Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Yosemite would grow by 1,600 acres

Yosemite National park would grow by 1,600 acres under a bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

The bill would allow the National Park Service to buy the Mariposa County land through an existing program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The land was originally part of Yosemite, but Congress stripped its protection in a 1906 concession to industrial interests. The land is near a development called Yosemite West and reportedly was part of naturalist John Muir’s original plan for Yosemite.

“This is a great day for Yosemite,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “We applaud work by California’s leaders to preserve and strengthen one of the most beautiful places in California and the world.”

The current landowners, Pacific Forest Trust and a partnership of private individuals, support the land transfer. And a coalition of state leaders supports expanding Yosemite. The California State Senate passed a resolution last week to show support for expansion.

Water at heart of heated email exchanges between Borba, others

West-side grower Mark Borba was forced to step down as Community Medical Centers’ board chair after he sent an email with a racially insensitive comment about President Barack Obama.

The story appeared in Tuesday’s Bee.

But Borba’s statement was just one small part of a long-running series of email exchanges on March 1 that exposed a seamier side of politics not often seen by the general public.

Mark Borba

The emails went on for hours and primarily involved Borba, Johnny Amaral, who is chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican, and Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham.

Several others, including Westlands board members and staffers for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, were copied in some of the emails.

The f-word was often used, as were other expletives.

It all started with Borba thanking Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat, for writing a letter to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor.

In the letter, Costa urged the Bureau to increase water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is restricted because of protections in place to protect the delta smelt.

Borba then added: “This is total insanity. Where the Hell is Feinstein & the Administration?” He then goes on to detail the economic losses to the Valley’s west side before concluding: “The Senator’s silence is deafening.”

One of those copied on the email was Birmingham, who responded with a defense of Feinstein. He wrote to Borba that “Senator Feinstein and her staff have been pushing Interior and Reclamation behind the scenes.”

It is at that point that Borba explodes with multiple expletives and calls Obama “Blackie.” He wrote: “I’m tired of these (expletive) politicians waltzing thru here… telling us how tough things are… picking our pockets for campaign $$$$… and they returning to DC and doing nothing! Put their (expletive) careers on the line… or step down.”

Birmingham then lashed out in response, telling Borba to “give me a (expletive) break.” He then brings the Valley’s Republican congressional delegation — Nunes, Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, Hanford’s David Valadao and Turlock’s Jeff Denham — into the increasingly heated email conversation.

Tom Birmingham

“The question you should be asking,” Birmingham wrote to Borba, “is where in the (expletive) were Denham, Nunes, Valadao and McCarthy, all of whom were asked to sign the (Costa) letter.”

Birmingham tells Borba that all of Costa’s Valley Republican congressional colleagues refused to sign the letter.

Borba then responds with an email to Nunes. He copied both Amaral and Birmingham. In the email, Borba tells Nunes that “standing on the sidelines… is not helpful. We’re dying out here… and you’re playing politics? What’s your excuse? If we ran our businesses like you guys run Congress… we’d be broke. Come to think of it… we’re getting there… with your ‘help.’”

Amaral responds, telling Borba he is “pathetic.”

“How quickly (Westlands) forgets what we did… and how they allowed (Feinstein) to do nothing at all. Its no wonder you guys continue to lose. Sending (expletive) letters meant to cover someones (expletive) does nothing to advance the effort,” Amaral wrote.

Borba then, in essence, asks both Amaral and Nunes — what have you done for west-side agriculture lately? Amaral replies that Nunes and his fellow Republicans did do something for the west side last year, “and you guys completely (expletive) it up and threw it away.”

At one point, Amaral writes “blah blah blah. The moment you (expletive) get your lord and savior difi (Feinstein) to do something… ANYTHING at all, the House will move a bill again.”

In an interview Tuesday, Amaral explained this part of his exchange with Borba. He said it was about H.R. 1837, legislation that would have would restored about 1.4 million acre-feet of water annually to Valley farmers who have lost water to environmental causes.

Amaral said considerable work went into the bill, which eventually passed the Republican-controlled House with the support of 10 Democrats, including Costa. But then the Senate — or Feinstein — did nothing.

“It was a gift teed up do something relevant on water and it was squandered,” Amaral said in the interview.

Instead, Amaral said, west-side ranchers and growers held a fundraiser for Feinstein.

As the emails between Amaral and Borba grow uglier and more personal, Amaral adds a new element, telling Borba he didn’t appreciate him “calling Devin a (expletive) to (Republican businessman) Tal Cloud.”

Borba responds: “Sometimes the truth hurts.”

During the exchanges, Nunes, Cloud and Fresno County Lincoln Club Chairman Michael Der Manouel Jr. weigh in. Both Nunes and Der Manouel write to Borba saying that letters are useless — Der Manouel saying they “don’t mean (expletive).”

Cloud’s contribution: “I can’t wait to hear the other side of the story on this. Most likely (Nunes) is tired of you everyone (sic) kissing Feinstein’s (expletive) when she never comes through on issues that matter.”

Amaral said Tuesday he regretted his use of profanity — but not the content of the emails.

“I will defend to my last dying breath the work Devin has done to improve the water situation in California and in the Valley,” he said. “I am proud of the work we’ve done.”

Nunes pointed out in an interview that several Westlands growers support and have donated to Democrats such as Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown. He said those Democrats “laugh at these guys over drinks, and they’re playing them for money.”

“This is no different than what we’ve been telling these guys,” Nunes added. “They have a flawed strategy that is doomed to failure.”

Borba and Birmingham both declined to comment on the emails. Feinstein also declined to comment.

Obama wins Fresno Co. again; shows west side strength

The San Joaquin Valley is often touted — along with Orange County and Southern California’s Inland Empire — as one of the Republican Party’s bulwarks against the rising tide of Democratic control.

But last November, Fresno County — the very heart of the Valley — once again went for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential election. It wasn’t a blowout. Obama won 49.7% to Romney’s 47.9%. So Fresno County is light blue, but blue nonetheless.

How did it break down?

Generally speaking, east went for Romney (in the 23rd Assembly District, which elected Fresno Republican Jim Patterson, Romney won 55% to Obama’s 43%) and west for Obama (in the 31st Assembly District, which reelected Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, Obama won big, 62% to Romney’s 36%).

These are, of course, generalizations. Turnout, for instance, was higher in the 23rd District.

For those keeping score across the Valley, the three main Fresno-area congressional districts (Republican Tom McClintock represents the sparsely populated foothill and Sierra parts) broke down like this:

In the 21st Congressional District, Obama won 55% to Romney’s 44%. This district, which covers parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and all of Kings County, elected Hanford Republican David Valadao.

In the 22nd Congressional District, Romney won 57% to Obama’s 42%. This district, which covers parts of Tulare and Fresno counties, reelected Tulare Republican Devin Nunes.

And in the 16th Congressional District, Obama won 59% to Romney’s 39%. This district, which covers parts of Fresno and Madera counties and all of Merced County, reelected Fresno Democrat Jim Costa.

Political Notebook: Democrats continue to lead Republicans in Fresno Co. voter registration

Fresno County Democrats are continuing to lead rival Republicans in signing up new voters, data released today by the Secretary of State’s Office shows.

The new voter registration numbers — the last that will be released before Tuesday’s election — show there are 6,396 more Democrats than Republicans in Fresno County.

In raw numbers, it is 164,663 Democrats to 158,267 Republicans.

Last month, the Democrats led by 2,635, and in May, it was 2,700.

Also showing significant growth were those voters who are declining to join a political party, or are registered with one that isn’t recognized by the state, such as the once-relevant Reform Party.

In May, these people with “no party preference” were at 61,869. Last month, it was 62,311. And now, it is 67,417.

The latest numbers show the Republican Party in Fresno County continuing to struggle on the registration front, and marks a continuing reversal of fortune for the local GOP, which a decade ago was riding high.

In 2000, Republicans in Fresno County overtook Democrats in voter registration totals for the first time in anyone’s memory. That lead peaked in 2004 with a GOP advantage of more than 24,000 voters.

But Democrats worked to close the gap, and by the middle of 2010 had retaken the lead. They haven’t relinquished it since, and now appear to be growing it.

A stark example of that is looking back to this point four years ago, when President Barack Obama was seeking his first term in office. At that point, Republicans still held a lead of more than 10,000 voters.

Since that point, Democrats in Fresno County have added more than 11,200 voters, while Republicans have added just 4,800.

It turns a 2004 quote from Michael Der Manouel Jr. on its head. “Countywide,” the current chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County said, “I don’t believe (Democrats) will ever catch us again.”

The City of Fresno also remains solidly Democratic, with 21,350 more registered voters than Republicans.

While Republicans lag in Fresno County, they are continuing their domination of rival Democrats in the rest of the central San Joaquin Valley — Tulare, Kings and Madera counties.

In Tulare, there are 63,809 Republicans to 49,151 Democrats. In Kings, it is 21,812 Republicans to 17,068 Democrats. And in Madera, 24,152 Republicans to 18,301 Democrats.

As for the local congressional races, Democrats are dominating voter registration in the two westside districts — the 16th, where Fresno Democrat Jim Costa is seeking reelection, and the 21st, which is an open seat featuring a battle between Republican Assembly Member David Valadao and Fresno Democrat John Hernandez.

At the same time, Republican voters rule in the eastside districts currently held by GOP incumbents Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Tom McClintock.

Of particular interest is the Hernandez-Valadao clash, because political prognosticators have dubbed Valadao the clear favorite even though Republicans lag in registration. Hernandez has vowed to get Democrats to the polls.

The registration numbers are through Oct. 22.

Political Notebook: New PAC tries to boost Whelan in 16th Congressional District battle

It’s pretty clear that Fresno Republican Brian Whelan wanted to reach the top level in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program.

The designation would have given his campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in the 16th Congressional District some legitimacy — and, likely, money. With just 12 days until the election, it looks like Whelan will fall a rung short on the Young Guns ladder.

But it appears that there is one organization trying to help Whelan.

The Central Valley Independent PAC was formed Oct. 9 and on Wednesday reported to the Federal Election Commission that it had raised $130,000.

But there must be more cash where that came from because the Central Valley Independent PAC has bought around $200,000 in television time on KFSN (Channel 30), KSEE (Channel 24) and KGPE (Channel 47).

It has formed a Twitter account as well as a website — http://centralvalleyindependentpac.com — but as with so many other independent expenditure groups these days, exact details on the group are hard to find.

The only contributor, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website, is Double B Land Company, which lists an address of 5200 N. Palm Ave., Suite 310, in Fresno.

That is also the address of West Hills Financial LLC, which lists Brad Gleason as its president. Gleason, who also looks to be a farmer and has ties to the Valley’s pistachio industry, is listed on Whelan’s campaign website as an endorser.

He’s also donated close to $5,000 to Whelan’s campaign, as has Gregorio Jacobo, who is listed as executive ranch manager for West Hills Farm Services, which shares a website with West Hills Financial.

The PAC’s treasurer is listed as Ross Allen, and has a Coalinga post-office box. The PO Box number is also tied to Turk Station LLC, which has Allen listed on the Secretary of State’s website as its agent for service of process. Turk Station is listed as a hunting lodge and ranch that also offers wild boar hunts, though it is unclear if the Coalinga-area business is still open.

Neither Gleason or Allen could be reached for comment.

Congressional campaigns aren’t supposed to coordinate their activities with any independent groups such as the Central Valley Independent PAC, but there’s no doubt the question for Whelan is: can the television ads and website help? And, with thousands of people already having voted, are the ads hitting the airwaves too late?

Political Notebook: Is the 21st Congressional District competitive? The evidence is conflicting

UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee weighed in on the 21st Congressional District race for the first time.

The DCCC said it was doing a robocall on behalf of Democrat John Hernandez. The gist of the call: Vote for Hernandez because he would be the first Mexican American congressman from the district, where two-thirds of the voting-age population is Hispanic.

Here’s part of the script, which features “Maria from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.” The call says Hernandez, “unlike his Republican opponent” David Valadao, “supports the DREAM Act,” which would allow illegal immigrants under 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16 and have lived here for five years without committing a serious crime to be eligible for legal residency.

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The evidence continues to mount that Hanford Republican David Valadao won’t roll to an easy win over Fresno Democrat John Hernandez in the newly drawn 21st Congressional District.

A few weeks ago, that was the assumption. The race, just about everyone thought, was a done deal. Hardly anyone was paying attention.

Then came an article in the National Journal — a nonpartisan magazine that covers national politics and policy — that quoted a Republican saying private polling was moving “the wrong way” for Valadao.

On Friday, a group known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies said it had put together a television ad attacking Hernandez, and was spending more than $600,000 to buy air time.

Now, political watchers from the Valley to Washington D.C. are wondering if the race is truly competitive, or if Valadao just needs to shore up his lead.

“I think Republicans are worried that if Valadao doesn’t define himself, the person with the Hispanic surname may have an actual advantage,” says Kyle Kondik, communications director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which tracks federal races.

Like so many other political prognosticators, the Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball e-magazine long ago stopped considering the race competitive. But now Kondik says it “may be moving back on to the table,” though still rated as “likely Republican.”

Among Hernandez’s advantages are a nearly 15-percentage-point voter registration advantage, and a huge Hispanic electorate. Hernandez has vowed to get those voters to the polls.

In addition, President Barack Obama won the district in 2008, and Gov. Jerry Brown did as well in 2010.

But Hernandez’s disadvantages are huge. For starters, he really doesn’t have any money. He raised just $53,000 between July 1 and September 30, has just $17,700 in his account — and $40,000 in unpaid bills. His campaign has constantly been in debt.

In addition, while the Republicans seem to be pushing the panic button, Hernandez’s own Democratic Party — or any of its political allies — isn’t helping with any money at all.

This comes at the same time it is pouring hundreds of thousands into a Stanislaus County-based congressional race involving another Hernandez — former astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Denham in what is shaping up to be a very close race.

Valadao, in the meantime, has almost $800,000 in his account, and he plans to run television commercials through the November 6 general election. Coupled with more than $600,000 in ads from Crossroads GPS, and that adds up to a double-barreled onslaught of anti-Hernandez and pro-Valadao campaign advertising.

The Valadao campaign is also touting an internal poll that shows him with a 20-percentage-point lead — 53% to 33% — and 14% saying either they are undecided or will vote for neither. However, it is unknown how the questions on the race were asked.

In some ways, the Hernandez-Valadao clash has similarities to the 2010 race between incumbent Democrat Jim Costa and Republican challenger Andy Vidak.

That race was largely quiet — until mid-September. In the final seven weeks, Vidak went toe-to-toe with Costa in what turned out to be a very competitive race.

The common thread is the territory. Costa’s district at that time was largely the same as the area that is now part of the 21st District.

Costa is now gone, thanks to a redistricting that put him in a new district that runs from Fresno to the north. But could history be repeating itself in a chunk of his old westside Valley stamping grounds?