The June primary election in the 26th Assembly District is a case of deja vu – the Republican incumbent and his Republican challenger opposed each other two years ago.
This time, however, the rhetoric is stronger.
Two years ago Devon Mathis of Visalia, a military veteran, defeated the presumed favorite, Rudy Mendoza of Woodlake, sending a shock wave through the Republican establishment that is still reverberating.
If the two candidates get the most votes in the three-person primary, the rematch would extend into the November general election. The political rhetoric could get even more heated than it has already.
The other candidate in the race is Democrat Ruben Macareno of Visalia. Under California’s open primary system, the three are listed on the ballot together, and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
Assembly District 26 – most of Tulare County, part of Kern County and all of Inyo County – is about 46 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat and 18 percent no party preference.
I just dedicate all my time to knocking on doors and introducing myself to voters.
Rudy Mendoza, Republican candidate
Mathis is better-funded this time around and has the power of incumbency, while Mendoza, who is on leave from his job as district director for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, is running a back-to-basics campaign.
“I just dedicate all my time to knocking on doors and introducing myself to voters,” he said.
Mendoza has been increasingly critical of Mathis, especially with regards to his vote for what Mendoza called a tax increase.
“He voted for a $100 million health care tax,” Mendoza said. “Every other Republican legislator in this part of the Valley voted against it. We’re a very conservative area. He wasn’t elected to go to Sacramento to vote for a tax increase.”
Mendoza’s verbal attack refers to the tax on managed care organizations that passed the Legislature in February on a two-thirds vote as required for tax bills.
Mathis voted for a package of bills expanding the tax on managed care organizations, which advocates said was required for the state to receive $1 billion in federal funding for Medi-Cal, a health insurance program for low-income people.
In response, Mathis said the so-called MCO tax is not a tax increase.
“It’s a $100 million tax cut,” he said. Other taxes were reduced, and hospitals that had owed millions of dollars to the state were relieved of their obligation.
He said he also voted yes because the bills provide funding for facilities that care for the elderly.
It’s wrongheaded for Mendoza to knock him for the vote, he said.
“If having the courage to work on tax reform is a bad thing, explain to me why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association endorsed me,” Mathis said.
(The Sacramento Bee reported the tax shouldn’t cost Californians any more money than before and that the affected health plans save money elsewhere to make the tax a wash.)
Mendoza also faulted Mathis for reportedly telling a constituent that he owed the CEO of the Tulare hospital a political favor and therefore would not support a plan seeking a state audit of the expenditures of an $85 million bond issue used to build the stalled hospital expansion.
Mendoza said Mathis opened himself to criticism with such a remark.
“It quite frankly brings into question his character and moral compass as far as I’m concerned,” Mendoza said.
Mathis said he was misquoted in the conversation.
Auditing the bond expenditures – a Tulare County grand jury report urged the hospital district to provide a full accounting – is best handled locally, and the hospital should be more open about the details, he said.
If having the courage to work on tax reform is a bad thing, explain to me why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association endorsed me.
Devon Mathis, Republican incumbent
Mathis said Mendoza is purposely misstating facts to discredit him.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous,” Mathis said. “It’s … lie, lie, lie until they believe something.”
Some Republican leaders in the district are still upset that he defeated Mendoza two years ago, but the animosity is dissipating, Mathis said.
“The Tulare County Republican Party has endorsed me,” he said. “It’s definitely a good sign.” Kern and Inyo Republican party organizations also endorsed him, he said.
Mathis, 33, said he’s the youngest Republican legislator and the only combat veteran in the Legislature. He served with a National Guard unit in Iraq and was wounded in an explosion.
The experience of working with soldiers from all walks of life taught him that “in combat, there’s no Republican or Democratic way to get the mission done,” and the same logic applies in Sacramento, he said.
He said one of his chief concerns is for Tulare County residents whose wells went dry in the drought. He said he found a large company to bring bottled water to residents to help them.
He also said he has 13 bills – including one to help Porterville get water to East Porterville – in various stages of the legislative process, more than most members of the Republican caucus.
Macareno said Mathis has been a different sort of Republican by doing things such as dropping by Democratic headquarters in Visalia when they held an open house.
We have a lot of energized voters.
Ruben Macareno, Democratic candidate
“He did things the other establishment Republicans wouldn’t do,” he said. “He had political courage.”
Macareno said it is not a sure thing Mendoza and Mathis will be the top two vote-getters moving to the fall election, because there’s enough Democratic voters to put him in second place.
“We have a lot of energized voters,” because presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ message has fired up Democrats who are eager to vote in the June 7 primary, Macareno said.
Assembly District 26 candidates
Occupation: Assemblyman, 26th Assembly District
Education: B.A. public administration, Fresno State University
Family: Married, six children
Military: Former National Guard sergeant, two tours in Iraq
Facebook: Devon Mathis
Endorsements: California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Peace Officers Research Association of California, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Andy Vidak, Assembly Republican Caucus, Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller.
Occupation: Mayor of Woodlake
Education: Woodlake High, Porterville College courses
Family: Married, three children
Facebook: Mendoza for Assembly
Endorsements: Not seeking endorsements
Education: attended California State University, Los Angeles
Family: Married, two children
Facebook: Ruben Macareno for State Assembly
Endorsements: Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Farmersville Mayor Greg Gomez, Lindsay Board of Education president Perla Soria, Visalia school board trustee Juan Guerrero, Tulare City Councilwoman Maritza Castellanoz, Lindsay Mayor Pro Tem Roseana Sanchez, Farmersville school board trustee Lupe Fernandez, Tulare County Fair board member Grace Calderon