Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Senate hopeful Perez stumps in Fresno, picks up more support

State Senate candidate Leticia Perez continues to pick up key support in the Fresno area, the most populous part of the 16th Senate District — and where she’s far less known than in her hometown of Bakersfield.

A number of small city mayors in Fresno County announced their endorsement of the Kern County Democrat at a press event in downtown Fresno today, including Parlier Mayor Armando Lopez, Fowler Mayor David Cardenas and Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.

State Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle also officially jumped on her campaign train.

Perez is the top Democrat in what’s essentially a two-person race for the seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio. Hanford Republican Andy Vidak is also in the running. The special election is May 21.

Perez picked the bipartisan issue of water to discuss this afternoon, pledging to ensure adequate supplies for Valley farmers and posing for photos with her supporters in front of an irrigation canal.

Five candidates qualify for state’s 16th District Senate race

A week of political drama narrowed the candidate field to two
front-runners in the race for the state’s 16th Senate District:
Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

But they’re not the only ones who will be competing in the May 21
special election.

Democrat Francisco Ramirez Jr., of Riverdale, Democrat Paulina Miranda, of Fresno, and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif, of Bakersfield, also qualified for the ballot by Friday’s filing deadline, according to election offices in Fresno and Kern counties.

The election is the result of former Sen. Michael Rubio’s resignation
last month. The Bakersfield Democrat took a job with Chevron.

To win his seat, one the five candidates must get 50% of the votes,
plus one, in the May election. If nobody meets that threshold, the top
two vote-getters proceed to a July 23 runoff.

Democrat Fran Florez, of Shafter, dropped out of the race earlier this
week after Perez emerged as the Democratic favorite.

Perez picked up the state party endorsement Wednesday, but only
after she moved to a new home — when Kern County elections officials told her that her old house was not in the district. A week earlier, they had said otherwise.

Senate candidate Perez kicks off campaign today in Fresno

A week after announcing her interest in replacing former state Sen. Michael Rubio, Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez is officially launching her campaign in Fresno today.

The Bakersfield Democrat is hardly a household name in Fresno, the Senate district’s most populous area, but she’s hoping to change that by concentrating her initial outreach here.

Perez is opening the first of her two planned offices at 480 N. Fulton Street in Central Fresno this afternoon. She’s scheduled to talk up her credentials at a 4:30 meet and greet in which the public is invited to attend.

The race for the 16th District seat is nothing short of a crash course in campaigning. Candidates for the office, which Rubio abruptly left last month to take a job with Chevron, have had just weeks to make a decision on running and have less than two months for politicking before the May 21 election.

Perez chose Fresno for her campaign kick-off because the county is home to about half of the district’s registered voters. The rest are in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

Fellow Democrat Fran Florez, a Shafter City Council member, launched her campaign in Fresno last week.

Republican Andy Vidak, of Hanford, rounds out the list of front-runners so far.

The deadline to file for the contest is Friday.

Perez will benefit in the race from the district’s large share of Democratic voters and the support she has from her party’s Senate leadership, including President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

On Wednesday, the California Democratic Party is expected to figure its endorsement, which is Perez’s to lose. The endorsement comes with campaign cash that, among other things, is a big boost to name recognition.

Perez expects to open a second campaign office next week in Bakersfield.

If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, plus one, in May, the top two vote-getters proceed to a July 23 runoff.

Kerman Mayor Yep, a Republican, says he won’t seek 16th Senate seat

It’s probably not much of a surprise, but Kerman Mayor Gary Yep won’t run in the 16th state Senate district special election to fill the seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio.

Yep, a Republican, sent out a statement today saying the main reason for his decision is that he won’t live in the Senate district as it is drawn for the coming decade.

The district that selects Rubio’s replacement will be Senate District 16 as it was between 2002 and 2012. Kerman — and Yep’s home — is in that district.

Gary Yep

But the winner of this year’s special election would face a re-election next year under the district’s new lines — Senate District 14.

The two districts are 88% the same, but Yep’s home is in that 12% that is moving to a new state Senate district. Kerman will move to the district now represented by Ceres Republican Anthony Cannella.

“I have no intention to move from Kerman, a place where I was born and raised,” Yep said in his statement. “More importantly I considered the impact on my young family.”

Yep had openly pondered a run for a few weeks, but then earlier this week offered up a twist: If he ran, he said, it would only be in the May 21 special election. He would not seek re-election next year.

In essence, Yep was offered himself up as a temporary seat-filler until next year, when the Republicans could conceivably find another candidate. That could be former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who balked at running this year, but said he might next year.

Yep’s offer, however, came well after Hanford Republican Andy Vidak said he was all-in for the race, and right now it appears as if he’ll be the lone Republican in the field, possibly facing as many as four Democrats — two of them fairly well known — and another from the Peace and Freedom Party.

As Yep departs the race, he’s throwing his support to Vidak.

“Given the chaos created by Senator Rubio’s departure, I have no reservations in supporting Andy Vidak for the 16th State Senate District seat,” Yep wrote. “Mr. Vidak understands that while we may all disagree from time to time, the number one issue for the Central Valley is water; jobs grow where water flows.”

Vidak, off to quick Senate fundraising start, nets $90k in 10 days

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.

Andy Vidak

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.

Perez, with big-name backing, rounds out 16th Senate front runners

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.

Leticia Perez

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.

Fran Florez

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.

Andy Vidak

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.

Autry decides against running for Rubio’s Senate seat this year, but may run in 2014

After thinking it over for a day, former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry has decided not to seek the state Senate seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio.

Autry, 60, said he is too busy right now between television shows and working on a mentoring program for troubled youths that he started six months ago.

But, he said in an interview today, his decision applies only to the May 21 special election that will temporarily fill the seat that came open when Rubio abruptly resigned on Feb. 22. Whoever wins that contest must stand for re-election next year – when Rubio’s term would have been up – and Autry said he will give serious consideration to running then.

“In 2014 I will take a serious look at this because I do want to help the state,” Autry said.

Autry, a Republican, said he had been approached by state Senate GOP leaders who told him their polling showed he could win the seat, even though the district is solidly Democratic.

Senate leaders were hoping Autry would run in the special election, which would be for the 16th Senate District as it was between 2002 and 2012. Political Data Inc., which collects voter information, said registration in the district was 50.7% Democratic and 28.6% Republican as of Feb. 22.

Because turnout is typically low in special elections, Republicans feel they have a good chance to take the district away from the Democrats.

But 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, but Republicans say it would be tougher for them to take the seat because it would be a general election.

GOP leaders felt Autry, well known locally because of his Hollywood career and two terms of Fresno’s mayor, was the best person to win both this year and next.

On Friday, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, former Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines and state Sen. Tom Berryhill made their pitch to Autry at a north Fresno Starbucks.

Autry said going into the meeting he was leaning against running, but Huff, Villines and Berryhill made some good points. He said he would think it over.

Word of Autry’s potential run sent local Republican leaders into opposite camps.

Former Fresno City Council Member Jerry Duncan, for instance, enthusiastically backed Autry and said he would make a great senator. But businessman Tal Cloud took the opposite viewpoint, and even authored a memo on Fresno’s borrowing during Autry’s mayoral terms. His conclusion: the city’s current financial troubles rest right at Autry’s feet.

Autry has kept mostly a low profile since leaving the mayor’s office. He hosted a weekday talk radio show for a little more than two years, leaving the air in December 2010 to return to acting and making movies.

This year, Autry has appeared in two episodes of the CW Network show “Hart of Dixie,” and Autry said today that he has been asked back for next season. In addition, Autry said he is filming a show locally called “Choices.” But his biggest current project, he said, is the mentoring program he started for youths at Fresno County’s juvenile hall.

Autry’s decision likely clears the way on the Republican side for Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak, who a week ago said he would run and who has been busy raising money.

In addition to Vidak, Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez – a Democrat – said Friday via Twitter that she is running. Florez is the mother of Dean Florez, who held the Senate seat before Rubio.

Besides Vidak and Florez, the only other person to say he is running is Democrat Alfred Benavides, a former Hanford Joint Union High School District trustee. But Francisco Ramirez Jr. and Fresno resident John Estrada have pulled campaign papers, according to the Fresno County elections website. Neither Ramirez nor Estrada list a political party – though Estrada has been a Democrat in the past.

Other names mentioned include Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, a former Rubio aide and newly elected Kern County supervisor, and Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle, also a Democrat. On the Republican side, Kerman Mayor Gary Yep has said he’s looking at a run.

Perez, who is well liked by Democratic leaders, is expected to make a decision on a run next week.