It’s a sure bet that termed-out Republican Assembly leader Connie Conway of Tulare will be replaced by another Republican in the November election for 26th Assembly District.
The choice is between Rudy Mendoza, a Woodlake council member and mayor who is backed by the Republican establishment, and Devon Mathis, a military veteran and veterans advocate from Visalia who has vowed to fight politics as usual.
They are seeking to represent a geographically large district that includes much of Tulare County, a chunk of northern Kern County and all of Inyo County.
The Republican-dominated district — 43.7% Republican to 33.5% Democratic — helps explain why two Republicans are facing each other in the general election. Under the state’s “top two” primary system, the candidates who finish first and second in the primary do battle in the general election, regardless of political party.
In June, Mendoza got 40.3% of the vote, and Mathis got 20.5%.
Mendoza, 39, a former Democrat, said he grew up picking oranges and driving a tractor for wages, and worked his way up to “running a multimillion-dollar corporation.”
He said he owned a business that helped other businesses with regulatory issues and writing policies and procedures, and later served as district director for U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare.
During Mendoza’s time on the Woodlake City Council, the city hired a city administrator and turned a budget deficit into a budget surplus.
“We did it without raising taxes,” he said.
Mathis, 32, who grew up in Porterville and Reedley, joined the National Guard while still in high school, served two tours in Iraq and was injured by a roadside bomb.
He earned a degree in public administration from Fresno State.
He said he would bring to Sacramento the values he learned as a sergeant, such as getting the job done and being held accountable, which he said “are lost on our career politicians.”
“I’m the guy with ‘people over politics’ on my sign,” he said.
Both candidates say water for farming is a major issue in the district, especially in the drought.
“We are pulling out more water than we are putting in,” Mathis said. “We need to look for real solutions for this. It’s time that we step away from partisan politics and find a lasting solution to California’s drought crisis.”
Mendoza said he favors more water storage in California.
“The long-term solution is the federal fix,” such as repealing the San Joaquin River settlement, which is causing “billions of gallons to go into the Pacific Ocean,” he said.
Both candidates oppose the state’s high-speed rail project.
“Our roads are messed up, we’re in a water crisis,” Mathis said, yet the rail project is siphoning away money.
“All we need to do is redirect funds,” he said. “That can be done. It’s not rocket science.”
Mendoza blasted the state’s high-speed rail project, saying “it’s being shoved down our throats.”
He said he’s not worried about being in the minority party if elected.
“Being outnumbered is something I’m used to,” he said. “My political mantra is ‘getting the job done.’ ”
Mathis said his work as a veterans advocate taught him that people can unite around a cause.
“You can come up with real solutions,” he said. “What we need to do is work together to do what’s important.”
The Mendoza campaign is receiving contributions from political action committees.
In July, August and September, the campaign received $87,763 in contributions, including $4,100 from the California Medical Association Political Action Committee, $8,200 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee SSC and $1,000 from the California Retailers Association Good Government Council.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, Mendoza received a total of $236,300 in contributions.
Expenditures have been for radio ads and mailers.
Mendoza has also racked endorsements from elected officials, including Nunes and Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and David Valadao, R-Hanford, and state Sens. Jean Fuller and Andy Vidak.
But the Latino Political Action Committee of Tulare County said Mendoza “does not represent Latinos” and said he received a “solid ‘no’ recommendation” from the group.
From Jan. 1. through Oct. 17, the Mathis campaign received $22,630 in contributions. In the third quarter, it took in $11,871 and received $5,000 from Oct. 1 through 17.
Since July 1, major contributors include $4,100 each from Visalia residents James Meek, Rosanne Meek and Ruth Seeser.
Campaign expenditures have been on yard signs, radio advertising and mailers.
The Mathis campaign said it received the endorsement of The Reagan League, which bills itself as being for “conservatives that are fed up with the Republican Party.”