Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Is Perez’s Fresno visit part of any plan for a Vidak Senate rematch?

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.

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.”

Brown signs Patterson bill that speeds vocational nurse licensing

It’s not always easy being a Republican in a state government completely controlled by Democrats — from the state Legislature right up to Gov. Jerry Brown.

But this week, Brown signed a bill by Assembly Member Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, that fast-tracks licenses for vocational nurses by removing government red-tape.

Assembly Member Jim Patterson

Assembly Bill 1028 ensures that vocational nurses can begin working once they have finished school and have entered the Board of Vocational Nursing’s licensing process.

The bill speeds up the process by which they can apply for and receive an interim permit while they complete the board exams. Currently, many of these nurses have been forced to wait up to six months to receive their licenses.

Patterson introduced the legislation after being contacted by Clovis resident Danielle Mendoza, who had become frustrated with lengthy licensing process.

Updated 16th District Senate vote counts solidify Vidak win

It’s now safe to call Andy Vidak “senator-elect.”

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.

Andy Vidak

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.

Leticia Perez

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.

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).”

Dueling memos tout front runners in 16th Senate race

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.

Patterson holding Fresno fundraiser to help close campaign deficit

Newly minted Assembly Member Jim Patterson is holding his first Fresno fundraiser since winning election last November.

It looks like the Fresno Republican needs it.

Campaign finance reports that run through the end of last year show Patterson with around $8,300 in his coffers — and nearly $76,000 in debt.

Patterson, Fresno’s former mayor, already may have hosted some fundraisers in Sacramento, but if not and this is his first, more will almost certainly have to follow to close that budget deficit.

Entry to the event, scheduled for Pardini’s, is $250. However, there are $500, $1,000 and $2,000 donor levels, or the maximum donation of $4,100 to be a sponsor.

Patterson no doubt would accept any amount between that low and high.
Sponsors listed on the invitation include west-side rancher John Harris (who is in China with Gov. Jerry Brown and certainly won’t attend), Granville Homes President Darius Assemi and Fresno businessman Ed Donaghy’s Donaghy Sales.

Also listed is the Fresno Police Officers Association Political Action Committee.
It seems the FPOA has gotten over its anger at Patterson over the smaller raises he sought for officers as he left the mayor’s office at the end of 2000. Either that or the union is trying to make up to Patterson for endorsing Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen, Patterson’s fellow Republican, in last year’s campaign.

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.