The 31st Assembly District is home to a political marathon this year, the unenviable result of Henry T. Perea’s decision to quit the Assembly before completing his final term.
Just eight weeks after Joaquin Arambula, a Kingsburg Democrat, received 54 percent of the vote and was seated as Perea’s replacement, the three District 31 candidates and voters will do it all over again in the June 7 primary.
Arambula received our recommendation in the special election and he receives it again, although we don’t agree with all the votes he has made since joining the Assembly. Arambula promised voters that he would legislate in the tradition of a conservative Democrat, work across the aisle with Republicans and champion Valley causes. He has kept that promise.
His biggest moment came May 4 when he and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, testified to an Assembly budget committee that Fresno had not received its fair share of cap-and-trade money from the state.
Fresno, the state’s fifth-largest city and home to some of the worst air pollution in the world, has received just $9 million since the auctioning of pollution credits began under the state’s greenhouse-gas-reduction program. An estimated $2 billion annually is generated by the program.
Swearengin and Arambula asked for $375 million – $75 million annually for five years – for public infrastructure in Fresno.
We’ll see whether their pleas will result in more cap-and-trade funding coming Fresno’s way when the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown agree on a budget next month.
But this much is certain: If Clint Olivier, a Republican who finished second to Arambula in April, was representing District 31, he’d have a next-to-nothing chance of successfully pitching leaders of a Legislature dominated by Democrats to invest more cap-and-trade funds in Fresno.
The reality is that Olivier, a Fresno City Council member, would just be another back-bench minority member of the Assembly tilting at windmills and parroting GOP talking points.
That said, because of California’s “top two” open primary system, Olivier is a virtual lock to face Arambula in round three of their matchup in the November general election.
The third candidate, retired engineer Ted Miller of Caruthers, is a Democrat and Bernie Sanders supporter. He received 6 percent of the vote in the general election, a sign that his liberal stances don’t resonate well with District 31 voters.
26th Assembly District
Our recommendation for the 26th District is incumbent Devon Mathis, a Visalia Republican who demonstrated in his first term that he is open to working with Democrats and voting for the best interests of his constituents.
We’re not surprised by Mathis’ independence or his courage to take stands that might agitate some Republicans. He came from the war in Iraq as a “wounded warrior,” having survived an explosion, and overcame his significant injuries to graduate from Fresno State. He is backed by the Assembly’s GOP leaders and is endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
The other Republican candidate in the race is Woodlake’s Rudy Mendoza, district director to Rep. Devin Nunes. Mendoza has brought nothing new to this campaign after losing to Mathis in 2014. His rhetoric is tired, cartoonish and frequently inaccurate – such as when he claims that Mathis’ vote for a tax-reorganization package required for the state to receive $1 billion in federal funding for Medi-Cal was a “tax increase.” It was nothing of the sort.
In Ruben Macareno, Democratic voters who don’t want to cross party lines have a legitimate option. The Visalia resident is chairman of the Tulare County Democratic Central Committee and well versed in the district’s many needs.
5th Assembly District
This district is one of the most sprawling in California. It encompasses nine foothill and mountain counties from Madera to South Lake Tahoe. The incumbent, Frank Bigelow, an O’Neals Republican, has done a stellar job.
Bigelow is respected by his peers and is often asked to sign on to legislation. The Legislature would be a much more effective body if more of the people’s representatives approached their service in the manner that Bigelow has done. He is the clear choice in a field of five candidates.
21st Assembly District
Voters will see Greg Opinski’s name as the opponent to Assemblyman Adam Gray. But Opinski publicly has withdrawn from the race. Gray, a conservative Democrat, is an influential member of the Assembly and deserves re-election. His skill set and knowledge of the issues are a perfect match for this largely agricultural district.
23rd Assembly District
This race involves just two candidates, incumbent Jim Patterson and challenger Gwen E. Morris, which means they will advance to the general election. We will make a recommendation in this race in the next go-around.
In summary, we recommend to voters Frank Bigelow in District 5, Adam Gray in District 21, Devon Mathis in District 26 and Joaquin Arambula in District 31.