June 4, 2014

South Valley Republicans to face off in Assembly election in November

Two Republican candidates -- Woodlake Mayor Rudy Mendoza against Devon Mathis, a military veteran from Visalia -- will battle for the 26th Assembly District seat in November's election.

The wide-ranging district includes most of Tulare County, all of Inyo and part of Kern counties.

In the primary election Tuesday, they won the most votes in a field of seven candidates seeking to succeed Assembly Member Connie Conway, R-Tulare, who termed out but is likely to run for state Senate in four years.

The 26th Assembly District is one of several Assembly and Senate districts pitting a Republican against a Republican or a Democrat against a Democrat under the new "top two" system, said Allen Hoffenblum, a Republican analyst, but no count was immediately available.

Mendoza, 39, district director for U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, said his campaign will emphasize his 16-plus years of business experience -- just as if he were facing a Democrat.

"We're going to do fine in November," he said. "It's like applying for a job. We're going to show the people of the 26th District that I'm the most qualified."

Mathis, 31, a veteran's advocate, said he would campaign as someone who regular people can trust.

"There's a lot of people out there who want someone to go to Sacramento and work for them," he said.

By coming in second in the primary against a candidate who wrapped up a lot of early endorsements, Mathis said, "I'm kind of going against the establishment guy, but I've got no interest in being anti-establishment."

He said he will emphasize his "conservative values" and his 12 years in the California National Guard, including two deployments in Iraq.

Hoffenblum, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book on state political districts, said Mendoza is the clear favorite.

"The establishment will be behind Mendoza," he said.

Because he's a Latino running in a district that has heavy Latino population, it's almost guaranteed that Latino independent voters and Latino Democrats will vote for Mendoza in the general election, Hoffenblum said.

For Mathis to mount a credible challenge, he'd have to raise a lot of money and hire a political consultant, he said.

The South Valley's other Assembly race is District 32, which takes in Kings and part of Kern counties. Incumbent Democrat Rudy Salas is headed to a November runoff against the Republican he beat two years ago, Pedro Rios.

Senate race

In the 14th Senate District, incumbent Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, faced only one opponent in the primary, Democrat Luis Chavez of Fresno, a Fresno Unified School District trustee. They will face off again in November.

The district includes all of Kings County and stretches into Fresno and Kern counties.

Chavez raised almost $380,000, yet received less than 38% of the vote.

The seat has traditionally been held by a Democrat and party registration favors Democrats, but last year Vidak won the seat in a special election and is trying to hang on.

Lisa Gasperoni, political director for Senate Democrats, issued a statement Wednesday that Democrats still expect to win back the seat in November.

"Primary election results are not a good predictor of final outcome in California's competitive state Senate races," her statement said. "This is because Democratic turnout in primary elections is always low compared to Republican turnout in primary elections."

Tulare, Kings boards of supervisors

In the race for Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 5 in southeast Tulare County including Porterville, incumbent Mike Ennis declared victory after receiving more than half the vote.

If the 50%-plus lead holds after remaining absentee and provisional ballots are counted, Ennis can claim the seat outright and not face a run-off election in November.

He said he has 26 more votes than needed to avoid the runoff, and credited strong support in rural and mountain precincts for putting him over.

Porterville Council Member Virginia Gurrola came in second.

Low voter turnout worked against her, she said. Gurrola said she would not concede and was waiting for the final votes to be counted, despite the odds.

"It is what it is," she said. "I'm satisfied with what we did."

Countywide, about 11,300 ballots still need processing.

In the Kings County race for Board of Supervisors District 4, farmer Craig Pedersen and military veteran Justin Bond will face off in November after emerging as the top two in a field of five.

"I know the voters want change," Bond said. "People are calling me left and right" to offer support.

Incumbent Tony Barba did not seek re-election and is supporting Pedersen.

Bond, who lost a leg in the Iraq War, said he spent only $2,500. He said he and supporters mainly walked precincts and left flyers.

He said he will raise money to compete in the race.

Pedersen said he was happy with his showing.

"We had a solid message" emphasizing his farming and business experience, and support for water for Kings County farmers, he said.

The field had some qualified candidates who siphoned away votes, and he said he will seek those in November.

Pedersen spent about $25,000 in the primary.

Kings Co. DA, assessor

Keith Fagundes, a former Kings County prosecutor, soundly defeated his old boss District Attorney Greg Strickland, getting about 68% to 31% for Strickland.

Strickland will remain as district attorney until the office changes hands in January, but Fagundes said he hopes a transition team can be established to make the change smoother.

Tulare Co. sheriff, DA

In Tulare County, Acting Sheriff Mike Boudreaux maintained an insurmountable lead against former undersheriff Dave Whaley to win the election.

And District Attorney Tim Ward defeated Ralph Kaelble, a former supervising district attorney in the same office.

Kaelble issued a statement thanking "everyone who helped me with this campaign day in and day out ... I will be forever grateful."

Other races

In the Kings County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters race, Kristine Lee, chief auditor-appraiser in the Tulare County Assessor's Office, and A. Renee Faber, an appraiser in the Kings County Assessor's Office, will face off in November.

Former Hanford Mayor Dan Chin and Ed Lopez, a property appraiser, came in third and fourth.

In the race for Porterville City Council, Milt Stowe, a former city official, was elected to the the council, and incumbent Pete McCracken was re-elected. A vacancy was created when Council Member Greg Shelton did not seek re-election.

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