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.
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).”
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.
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.
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.