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.
All five Fresno County supervisors were on hand this week for board Chair Henry R. Perea’s state-of-the county breakfast speech.
Interestingly, another supervisor was present — Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez.
So what brought the Bakersfield Democrat 110 miles to the north?
There was some speculation that she’s already gearing up for a second state Senate battle against Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
Earlier this year, Vidak beat Perez in the battle to fill the 16th District state Senate seat vacated by Michael Rubio.
But Vidak is only filling Rubio’s current term, which is up next year. So he’ll immediately face a re-election battle, only in the newly created 14th state Senate district.
“We would love to see her run again in 2014,” Fresno County Young Democrats Chairman Matt Rogers said.
A few other names have been rumored, but so far nobody has stepped forward and Perez is still the most prominent potential Vidak challenger.
But Perez said her visit had nothing to do with campaigning or exploring a Vidak rematch. When asked why she was in Fresno, Perez replied: “Visiting the city I have fallen in love with and reconnecting with old friends.”
Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier made it official Wednesday — he’ll seek a second term serving District 7, which covers the central part of the city.
The decision was never in doubt. A few months ago, Olivier was already sparring with public employee unions over his second term. The unions were feeling good after defeating Measure G, Fresno’s residential trash privatization proposal, which Oliver supported.
“Hit me with your best shot,” he said at the time.
Olivier, 38, made his announcement in front of Babcock Lawnmowers on Blackstone Avenue.
He was backed by more than three dozen people holding campaign signs with the slogan “Good News for Fresno.”
Olivier said in an interview that he’s been walking precincts for three weeks, and “the response has been very encouraging.”
He also pointed out that members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027 — Fresno’s bus drivers — and the city’s firefighters’ union came to the campaign kickoff to show their support.
It is, Olivier said, “indicative of a major split in labor.” He said it also shows he isn’t anti-labor.
Other unions are still looking for an opponent for Olivier. They feel he has not championed their causes and has opposed some labor issues after telling unions he was supportive.
On Thursday, Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson turns 80. Besides being a notable birthday, it’s also the day Larson said he’d announce whether he’d run again for his District 1 seat.
If Larson calls it a career, it will almost certainly be a hotly contested race next June.
Already, Kerman dairyman Brian Pacheco has filed official documents with the Fresno County clerk’s office that start the process to raise money and campaign for the seat.
So, either Pacheco is ready to challenge Larson, or he knows something about Larson’s plans that haven’t been publicly divulged. The answer is unknown because Pacheco didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Whatever the case, Pacheco — a former Fresno County Farm Bureau president — filed a Candidate Intention Statement and a Statement of Organization.
Larson’s decision could set the stage for a major shakeup on the five-member board. If he doesn’t run, it will mean two of the five board seats will be up for grabs with no incumbent seeking re-election.
Last month, Sanger resident Judy Case announced that she’ll step down from her District 4 seat.
Riverdale farmer Ernest “Buddy” Mendes, 57, and Fowler Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Parra, 48, have both indicated they’ll run for the seat, though only Mendes has filed paperwork with the clerk’s office.
This week, they were joined by a third potential candidate — former Reedley Council Member Steve Rapada.
In 2011, Rapada resigned his Reedley council seat after it was discovered he moved out of the district he represents.
Like Mendes and Pacheco, Rapada has also filed official paperwork.
His entry brings to three the number of people saying they want to succeed Case, but many more are expected. A dozen names are currently being floated of people who are interested in the seat.
On Monday, Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case said she wouldn’t seek re-election next year. In less than a day, rumors began swirling about those who were thinking about running for the seat.
By Wednesday, the rumor mill had churned out close to a dozen names. But so far, only one person had taken the first official step toward a run — Riverdale farmer Ernest “Buddy” Mendes.
He’s already formed an official exploratory committee. The paperwork is on file with the Fresno County Elections office.
Mendes, 57, said he’s thinking about running because he feels he can give the county effective representation.
He farms cotton, wheat, alfalfa, corn and pistachios and has land on both the Valley’s east and west sides. He also has a long history of public service, including the Riverdale Unified School Board (since 1993), the Southwest Transportation Agency Board (since 1996), and the Riverdale Public Utility District (since 1994). In 2011, he also served on the county’s Redistricting Task Force.
Mendes, however, says running for county supervisor is a big step up from those posts, one that would include significant campaigning and fundraising.
Case represents District 4, which covers the southern part of Fresno County, including the towns of Sanger, Coalinga, Selma, Kingsburg, Huron, Orange Cove and Reedley, among others.
The presidential-year elections were less than nine months ago, and the Fresno area has just been through three special elections, but it’s already time to start gearing up for next year’s Fresno City Council contests.
Of the four seats that will be up for grabs, none will likely get more attention than District 1, which covers west-central Fresno. The reason: current Council Member Blong Xiong will be termed out of office, making for an open seat.
Oliver Baines in District 3, Sal Quintero in District 5 and Clint Olivier in District 7 are all eligible to seek re-election. An open seat is always more attractive because there is no incumbent.
Already, businessman and community activist Cary Catalano and businessman and Fresno Planning Commission Member Rama Kant Dawar say they’re running.
Catalano, in fact, already has a Facebook page, has designed a campaign brochure, plans to release his initial slate of endorsements this week and has big precinct walk planned for Aug. 10.
“We are ready,” he says.
Right out of the gate, Dawar also has something significant: Xiong’s endorsement.
“I’ve worked with him for a long time,” Xiong said of Dawar. “If he’s still going forward with it, I told him I’d support him.”
The question is, who else — if anybody — will join the race?
Rama Kant Dawar
One intriguing possibility is Marina Magdaleno, who is business representative for the Fresno’s blue-collar union. She was one of the opposition leaders of Measure G, the unsuccessful ballot initiative to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup.
“I’m very interested in running,” she said. “I feel I have a lot to offer.”
Magdaleno, 61, said she still hasn’t made up her mind. “I make a really good salary,” she said of her current job. “It would be a cut in pay, but I’m OK with that. Money isn’t everything.”
Two other familiar names appear to be out — at least for now.
Fresno Unified trustee Carol Mills, 58, said she’s been “asked by many supporters, Republican and Democrat,” to run.
“Although I indicated I was not inclined to run, folks have been trying hard to get me to reconsider,” she said.
The other is business owner Scott Miller, who lost a tough race for the seat to Xiong in 2006.
Miller, 41, said he’s thought about running again “every day for eight years.” But for Miller, it’s a different world now. The big difference is his business — Gazebo Gardens — which has doubled in size since his run against Xiong.
“As of right now, I’m not in,” he said. ”As much as I love running, love city politics, love the city, love my neighborhood, I do not see it right now.”
So for now that leaves Dawar and Catalano.
Catalano, 39, is the owner of Catalano Fenske & Associates, a Fresno marketing firm.
This is his second council run. He earlier ran in 2002 for the neighboring District 3 council seat, losing in the primary. Cynthia Sterling ended up winning the seat. Baines is now the council member in that district.
“I have no regrets,” Catalano said of that run. “I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the people in the community.”
It also makes him a better candidate this time, he said.
Dawar, 45, is an interpreter, paralegal, notary public, registered income tax preparer, substance abuse specialist facilitator and domestic violence facilitator.
“I want to serve my community,” he said. “I already made up my mind (to run) two years ago.”
Xiong — who said the district is really three distinct regions in the Tower/Fresno High, west of Highway 99 and south of Shaw Avenue areas — had advice for any potential candidate: “It’s about contact. Walking, talking to people.”
The Hanford Republican’s lead over Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez in the 16th District state Senate special election has dwindled considerably since Election Day.
But there aren’t enough ballots left to count for Perez to catch Vidak — even if she won every single vote.
When the count was finished late Tuesday, Vidak held a 5,833-vote edge. By Friday afternoon, when Fresno County updated its count, Vidak’s lead over Perez had dwindled to 3,516.
It means Perez picked up more than 2,300 votes in late counting.
But Fresno County only has around 870 votes left to count — about 750 provisional ballots and 120 challenged ballots. That’s not enough to pull Perez even close to snatching victory away from Vidak.
Friday’s count, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, had Vidak at 52.2% and Perez at 47.8%. Vidak’s lead: 4.4 percentage points.
The two candidates faced each other in a runoff after finishing one-two in the five-person May primary. The 16th District seat came open after Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio resigned to take a job with Chevron Corp.
It became a heated, high-profile showdown because Senate Democrats are fighting to retain a two-thirds majority in the chamber.
Millions of dollars poured into the race, which even caught the attention of major national publications such as the New York Times.
The race — or, more specifically, Perez — made an appearance on Comedy Central’s satirical news program, the Daily Show. In a segment featuring Perez, she adamantly rules out a congressional run.
In May, Vidak was initially above 50% of the vote and appeared on his way to staying above that threshold and winning the race outright. People began calling him “senator-elect.” Then, in late vote counts, he fell below 50%, forcing the runoff.
Some in the Valley’s agriculture community are unhappy that Chevron Corp. has made a second sizable campaign contribution to an independent group that supported Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez over Republican Andy Vidak last month in the 16th District state Senate special election.
Chowchilla-area farmer Kole Upton is so unhappy about the contributions that he and others are discussing ways to boycott Chevron. One way is to get their local fuel suppliers to stop buying from Chevron.
“There’s definitely a backlash,” Upton said. “They want a fight, I guess they’re going to have one.”
On April 16, Chevron contributed $100,000 to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, which was the largest of many donations to the independent organization. The organization then spent $230,000 in support of Perez ahead of the May 23 special election, according to campaign finance reports.
None of the five candidates won an outright majority in the primary election, so the top two finishers — Vidak and Perez — will now face off in a July 23 runoff.
On June 3, Chevron gave another $150,000 to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy. Many in the local agriculture industry think that money will help Perez in the coming July 23 runoff election.
That’s not the case, Chevron says.
In an email, spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said the company “regularly supports candidates, organizations or ballot measures committed to economic development, free enterprise and good government.”
But Crinklaw said both contributions to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy that benefitted Perez were for use in the May primary election.
“We have made no donations for the July runoff election nor do we intend to do so,” Crinklaw said.
Valley farmers and ranchers are still unhappy.
They say Perez is not agriculture friendly, while Vidak is not only ag friendly, he’s also a farmer. They also point out that Perez supports the state’s proposed high-speed rail project, which is widely disliked among many in the local agriculture community.
Some tie the two donations back to Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who resigned from the Senate seat in February to work for Chevron. Rubio once employed Perez. Rubio declined comment.
Some, however, question whether a boycott will even faze the energy giant.
“What any of us in this district buys from them or doesn’t buy from them won’t really make that much difference to them,” said west-side rancher John Harris, who is CEO and chairman of Harris Farms.
Instead, Harris said the best strategy would be to “find someone we can talk to at Chevron to express our genuine concerns for a company like this getting engaged in a local race with a contribution that distorted the outcome.”
Vidak fell a few hundred votes of an outright win in last month’s primary. All he needed was 50%-plus-one to avoid a runoff. He got 49.8%.
Upton, however, thinks diplomacy won’t work.
“We have no clout, none whatsoever,” he said. “You ask to talk to the corporation and they blow you off. You’re insignificant. Maybe we are, but we don’t have to do business with (Chevron).”
The Measure G fundraising war continues, with both sides bringing in cash at a feverish pace ahead of the June 4 special election in which Fresno voters will decide on outsourcing the city’s residential trash pickup.
As of April 20, the Yes on G campaign, which is led by Mayor Ashley Swearengin and favors outsourcing, had raised more than $200,000. Since then, the campaign has picked up several additional contributions, including $49,000 from McDonald Aviation and $25,000 from Howe Electric.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin
The campaign has also found some success with the west-side farming crowd. Woolf Farming & Processing donated $25,000 and Don Peracchi, a west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board, chipped in $5,000.
That pushes the Yes on G campaign past $300,000 — and it looks like it is spending just about every cent on various campaign efforts, including television commercials.
Outsourcing opponents look to be closing the gap somewhat.
The No on G campaign had only raised around $57,000 as of April 20.
Since then, it has picked up $100,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Stationary Engineers Local 39, $40,000 from the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 and more than $20,000 from the Fresno Police Officers Association.
That means No on G is well past $200,000 in its fundraising efforts. And, as with the Yes on G camp, it’s spending it as well.
A pair of donations to the No on G campaign that have raised eyebrows came from Perea Reviving Jobs and the Economy Ballot Measure Committee, a committee controlled by Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno.
On April 3, the committee gave $10,000, and on April 15 another $10,000 — a total of $20,000.
On April 5 — in between the two contributions — Sunset Waste contributed $20,000 to the Perea Reviving Jobs and the Economy Ballot Measure Committee.
Sunset Waste, City Hall’s longtime recycling partner, is suing Fresno. Sunset contends the city’s earlier decision to outsource its commercial trash pickup breaks a recycling contract between Sunset and the city.
Assembly Member Henry T. Perea
If privatizing residential trash pickup is approved, Sunset says is will sue a second time.
Bob Stern, a campaign ethics expert and former state Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel, said the Perea committee must disclose if the Sunset donation was directed to go to the No on G campaign.
Perea and Sunset officials didn’t return calls seeking comment. It is unknown if any such disclosure was made — or was even needed.
Dillon Savory, the No on G campaign manager, said in an email statement that “We truly appreciate the support that we are receiving from a broad range of supporters. Assemblymember Perea sent us a contribution and we said thank you.”
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.