Visalia voters returned three incumbent City Council members to office Tuesday in an off-year election that lacked defining issues.
Council candidates in Visalia run citywide and the top three-vote getters win, and incumbents Greg Collins, Steve Nelsen and Warren Gubler were in the lead in a field of five candidates.
Incumbency also appeared to be a factor in a Visalia Unified School District Board of Trustees election.
Area 1 -- west central Visalia -- incumbent Charles Ulmschneider won re-election to a second term, holding on to his seat despite news reports that he missed four school board meetings this year and has not returned calls from reporters seeking comment.
He defeated Elda Balderas, an optician.
Although Tulare County election officials counted all precincts and mail-in ballots up to Election Day, some ballots need to be counted and it will be at least several days before results are made official.
In Area 4, northwest Visalia and Goshen, John L. Crabtree, a retired grocery wholesaler, was leading with 52% of the vote over David Alviso, a computer teacher at a state prison in Corcoran, who had 47%.
In Area 3, southwest Visalia, long-time board member Jim Qualls ran unopposed, and in Area 2, northeast Visalia and Ivanhoe, former board member Juan Guerrero ran unopposed, filling the seat held by incumbent Rodney Elder, who did not seek re-election.
In the council election, incumbents said no issue dominated.
"My strategy was 'rope a dope,' " Gubler said. "I kept waiting on the rope for the blows, but they never happened."
Gubler said it appears that voters did not want to make a change: "There weren't big issues, and when that's the case, it favors the incumbents."
Gubler and Nelsen were on their way to re-election to a second term, while Collins has served several terms. He lost election four years ago only to come back two years ago to fill a vacancy that expires this year.
The economy has improved, which helped the incumbents, he said.
"We didn't have a tax increase and the employees got a pay raise," he said. "I think the public was comfortable with the direction of the city."
Nelsen said he wouldn't claim victory until all votes were counted, but agreed that the trend was in his favor.
"There's not a lot of controversy," he said. "The city is moving in the right direction.
Challenger Vincent Salinas, a business consultant and member of the Visalia Planning Commission, was trailing in fourth place.
"I did everything you can possibly do," Salinas said.
He said he announced his candidacy early, put together a team of advisers and supporters, sent out direct mail and placed ads in the newspaper, walked precincts and compiled a long list of well-known local supporters.
"I called folks all the time, every day except Sunday," he said. "We had the same amount of signage" as the other candidates.
Michael Brown, a lawyer and energy consultant who moved to Visalia last year, was in last place.
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