It’s been a while since the Clovis City Council has had an election.
The last time was 2009. Arnold Schwarzenegger was California’s governor, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, and the San Francisco Giants hadn’t won their first World Series since moving west.
Now Clovis voters go to the polls March 7 to consider two unopposed candidates and choosing between two candidates for a third seat.
Incumbent Lynne Ashbeck should earn her fifth four-year term on the City Council since she is running unopposed. Also unopposed is Vong Mouanoutoua, 46, a former Clovis Planning Commission chairman. He is running for a four-year seat vacated by Nathan Magsig, who was elected as a Fresno County supervisor last year.
Mouanoutoua came to the United States in 1976 from Laos. If elected, he would become the first Hmong council member in Clovis.
Ashbeck, 62, leads in fundraising with $83,569 through the financial disclosure period ending Jan. 21. Mouanoutoua had about $6,625.
The third open seat is for the remaining two years of Harry Armstrong’s term. He retired in October because of health issues. Armstrong had served on the council since 1970.
The number of years since Clovis City Council has had an election
Three men are vying for Armstrong’s seat, although one, Aaronjack Perry, is not actively campaigning.
The other candidates are Drew Bessinger, a retired Clovis Police Department captain, and Paul Soares, a health care agency executive. Both have been fundraising and each had spent slightly more than $5,000 through the financial disclosure period ending Jan. 21.
Soares had an ending cash balance of $7,912, but gained a decisive edge last week by adding $30,000. Bessinger’s balance was $4,764, according to disclosure forms. He added another $4,000 in the past week.
The winner must run for City Council again in 2019, when the seats of current council members Bob Whalen and Jose Flores expire.
Clovis City Council members make about $15,468 per year. They will get a raise in March to $16,404 per year.
Why so few?
Even with a competitive race, there aren’t many candidates this year, which could stem from a number of forces. For one, incumbents, like Ashbeck, are always well-financed and even the most savvy potential candidate is unlikely to run.
Paul Hinkle, a planning commissioner for five years, said he was initially interested in a council seat, but decided he didn’t have enough time to commit to it and knew it could be difficult to raise the money needed for a strong showing. He also supports Mouanoutoua, whom he served alongside on the planning commission.
Overall, Hinkle said, the council has done a good job and he doesn’t discount a future council run, but “in general, people are happy with what’s going on in Clovis.”
Running for office tends to turn off potential candidates in an era of “hyperpartisan” politics, said Clovis resident Mark Keppler, executive director of the Maddy Institute for Public Affairs.
“People can spend an entire lifetime building a positive reputation that can be destroyed during an election,” he said. “There could be a high personal cost.”
Apathy could be part of the problem, too, but Clovis never lacks for volunteers in local projects when the call goes out, he said.
There isn’t an issue that’s creating an uproar for people to want to change the status quo.
Mark Keppler, executive director of the Maddy Institute for Public Affairs
“I think you run for office because you want to make the community a better place, but some people think they don’t have to be elected to do that,” he said. “Clovis has done a pretty good job of outreach to citizens and they feel engaged that way.”
In 2003, the council had an election with eight candidates during deliberations on a controversial sewage treatment plant. Two incumbents won, and a third member, Patricia Wynne, who retired, was replaced by Bob Whalen, who is the council’s junior member.
Since then, serious issues to fuel the ire of residents have not arisen, Keppler said.
Bessinger was a Clovis police officer for 22 years, rising through the ranks to captain before retiring in 2009. He later worked for the Fresno Yosemite International Airport police and served as interim chief in Kingsburg and Parlier until permanent replacements could be found. He also teaches at the police academy at Fresno City College.
Bessinger, 60, views Clovis as a community where new growth is fitting nicely with the older sections of town and said the candidates share similar views about growth, keeping neighborhoods safe and public safety.
He was previously a Clovis Police Officers Association president, but was not supported by the association for council. Bessinger said the association’s executive board made the decision, not rank-and-file officers, many of whom, he said, support his candidacy.
I would have loved to have had the endorsements, but if I’m elected I am going to do the work anyway.
Drew Bessinger, Clovis City Council candidate
Missing out on the Clovis police and firefighters associations endorsements will mean working harder for campaign dollars from other sources. And, he said, there will be no grudges.
“I would have loved to have had the endorsements, but if I’m elected I am going to do the work anyway,” he said. “It certainly would have made my life easier.”
Bessinger is endorsed by four retired Clovis police chiefs, Magsig and current City Councilman Flores.
He is also endorsed by Sheriff Margaret Mims, former county Supervisor Bob Waterston and Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero. He also is endorsed by seven former Clovis Police Officers Association presidents. He has the support of the Clovis Professional and Technical Employees Association (the union that represents building inspectors, engineers and planners). Bessinger has had no donation over $2,500.
He said he would like to see more revitalization efforts in southwest Clovis, an area that has long been beset with problems, such as graffiti and crime. He also wants to see upgraded code enforcement efforts and more housing for the elderly through infill projects on vacant land.
Paul Soares, 37, earned the endorsements of the Clovis Police Officers Association and Clovis Firefighters Association, which have fueled his campaign with $25,000 in the past two weeks.
Soares also received a combined $14,000 from Granville Homes, Wathen Castanos Homes and Real Estate Development Services. Other public sector union support is coming from Cal Fire Local 2881, the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association and Peace Officers Research Association of California.
Soares emphasizes his management experience. He oversees Camarena Health, a 275-employee nonprofit providing health care services at 10 facilities in Madera County. During his nine years with the company, it’s grown by 150 jobs and expanded from two facilities, he said.
The agency also has grown from a $10 million budget to $30 million.
One area for the city’s growth will be in medical services around Clovis Community Medical Center and the plans for California Health Services University in the city’s Research and Technology Park near Temperance and Highway 168.
“My background and experience could help contribute to keeping the city on track as it continues to grow,” he said.
I do have a concern that there may be a tipping point and if we’re not careful we might lose that.
Paul Soares, Clovis City Council candidate
Soares said he appreciates the opportunities Clovis offers with its schools, parks and trails and the environment it offers for young families.
“I would like to maintain the good qualities of the community we have now,” he said.
Soares is concerned that there may be a time when Clovis outgrows the small-town feel.
“It still doesn’t feel like 110,000; you can always see people you know,” he said. “I do have a concern that there may be a tipping point and if we’re not careful we might lose that.”
Clovis has earned the “Safest City in the Valley” designation because of its low crime statistics, and Soares said he wants that to remain one of the city’s most significant assets in the coming years.
“As the community grows, that safest city in the Valley title shouldn’t go away,” he said. “Just because we add 20,000 or 30,000 people, that shouldn’t compromise the level of service we get.”
Clovis City Council election
What: Clovis City Council
When: March 7
How: Vote by mail if signed up; 43 polling places citywide will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day
Total registered voters: 60,499 as of Feb. 15
Registration deadline: Feb. 20
Last day to request vote-by-mail ballot: Feb. 28
Candidates for City Council
Lynne Ashbeck, incumbent, four-year term, unopposed
Vong Mouanoutoua, four-year term, unopposed
Drew Bessinger, two-year term
Paul Sores, two-year term
Aaronjack Perry, two-year term