Leticia Perez, the Bakersfield Democrat who unsuccessfully sought the 16th state Senate race earlier this year to Hanford Republican Andy Vidak, said Friday she will not seek a rematch next year.
The seat came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned in February. The election this year was only to fill the remainder of Rubio’s 16th District term.
Rubio’s normal term was up next year, so Vidak will have to stand for reelection — this time in the newly created 14th state Senate District.
Several pundits thought Perez — a Kern County supervisor — would run again, but in a release she said next year the board “has the opportunity of ushering in an unprecedented era of economic growth and stability for families in Kern County and throughout California.”
Because of that, the release said, “are of such magnitude that I must focus all of my attention, in collaboration with my colleagues, on the processes that will revitalize our local and state economies. My focus must always be to insure that future generations have the opportunities that have been afforded to me and my family. For these reasons, I cannot divide my time and focus on such pressing local matters with a Senate race in 2014.”
Perez and Vidak finished one-two in the five-person May primary election, but neither finished with more than 50% of the vote, so a July runoff ensued.
The primary election surprised many political watchers, because Vidak finished with 49.8% of the vote — just missing the 50% threshold — to Perez’s 43.9% in a district that is has a majority of both Democrats and Hispanics.
Vidak followed that up in July with another win, 51.9% of the vote to Perez’s 48.1%.
With Perez now out, the focus will be on who steps up to challenge Vidak in a district Democrats feel they can win. Earlier this week, Fresno Unified School District board member Luis Chavez, a Democrat, announced plans to run for the seat.
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.”
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.
UPDATE (June 28): The California Association of Realtors denies allegations by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others that its campaign finance reports in the 16th District Senate race were incorrectly filled out. “We think our reporting is accurate and transparent,” said Don Faught, the association’s president. Faught added that the group thinks Republican Andy Vidak is the strongest candidate in the race.
Check-marking the wrong box on a campaign finance form is not always cause for concern. But in a state Senate race that’s expected to be close and could tip the balance of power in Sacramento, details are everything.
On Tuesday, a supporter of Democratic Senate candidate Leticia Perez filed a complaint with the state, alleging that a real estate association backing Perez’s opponent Andy Vidak should have reported that its money is being used to oppose Perez. Instead, the group reported that its money is being used to support Vidak.
The alleged misstep, while it may seem small, is drawing rebuke from the Senate’s biggest name, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat.
In a statement to The Bee on Tuesday, Steinberg took umbrage with the California Association of Realtors for not only mischaracterizing campaign expenditures but for supporting Vidak in the first place.
Perez, a Kern County supervisor from Bakersfield, is squaring off against Vidak, a Hanford farmer, for the seat vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio. If Perez loses the July 23 special election in the Fresno-Bakersfield area, the Democratic Party’s two-thirds majority in the upper house would be weakened.
“Senate Democrats were already troubled by the misguided decision of the California Association of Realtors to oppose Leticia Perez with six-figure independent expenditures, but, now, the vitriolic and highly partisan smear campaign they’re waging against her represents a new low –- and appears to cross every legal line,” Steinberg said.
The trade association reported its latest political expense on Friday: a nearly $162,000 independent expenditure that brings the group’s total spending in the 16th District Senate race to more than $215,000.
Independent expenditures, unlike candidate contributions, don’t go directly to candidates, but are spent independently for or against the contenders. They face fewer restrictions than direct contributions.
The complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleges that the California Association of Realtors improperly reported that its money is being used to support Vidak. The complaint suggests that the group should have reported its money going to fight Perez.
Political mailers sponsored by the association appear to be quite critical of Perez. Neither the trade association nor the FPPC could be reached Tuesday to comment on whether the group had breached campaign finance rules.
The complaint was filed by Selma Democrat Doug Kessler, also the Region 8 director for the California Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party holds an enviable two-thirds majority in the state Senate, which allows the party to pass measures, such as taxes, without the support of Republican senators. But the cushion is thin. Both Democrats and Republicans see the 16th District seat as a means to weaken the other’s hand.
Vidak nearly won the 16th Eistrict seat in last month’s primary election, but he came up just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Republican state Senate candidate Andy Vidak got a $161,500 boost to his campaign last week from the California Association of Realtors.
And it comes at just the right time.
Both Vidak, of Hanford, and his Democratic opponent Leticia Perez have been slow to raise funds since they both advanced in the May 21 primary for the Fresno-Bakersfield area 16th Senate District. This week voters begin casting mail ballots for the July 23 runoff.
The California Association of Realtors, a trade group, recorded the $161,500 expense Friday as an independent expenditure, meaning the money won’t go directly to Vidak but will be spent on radio, television and online advertising on his behalf.
Perez, of Bakersfield, got a welcome influx of support last week, too: a $92,141 independent expenditure from Californians for Good Schools & Good Jobs.
According to the latest campaign finance report, Vidak had $83,000 in his campaign coffers as of June 8. He’s raised more than a million dollars for the special election. Perez had $61,000, also having raised more than a million dollars.
The two are vying to replace former Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio, who resigned in February.
Vidak nearly won the seat outright in last month’s primary, coming up just short of the majority needed to avoid a 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).”
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.