Fresno Unified School District board member Luis Chavez said Wednesday that he plans to run for the state Senate seat now occupied by Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
Flanked by supporters who included Fresno City Council members Blong Xiong, Sal Quintero and Oliver Baines, Chavez, a Democrat, said he wants to take an education mindset to Sacramento and bring attention to the needs of the San Joaquin Valley.
Chavez, who is Quintero's chief of staff, has two daughters in Fresno Unified schools. He was first elected to the Fresno Unified board in 2012 representing southeast Fresno.
He said he will resign from his school board seat if he wins next November.
He views his candidacy not as a speedy political climb but as an opportunity to represent more constituents like those in his school board district.
"I see it as public service," said Chavez. "I don't feel like I'm leaving my constituents behind because I will be representing them and additional constituents, and I think that will be very helpful."
Chavez grew up in the 14th District and graduated from Roosevelt High School. His mother was a farmworker and his father a mechanic. He became the first in his family to go to college and has a master's degree in public administration from Fresno State.
He previously worked for former Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson and was a program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters and Central Valley Health Network. Both jobs covered large swaths of the San Joaquin Valley. He said those jobs helped him become more familiar with educational, health and poverty issues throughout the 14th District, which covers much of the same area.
"I know the district, I know what the needs are and the challenges," he said.
Vidak now holds the 16th District seat that will become the 14th district next year. The districts are substantially the same in party affiliation -- Democrats have a 14-point advantage over Republicans -- and ethnic background -- 71% of registered voters are Hispanic.
Earlier this year, Vidak defeated Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez in a special election to fill the remaining term of Michael Rubio, who had resigned to take a job with Chevron.
Perez, rumored to be a candidate for Vidak's seat, had no comment Wednesday on Chavez's candidacy.
Opening a state Senate campaign after serving only one year on the school board is an aggressive time frame, said Fresno State political science department chairman David Schecter.
He called Chavez an "ambitious, smart guy," but said he will have a difficult time running against an incumbent and should work on school board policies that he can point to as longer term successes.
"Incumbents get institutional and structural support that challengers cannot get, and the incumbents often get underestimated regardless of the demographics of the district or the demographics of the candidate," Schecter said.
The election result, he said, also will rely on independents who make up about 20% of voters.
"It's an uphill battle to convince voters, but also the insiders, the PACs (political action committees) and people who control the checkbooks," Schecter said.
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