hernandez finished one-two. Xiong was left on the sidelines.
Now, Hernandez says he’s running again. And Democrats once again want an alternative, said Matt Rogers, chairman of the Fresno County Young Democrats.
Rogers said he spoke with Gonzales on Thursday morning, and the 31-year-old is interested in a run against Valadao. And, Rogers said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also reached out to Gonzales.
Gonzales was also mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Michael Rubio, who abruptly resigned from the state Senate in February. A May 21 special election is set to fill that seat.
But Gonzales isn’t the only potential candidate. Democrats are also talking to former state Sen. Dean Florez, as well as his mother Fran, a Shafter council member.
Florez might even be preferable for a Valadao challenge, because he twice won election in a Senate district that matches up well with the 21st Congressional District’s current boundaries — which takes in parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and all of Kings County.
But Rogers said nobody in Democratic Party circles thinks Dean Florez will run.
The bench isn’t very deep for Democrats, either. Another possibility was newly elected Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, but now she’s running to replace Rubio in the state Senate.
If Gonzales does run — or Dean or Fran Florez, for that matter — the next hurdle would be getting them sufficient funds to mount an effective campaign.
Rogers said Democrats want to hold on the 36th Congressional District, where Raul Ruiz upset incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack last year. The GOP will likely target that Southern California seat next year.
There are other seats held by Democrats in the state that also must be held, Rogers said.
In the end, will there be enough cash to fund Valadao’s challenger? And, it seems, the party may also have to get that person past a primary that may include Hernandez.
A little more than a month ago, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy quietly came to Fresno, where he briefed prominent area business and agriculture leaders on Washington, D.C.’s political climate.
Now, the Bakersfield Republican is coming back — but this time with hat in hand.
He will attend an April 3 “reception and buffet supper” fundraiser for his congressional campaign at the north Fresno home of businessman Bob Smittcamp, who also attended last month’s briefing.
That briefing was hosted by local businessman Richard Spencer at his Harris Construction office near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
Speaking of Spencer, he and wife Karen are also among those co-hosting the $1,000 per person event along with Smittcamp. Other sponsors include Linda and Bill Smittcamp, westside rancher David Wood and the California Westside Farmers Federal PAC.
Borba Farms Partners, which includes Mark and Derek Borba, Woolf Enterprises and Westside Harvesting, which is tied to farmer, developer and beer distributor Ed Donaghy, are some of the donors who in 2012 gave money to the California Westside Farmers PAC.
On March 10 — which was just 10 short days ago — Hanford Republican Andy Vidak announced on his Facebook page that he would seek the 16th state Senate seat that came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio abruptly resigned last month.
Since then, Vidak said, he’s been working the phones, seeking both support and cash.
He’s off to a good start, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.
By March 13, records show, Vidak was already recording a string of donations.
The most recent filing was today. The total so far — close to $90,000.
To date, almost all of the cash is coming from agriculture, though Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare also chipped in $4,100 from her 2018 state Senate account.
Contributions also include $2,500 from Allbright Cotton of Fresno and $4,100 each from Madera farmer Chester Andrew and Cutler-based Golden Star Citrus.
As of this afternoon, the other candidates, including Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez and Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez — the two highest-profile Democrats — have yet record any donations, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.
In the meantime, the list of people who have at least pulled campaign papers — the first step toward a run for the seat — has grown to seven.
Besides Florez, Perez and Vidak, other candidates who already had pulled papers included Fresno resident John Estrada and Francisco Ramirez Jr.
They are now joined by Jerry Armendariz and Arif Mohammad, who have unknown hometowns and list no ballot designation.
A little more than two months ago, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez was sworn in to her first term on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
Now, she’s looking to move up to the state Senate, announcing Monday that she would run for the seat of fellow Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who abruptly resigned last month.
In doing so, Perez will have the backing of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team — including President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg — and some of its most influential senators.
Among them are Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, Democratic Caucus Chair Jerry Hill, and Ron Calderon, Lou Correa, Kevin De Leon, Cathleen Galgiani and Hannah-Beth Jackson. There are 18 in all.
Perez’s announcement — which was widely expected — sets up what is likely a three-way race between her, fellow Democrat Fran Florez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
Others are running, but Florez, Perez and Vidak will have the name identification and/or money necessary to be competitive.
Florez, who is on the Shafter City Council and is the mother of Dean Florez, who held the Senate seat before Rubio, could be the odd person out, said Stan Harper, a Bakersfield-based Republican political consultant.
“There is no question in my mind Leticia will get more votes than Fran,” Harper said.
That would likely put Perez into a runoff against Vidak.
Florez gave some insight into her strategy when on Monday she officially announced her candidacy — in Fresno.
She said Fresno County, in terms of the number of voters, is the biggest part of the 16th Senate District. The numbers confirm that. There are more than 137,000 voters in the Fresno County portion of the 16th District. In Kern County, it is around 75,000.
The district is 50.7% Democrat and 28.6% Republican.
Fresno County also happens to be a part of the district where Florez has some name identification, either through her two unsuccessful state Assembly runs, or from Dean Florez. Perez, in the meantime, is virtually unknown in Fresno.
But Perez will likely have plenty of money to help close that name identification deficit, thanks to the Senate leadership’s backing. That support seems like a slap in the face to Dean Florez. It was Steinberg, as incoming Senate President pro Tem, who in 2008 named Florez Senate majority leader.
Perez also has a political get-out-the-vote machine inherited from Rubio — her former boss.
“Leticia will have a better ground game,” Harper said. “As much as Fran has what Dean had several years ago, Leticia has everything in place that Rubio had a year ago.”
Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong introduced Florez, and one person standing behind her was Dave Wilson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. He said he personally supported Florez and would work to get the UFCW behind her as well.
On the Republican side, it appears that Vidak — who in 2010 came close to ousting Fresno Democrat Jim Costa from Congress — won’t have any competition from within his own party.
It means he’ll likely do well in the May 21 primary election. He might even win. But if, as expected, none of the candidates win a majority of the votes, the top two will advance to a run-off July 23.
The special election to replace Rubio will be for the 16th Senate District as it was between 2002 and 2012. Next year, the person in the seat must run again under newly drawn boundaries. That is the 14th state Senate District. The two districts are 88% the same.
The state Senate this week confirmed Dr. Alex Sherriffs as a governing board member on the California Air Resources Board.
Sherriffs is a Fowler physician and member of the governing board for San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Known as a clean-air advocate, he was named to the local air board in late 2011 and the state board last year.
On the local board, he fills a seat dedicated to a health professions. On the state board, he is the Valley air district’s representative. There is no compensation for either position, state officials said.
A state report last month suggested a farm fertilizer fee to help fix drinking-water problems, especially in rural towns around the San Joaquin Valley.
I wrote about it, but I should have added that there already is a fertilizer fee in California, a reader said. The existing fee funds research, however, not dirty-water cleanup.
It is the Fertilizer Research and Education Program in the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Last year, Assembly Bill 2174 from Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, made the money available for research on more efficient application of fertilizers.
It would not provide near enough money anyway. The analysis on the fund last year showed it would be worth about $1 million. The state needs $36 million a year to address drinking water problems.
The state report last month focused on nitrate contamination, which comes from fertilizers, animal waste, septic systems and sewage treatment plants.
Grants and loans through the state have not panned out for some towns that can’t afford to pay back loans or maintain treatment facilities. Another funding source is needed, say leaders of the State Water Resources Control Board, which did the report.
I have not seen any legislation yet to raise the funding.
The phone conversation started with a question: Which city has worse ozone — Fresno or Bakersfield?
It’s a good question, but I told the reader that we have this conversation far too often around here. It’s like debating the difference between drowning in 15 feet of water and 17 feet of water.
Fresno? Bakersfield? They’re both among the worst in the country.
I think it’s more interesting to compare the Valley with cities outside of California that have a national reputation for dirty air — like Houston and Phoenix. The pollution in Fresno, Bakersfield and other Valley cities is far worse than in cities several times larger.
Look at 2012 violations of the federal eight-hour ozone standard. Phoenix has 1.46 million people, according to the U.S. Census, and the city recorded 30 violations. Houston with a population of 2.1 million had 35.
How many Valley locations had more violations? Clovis, Fresno, Parlier, Arvin, Bakersfield, Oildale, Edison, Porterville and, oddly enough, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
In fact, Houston and Phoenix combined didn’t have as many as the Ash Mountain site in Sequoia National Park, which recorded 82 violations. Parlier with a population of about 15,000 in Fresno County had 60. In Southern California, Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains led the nation with 88.
Back to Bakersfield and Fresno.
In Fresno with population of about a half million, there were 51 violations last year at one monitoring site. In Bakersfield, population 352,000, one monitor showed 56.
Compared to the rest of the country, the Valley is really in another universe. Fresno and Bakersfield are just part of a bigger picture here.
The local air board is planning to soften new restrictions that could stop wood-burning in fireplaces most of the winter in Fresno and Bakersfield.
Wood-burning will be allowed on some no-burn days, leaders said Thursday. But an EPA-certified wood-burning device, such as a stove or heater, would have to be used.
The district will hold public hearings to determine the threshold.
Starting in 2014, the new burn bans will be triggered when soot and other debris reaches 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Right now, the threshold is 30.
The exemption level for people using EPA-certified devices will probably be 30 to 35, I’m told.
On an even more technical note, the new restrictions are part of the district’s plan that will be sent to state and federal authorities. But the pollution reductions won’t be claimed until the winter of 2016-2017 in the plan — a matter of bookkeeping on the way to the 2019 attainment date.
The district board moved the restrictions up two years to get the health benefits early.