Clovis has not sent voters to the polls for a contested City Council election since 2009 — but the time is near. Five Clovis residents are running for the council, with the election set for March 7.
The four-year seats of former mayor Nathan Magsig, now a Fresno County Supervisor, and Clovis City Council Member Lynne Ashbeck are expiring. A two-year seat is also empty after longtime council member Harry Armstrong resigned in October.
The only incumbent for a four-year seat is Ashbeck; the other four-year seat candidate is Vong Mouanoutoua, a Fresno State faculty member who served as Clovis Planning Commission chairman.
Although only two candidates are running for the two four-year seats, an election will still be held to allow the opportunity for a write-in campaign, officials said.
Three candidates are vying for the two-year seat to replace Armstrong. They are retired Clovis police Capt. Drew Bessinger, health care executive Paul Soares and Aaronjack Perry, president of a nonprofit food distribution organization.
Jose Flores and Bob Whalen hold the other two seats on the City Council.
A Candidates Forum was held Feb. 6 in the Clovis Senior Activity Center. The question-and-answer format was moderated by Clovis Veterans Memorial District Director Lorenzo Rios.
Mounoutoua, Ashbeck, Soares and Bessinger participated in the forum; Perry was not in attendance.
Rios’ first question to the candidates was: Tell us about yourself. Why should we vote for your for city council. What useful perspective, knowledge and experience do you bring?
Here are their responses:
Mounoutoua: I came to America in 1976, 5 years old from Laos. We escaped communism because my parents value freedom. When I came to America, everything you see that I am today is living proof that America is still alive. 10 children, all college graduates, all productive citizens. I served on the planning commission for over 10 years and in that time I’ve learned to listen to people, I’ve learned to appreciate the American process, to allow the process to help us make decisions. I think growing up poor also gives me a perspective to appreciate. To appreciate freedom, to appreciate freedom, to appreciate the diversities that are here in Clovis. I work in nonprofits and I oversee a budget of 10 and a half million dollars. When you work in a nonprofit you look at detail to ensure that every dollar is spent well and spent for the people that it’s meant to be spent for. And that will prepare me to now look over a budget of more than $250 million.
Ashbeck: I was born to a Navy officer in Bethesda Naval Hospital and I guess I grew up in a family where service was just part of what my dad did everyday for a living. I moved every two years as a kid … I told my parents I would come to Fresno State for two years, I would never stay than four … and at last calculation that was about 45 years ago. That two year prediction didn’t exactly work out, but it worked out great for me. The Valley has been good for me, the Fresno-Clovis area has been great for me and mostly Clovis has been an awesome place to live.
I have been a Clovis City Council Member since 2001. I was first elected in that election where we also had two open seats. That tells you how infrequently we have a chance to shape the kind of community we want to have going forward, so this is a really important election for our city.
Prior to my election I was a planning commissioner for 11 years and a personnel commissioner for two years, so my volunteer service to the city, if you will, has gone back 30 years, starting in 1987.
Clovis, as you know, does not have full-time elected officials by design. I think Thomas Jefferson had it right: we have citizen legislators, so by day I’m the vice president of population health at Community Medical Centers. I also teach part-time at Fresno Pacific.
So what I bring to this race is an excellent track record of service to the city. My interests are Clovis’s — they are not my own self-interest. I think when we elect folks who operate in the interest of our community first, we end up with the best place to live in the Valley, which is the city of Clovis. It has been my privilege and joy to serve for the last 15 years and I look forward to future terms going forward.
Soares: My background is I moved here to the area when I was 17 years old to attend Fresno State. I’m a Valley native, born to two wonderful Portuguese immigrant parents. They gave me the opportunity to do what I do today. I graduated Fresno State with a degree in health care administration. That’s what I do today; I’m the CEO for a nonprofit community health center, Camarena Health.
In those responsibilities I’ve had the opportunity of growing that nonprofit from a smaller $10 million company to over $30 million, adding nearly 150 jobs to that community, collaborating closely with school districts, the city, elected officials. I bring the experience of responsible fiscal management, job growth, collaborating with community leaders and community based organizations, that I think would all be valuable assets to someone serving on the city council.
I’ve been married 14 years to my beautiful wife right here, supporting me. We have two young children, third and sixth graders here in Clovis; they’re students at Dry Creek Elementary. So I have a personal vested interest in the future of our community and being able to maintain the core values of Clovis, such a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to raise a family. They are the most motivating driving factors to do what I’m doing today.
Bessinger: When I moved here as a single dad in 1984 I was looking for a town that was safe, at town that was clean, and a town that had great schools where I could raise my young sons. I found that here in Clovis. Thirty-two years later, I have a granddaughter and I want her to have the same opportunity that my sons did.
My journey in public service started in 1975 when I joined the United States Army. I served my country for 4 years. In 1979 I began a career that spanned five decades in public service, from the ranks of police officer to police chief of federal, state and local police agencies. In 1987 I became a Clovis police officer and rose to the rank of captain. I was entrusted to deal with serious problems in our community.
I retired in 2009 and became a commissioner on the personnel commission where I served until 2016. I served the citizens of Clovis for over 27 years. I also served as a police chief for the cities of Parlier and Kingsburg and worked directly with city management, city council and the school districts to help with truancy and other problems which plagued the community.
▪ A full video of the hour-long forum can be viewed here.
Responsible Citizens Candidates Forum
When: 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23
Where: Clovis Veterans Memorial District auditorium, 808 4th St.
The five Clovis City Council candidates are invited to this public forum, where Clovis Unified students will be asking the questions. The public is invited to submit any questions beforehand.