Bill Clinton was in the White House the last time there was a competitive race for the District 4 seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
It was 1998 when nurse Judy Case (now Supervisor Judy Case McNairy) upset incumbent Tom Perch, almost winning outright in the three-candidate primary and then easily beating him in the general election. She won easily in primary elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
But she is retiring and the district, which stretches more than 100 miles from Coalinga to Orange Cove, has changed significantly. Its population is now 72.7% Hispanic and slightly more than 20% white. In the 1990 census, which established the district boundaries when Case was elected, the district was almost 26% white and about 54% Hispanic.
It means voters could elect a much different candidate than the fiscally conservative Case McNairy.
Although it's a nonpartisan seat, only one candidate is a registered Republican, Ernest "Buddy" Mendes of Riverdale.
Three candidates vying for the District 4 seat are Democrats: Magdalena Gomez of Parlier, Daniel Parra of Fowler and Steve Rapada of Reedley. Candidate Amandip Singh Gill of Selma declares no party affiliation.
Case McNairy has not endorsed a candidate, but also said she will not rule it out.
Ernest "Buddy" Mendes
Mendes has significantly outraised his opponents by more than 5-to-1 and has more than $117,000 for the stretch run, according to his March 17 financial statements.
Mendes, 58, is a longtime farmer and rancher from Riverdale. His family farms 1,800 acres that include Pima and Acala cotton, wheat, alfalfa and some pistachios.
He was raised in the San Jose area but spent summers working on the family's ranch in Riverdale.
Mendes has vast backing from members of the local agricultural community, with 16 donations from farming interests that each exceeded $5,000, according to campaign statements.
He said the county needs jobs and employment depends on the agriculture industry.
"There is an economic pyramid and water and agriculture are what the economic pyramid stands on," he said.
Mendes is a board member on the Riverdale Joint Unified School District, Riverdale Public Utilities District and Southwest Transportation Agency.
He points to his background as a main reason why people should vote for him.
"I am the only person in the race with extensive business experience and multi-government experience," he said.
Officials have to work more intelligently to improve water supplies and roads in Fresno County.
"We have to maintain the major secondary roads," he said, pointing to Mount Whitney and Manning avenues in his area, and improve Manning Avenue near Reedley to allow better access west of the city.
Rapada emphasizes that he is an "independent thinker" who will not just follow the lead of other members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
"I want people up there who are independent thinkers and look at every situation case by case," he said.
Rapada, 54, is the contracts procurement and operations officer for First 5 Fresno County. He is overseeing construction of the downtown Fresno office for the agency, which was opposed by some Fresno County supervisors. He previously worked for San Joaquin Valley College. Rapada, the son of a farmworker, worked farms as a child and teen.
He was elected twice to the Reedley City Council, but he said he had to resign after a residency issue was raised by some city union employees who were upset because he was leading an analysis that could cut some of their salaries or benefits.
He had moved to a new home in Reedley — outside his district — and said he was previously told by the city attorney he could remain in office through the end of his term one year later.
Rapada continues to serve on the Fresno County Airport Land Use Commission and Fresno County Measure B Citizens Advisory Committee.
He has been a football coach for 35 years and serves as the seventh and eighth grade football coordinator. He also coaches youth baseball. He said 46 of his players now coach children in the youth football program.
"I want to help kids find a better way," he said.
Rapada is a registered Democrat but votes for candidates in both parties — he voted Republican in the last four presidential elections.
He said raises for management employees adopted by supervisors earlier this year was the wrong approach to take because rank and file workers are still suffering from 9% pay cuts made more than two years ago.
Rapada, who is supported by Fresno City Council Member Sal Quintero and the union representing Fresno County's public defenders, has about $20,000 in his campaign bank account, according to campaign statements.
Parra, a Fowler City Council member for six years, works as a computer systems analyst for military contractor Northrop Grumman at Lemoore Naval Air Station. Before being elected to the City Council, he was on the city's planning commission.
The supervisorial district, he said, is filled with small cities, some with crime and gang problems and little for children to do.
Parra, 48, spoke in support of additional library hours at a Board of Supervisors meeting in January.
Fowler's council was more effective than many in managing its funds, he said. During the worst parts of the recession, the City Council didn't have to lay off any city employees while maintaining the city's balanced budget.
A major emphasis during his time on the City Council has been to bring jobs through an incentive program that lends employers money to hire. When the recession got worse, Parra said, the city's low-interest loan program rate dropped to 0% to encourage business owners to create jobs.
The city also made downtown upgrades, such as a facade improvement program to revitalize downtown Fowler with a cohesive theme.
While meeting people around the district, he said, water issues have been important, but crime is a bigger problem for communities such as Huron.
Parra cites 31 endorsements from City Council members from around Fresno County. He also is supported by Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea. He has significant funding from local unions and state Assembly Member Henry T. Perea. His late donations and ending campaign balance from March amount to about $14,200.
Gomez, 38, the only woman in the District 4 race, said she will bring a "fresh voice" to the Board of Supervisors. Raised in Selma, she grew up in an influential union family.
She graduated from Selma High School and then Carleton College in Minnesota. She worked 10 years with Smith Barney in the Bay Area before returning to the Valley and working with the Laborers International Union of North America.
Even though her father and godfather were union leaders, Gomez said she is not going to be a supervisor for the unions.
"To be called a union candidate isn't who I am," she said. "The unions know it; they know I worked for a Wall Street firm, too."
Gomez, who lives in Parlier, said there "is a lot of poverty in our community and the needs have not been addressed."
People need services, she said. Parlier needs to improve its fire service, Lanare and Del Rey need infrastructure upgrades, Coalinga and Caruthers residents tell her they need better transportation options to link them to Fresno.
Gomez also has worked for a number of nonprofit groups, including the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, and most recently with Tenants Together, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of tenants against a large Fresno property owner with hundreds of code violations.
In her job with Tenants Together, which is funded by a state settlement with major banks, Gomez gives financial advice to people facing foreclosures.
In large part, Gomez's donations come from unions. With her ending balance in March, plus recent donations, her campaign has about $8,400 available.
Amandip Singh Gill
Gill, a Selma raisin farmer and contractor, has lived about eight years in Parlier and near Selma, where he farms 20 acres of raisin grapes and runs a construction remodeling and repair service.
A native of England, Gill came to the U.S. when his family moved to Texas and farmed rice and soybeans before moving to California. The family settled in Delano and Bakersfield. Gill is a 2000 graduate of Delano High School. He attended nursing school when his father became ill.
"I wanted to care for him," Gill said. His father died in 2007.
Gill, 32, said supervisors are not reaching out to small business people and small farmers.
It's disappointing, he said, for rural residents to pay $150 per month for Internet services, more than double what city residents pay.
"When you look at the rural areas, there is a lack of Internet connections and it's holding back a whole generation," he said.
He said there are grant opportunities available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish rural Internet services.
Gill also said the elderly in small communities need more activities and mental health services need improvement.
"We should provide services in the community," he said. "I will work with both sides (Republicans and Democrats) because it will mean a better future. I just see both parties always fighting with each other."
In addition to his work, Gill volunteers with elderly and youth groups through his temple. He has raised no money for the District 4 race.
DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES
AMANDIP SINGH GILL
Occupation: Farmer and construction contractor
Education: Licensed vocational nurse certification from Career Academy, Palmdale; Delano High School.
Family: Married, three children.
Occupation: Regional financial and legal outreach coordinator with Tenants Together for Merced, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.
Education: Bachelor's degree in American Studies from Carleton College, Minnesota; Selma High School.
ERNEST "BUDDY" MENDES
Education: Mission San Jose High School, Fremont; attended junior college for one year.
Family: Married, three children
Occupation: Computer systems analyst, Northrop Grumman at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration from National University; master's degree in public administration from National University; completed an executive program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Business.
Family: Married, two children.
Occupation: Contracts and procurement officer, First 5 Fresno County.
Education: Attended Reedley College and Fresno City College
Family: Married, one child.
MORE ONLINE: Stay on top of issues affecting the Valley this election year at www.fresnobee.com/elections
KEY ELECTION DATES
May 5: First day to vote by mail (also the day most sample ballots are mailed)
May 19: Last day to register to vote
May 27: Last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot by mail
June 3: Primary Election Day
Nov. 4: General Election Day
Fresno County: 2221 Kern St., Fresno; details: fblinks.com/fcvote or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)
Tulare County: 5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia; details: fblinks.com/tcvote or (559) 624-7300
Kings County: 1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford; details: fblinks.com/kcvote or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401
Madera County: 200 W. Fourth St., Madera; details: fblinks.com/madvote or (559) 675-7720
Merced County: 2222 M St., Merced; details: fblinks.com/mervote or (209) 385-7541
Mariposa County: 4982 10th St., Mariposa; details: fblinks.com/marvote or (209) 966-2007
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, email@example.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.