2 Republicans challenge Democrat Rudy Salas for 32nd Assembly seat

The Bakersfield CalifornianMay 19, 2014 

At a forum sponsored by the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, incumbent Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, answers a question while GOP candidates Romeo Agbalog, center, and Pedro Rios, left, wait their turn.

SPECIAL TO THE BAKESFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The biggest question in the 32nd Assembly District race isn't who will triumph in the primary -- it's who will run second.

The district includes all of Kings County and more than a third of southwestern Kern County. It's heavily Latino and nearly one in two registered voters is a Democrat.

In other words, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield -- the city's first Latino councilman until he went to Sacramento -- should finish in the top two on June 3.

The same can't be said for his two Republican opponents.

Pedro Rios is a farmer and teacher who took a hard fall to Salas in a nasty 2012 race. Romeo Agbalog, who works for state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, is a Delano Union School District trustee with growing political connections.

New state primary rules send only the top two vote-getters -- regardless of party -- to the general election, so one of these men will have to finish third.

Race for contributions

General campaign finance reports released in March revealed a serious imbalance in the race, with Agbalog reporting $4,000 in contributions, Rios receiving $4,100 from Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield -- and Salas sitting on a war chest of $442,857.

He continues to far outpace his competition. Since March 27, the last reporting deadline, Salas has received $98,900 in contributions.

Donors include fellow legislators, labor unions, American Indian tribes, the giant beer maker Anheuser-Busch, utilities holding company Sempra Energy, Tejon Ranch, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and his ambulance company, and Tesoro Companies, an oil refinery.

Agbalog -- whose boss co-hosted a fundraiser for him March 9 with former Republican congressman Bill Thomas of Bakersfield as keynote speaker -- is in second place.

He has raised $49,000 since March 27, from donors including the Kern County Prosecutors Association's political action committee, Grimmway Farms owner Barbara Grimm Marshall, and Connie Conway for Senate 2018.

Conway is the Assembly Republican leader from Tulare.

In third place is Rios, whose March 13 fundraiser featured presidential scion Michael Reagan.

Rios has raised $32,300 since March 27, from donors including Matt Pandol, manager of Pandol Farms in Delano, Sal and Cynthia Giumarra, partners in Giumarra Vineyards of Bakersfield, and W. Reyneveld Construction in Bakersfield.

District issues

Oil and agriculture are key industries in Kern and Kings counties, so it's not surprising the state's drought emergency, the ongoing debate over hydraulic fracturing, and its high-speed rail project are top issues.

Salas is a joint author of Assembly Bill 2686, a $9.25 billion proposal including $3 billion for water storage and $1 billion for safe drinking water. His bill emphasizes water storage, which Agbalog and Rios also said is a crucial component.

"The issue is not clean water. The issue is do we have the water, and right now we don't," Rios said, voicing a common theme among candidates -- that the state would by definition have more water to use if it could increase storage capacity.

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Agbalog came out against a San Joaquin River Delta restoration that would help salmon -- but Salas pointed out that any bond the Legislature approves will have compromises like salmon restoration.

"We have to get this passed for voters throughout the entire state. This has been a very delicate kind of balance and dance between the needs for the entire state," Salas said. "There's some parts of the bond that other parts of the state don't like, like storage. But guess what, this bond has storage in it and they're willing to come and support it."

The high-speed rail project has much for candidates to dislike.

Agbalog and Rios have said flatly they oppose it -- with Agbalog saying voters "were sold a bad bill of goods."

"I think the state needs to reprioritize here," Agbalog told about 50 people at a recent candidates forum in Bakersfield. "I think for a fraction of the cost of the high-speed rail, we can reinvest in water infrastructure, schools and roads."

Salas, by contrast, has said little about his position on high-speed rail. At the forum, he said, "I always tell people I have a voting record on it," pointing out he voted against bringing the bullet train into downtown Bakersfield while on the City Council.

In an interview he said he hasn't seen anything that would change his mind.

"I know there's a currently pending lawsuit, so we need to see what happens with the lawsuit and go from there," Salas said. "I'm just trying to see what the courts are going to say."

The Kings County Board of Supervisors and two Kings County residents are suing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, arguing its plan does not match promises made to voters when they approved the sale of $10 billion in bonds for the train in 2008.

On fracking, a controversial oil-field technique, the candidates also largely agree.

If they'd been in office, Rios and Agbalog have said, they would have voted against Senate Bill 4, the first-ever state fracking regulation bill approved last year.

Salas said he abstained from voting on SB 4 because he didn't think the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources had time to complete its work on the issue.

The candidates for 32nd Assembly

Romeo Agbalog

Age: 34

Hometown: Delano

Occupation: Senior field representative for state Sen. Jean Fuller; Delano Union School District trustee.

Education: Attended Bakersfield College; studied business and public administration at the University of Phoenix

Family: Married with five children.

Party preference: Republican

Endorsements: State Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield; Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford; retired Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield

Website: romeoforassembly.com

Rudy Salas

Age: 36

Hometown: Bakersfield

Occupation: Incumbent

Education: Bachelor's degrees in political science and history, both from UCLA

Family: Single

Party preference: Democrat

Endorsements: Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall; California Teachers Association; Delano Joint Union High School District board President Lionel Reyna

Web: rudysalas.com

Facebook: rudysalas

Twitter: @rudysalasjr

Pedro Rios

Age: 41

Hometown: Delano

Occupation: Teacher at Tactical Character Academy in Ceres; farmer

Education: Bachelor's degree in history from Cal State Bakersfield

Family: Married.

Party preference: Republican

Web: pedrorios.com/

Facebook: RiosforAssembly

Twitter: @pedroriosforstateassembly

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