Getting more water for agriculture after years of drought has emerged as a key issue in the race for the Tulare County Board of Supervisor’s District 1, which includes Lindsay, Exeter, Farmersville and east Visalia.
But it’s not the only thing the candidates are talking about.
The relationship between the county and other levels of government, especially the federal government, also comes up on the campaign trail.
Seeking the nonpartisan seat are business owner Dennis Smith, 64, of Exeter, and citrus farmer and energy adviser Kuyler Crocker, 29, of Strathmore.
They were the top two finishers in the June primary.
Both received about 20 percent of the vote in the primary – Smith got the most votes, Crocker came in second – and are seeking to succeed longtime Supervisor Allen Ishida of Lindsay, who is not seeking re-election and has said he will run for governor in two years.
Smith and Crocker both say they are targeting voters who supported the other candidates in the eight-person primary. The successful candidate will be the one who gets 50 percent-plus-one on election day in November.
Crocker believes he has an edge, thanks to the endorsements of Ted Macaulay of Exeter and John Elliott of Three Rivers, who tied for fourth place in the primary.
Crocker also obtained Ishida’s endorsement.
Ishida said he is supporting Crocker because “I think it’s important to have a farmer on the board,” especially one from the eastside who knows what it’s like to lose irrigation water deliveries in the drought.
But Smith said he is expecting Macaulay voters to support him – “I know a lot of those people,” he said – and he is seeking the support of those who voted for Brian Poochigian, who came in third.
Smith is co-owner of National Builders Supply in Farmersville, which provides doors to home builders.
I think I can bring a businessman’s perspective to the Board of Supervisors.
Dennis Smith, Exeter
“I think I can bring a businessman’s perspective to the Board of Supervisors,” Smith said.
He grew up in Visalia, has an associate’s degree from College of the Sequoias and is married with three grown children and four grandchildren.
He is a member of the Tulare County Republican Central Committee and is the coordinator for the Visalia/Tulare chapter of the Central Valley Tea Party.
If elected, he said he would unite with county supervisors in the Valley to oppose the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
“Water is a private-property right,” he said. “I’m not just going to sit here and be told what to do by the state ...When the state says you can’t use 50 percent of your water, it is taking value from you. We can’t allow our property values to be reduced.”
If farms lose value because of restriction of well water output, county government will collect much less in property tax revenues, he said.
Meanwhile, farmers need help in getting irrigation water, he said.
“The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are trying to take control of all surface water,” he said. “I want to prevent the federal government from controlling surface water in Tulare County. We need to come together at the county Board of Supervisors and take this head on.”
In another federal issue, the national forests have too many trees per acre due to poor management and a load of dead and drying trees that pose a fire hazard, he said.
The county should “assume its rightful authority in the national forest” and approve logging of dead and dying trees before they lose their economic value, he said.
In rural areas, bad roads are hurting economic growth, Smith said. He would propose increased funding for road repair.
Crocker, a Republican, grew up in a farming family near Strathmore, got his bachelor’s degree in public administration from Fresno State, and is employed by PG&E as an energy adviser.
I have a broad range of support from people who know and understand the issues.
Kuyler Crocker, Strathmore
Besides the endorsements from Macaulay, Elliott and Ishida, the Tulare County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Tulare County Firefighters Association have endorsed him, he said.
“I have a broad range of support from people who know and understand the issues,” he said.
Understanding the role of the county is a key part of the job, he said.
“The counties are an arm of the state,” he said. “We are administering funds.”
Crocker said his campaign will do direct mailings, precinct walking and broadcast radio ads to get out his message of “water, public safety and jobs.”
“Each of these are large issues that require coordination and collaboration with our partners in Tulare County and with other counties,” he said. “We have to be creative. We need some fresh ideas to make sure we tackle those three issues.”
For two years, eastside farms received no water from the federal Central Valley Project, but farmers normally get half their irrigation from the Friant-Kern Canal, he said.
“We need additional surface water,” he said. “We’ve got to have surface water, there’s no doubt about it. We need thriving communities on the eastside.”
The presence of sheriff’s deputies in small towns reduces gang influence.
“We need to make sure they have the resources to do the job,” he said. “The purpose of government is to protect its people.”
The heart of the citrus belt is in the District 1, he said.
Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing, the tree disease that devastated orange groves in Florida, are a risk to the citrus industry in a county where annual citrus production exceeds $1 billion, he said.
“It’s bigger than a county issue,” he said. “Everyone has to be focused on it. We need to take precautions and abide by the quarantine.”
Dead trees in the national forests are putting the county at risk of a major forest fire, he said.
“We’ve got make sure the feds are managing the forests,” he said. “My blood really boils. We’ve got a huge fire hazard. Do we need another Rough fire?”
Road maintenance is also a major issue, he said.
Candidates at a glance
Occupation: Co-owner of National Builders Supply in Farmersville
Occupation: Farmer, energy adviser