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.

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.

Senate leader Steinberg confronts Vidak forces in 16th District race

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.

 

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.”

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.