Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Perez announces she won’t seek Senate rematch vs. Vidak

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.

Leticia Perez

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.

Republican George Radanovich weighs gubernatorial bid

With former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado’s gubernatorial bid foundering, another Republican candidate is dipping his toe in the 2014 race.

Former Republican congressman George Radanovich announced that he is mulling a run with an email Thursday touting a “program of rebuilding the private sector and then cutting government.”

“I believe Californians are ready for change and the time is ripe for a new approach,” Radanovich said in the email. “That is why I am considering entering the race for governor of California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown appears so far to be in prime position to win a second term. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll gave the governor an overall approval rating of 49 percent among likely voters. Though a mere 23 percent of Republicans approved of the job he’s doing, 65 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents backed him.

The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert has the full story.

Fresno’s government affairs manager leaving for eBay

Katie Stevens, who has been Fresno’s government affairs manager since November 2009, is leaving the city to work for eBay in San Jose. Her last day was Friday.

Stevens, 33, had worked for Mayor Ashley Swearengin when she was director of the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State. Swearengin took office as mayor in January 2009, and Stevens came to City Hall that November.

Swearengin praised Stevens, calling her “one of the top government affairs managers in California and across the nation. She has been an integral part of the city’s efforts to engage the state and federal governments on a wide range of issues.”

But Stevens also found herself in the middle of a City Council debate early this year on the city’s spending on lobbyists. Some council members questioned the need in tight budget times for lobbyists in Washington D.C., Sacramento and in the mayor’s office.

Stevens earned $65,476 annually for her city job, and spokesman Michael Lukens said the position will stay and be filled after a candidate search.

In her city job, Stevens coordinated efforts between the city’s various departments, the lobbyists, the League of California Cities and the region’s state and federal legislators. She also wrote grant applications.

Stevens will be a manager in eBay’s government relations office.

Local farmers unhappy about Chevron’s 16th Senate contributions

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.

Kole Upton

“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.

John Harris

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).”

Selma resident Kessler elected to head local Democratic Party region

Selma resident Doug Kessler is the new Region 8 director for the California Democratic Party.

Kessler, 57, was elected at this past weekend’s state Democratic Party convention in Sacramento.

Doug Kessler

The election means that two Fresno County residents are heading their respective regions for the two major political parties. Last month, Fresno resident Marcelino Valdez was elected as the California Republican Party’s new Central Valley Region vice chair.

Kessler will head up a region that includes Fresno, Kings and Kern counties and part of Tulare County.

He replaces Bakersfield resident Candi Easter, who held the position for eight years. Kessler also serves on the CDP’s Voter Services Committee and is chair of the Fresno County Democratic Party Field Coordination Committee.

The GOP’s region that includes Fresno is much larger than the Democrats’. It includes 11 counties that takes in all the San Joaquin Valley — and more.

In addition to Kessler, Fresno County Democratic Party chair Michael Evans was elected as chairman of the Federation of Democratic County Central Committee Members. The committee shares ideas for developing central committees and working with the state party.

Also elected to the group as secretary was Sanger resident Rose Ann Martinez.
Two area Democrats were also elected to spots on the state Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus. Susan Good is now Central Region director, and James Williams was reelected as parliamentarian.

Political Notebook: Fresno’s federal campaign contributions rank it 13th among state’s 58 counties

Fresno ranked 13th among the state’s 58 counties in federal political contributions for the 2012 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The county donated close to $5.9 million. Just above Fresno was Santa Barbara County, which gave $6.78 million. Just below it: San Bernardino with $5.53 million.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles County was in first place with more than $132.1 million donated, the center said.

The totals reflected contributions of $200 or more to federal political candidates, as well as parties, political action committees and outside spending organizations including super PACs.

Also not too surprising for Los Angeles: 51% of the money went to Democratic candidates, the party and leadership PACs, which just 28% went to candidates and groups on the Republican side.

The Fresno County totals showed again that while there are more registered Democrats here, much more money goes to Republicans and Republican groups. The GOP was at 65% of the total, and the Democrats at 21%.

That was already known anecdotally based on the number and cost of Republican fundraisers versus those for Democrats.

Totals in both counties don’t equal 100%. Where party percentages don’t add up to 100 percent, the rest went to outside spending organizations, third parties or independents.

The Center for Responsive Politics said that’s because the dollar amounts include contributions to outside spending organizations, third parties and independents, as well as corporate, labor and ideological PACs that are not affiliated with either party.

Of the other Valley counties, Tulare was 25th with $1.3 million contributed, Merced was 28th with $807,414, Kings was 32nd with $461,974, and Madera was 33rd with $452,432 donated.