Melissa Hurtado, a health care advocate and political rookie, never thought she would run for Sanger City Council, let alone a state office.
But the young Democrat appears to be on a winning streak.
Hurtado, who was elected to the council in 2016, is on her way to unseating farmer Andy Vidak as representative of California’s 14th Senate District. Hurtado is ahead of Vidak by about 4,000 votes in the latest tally.
Hurtado is optimistic her lead will hold and that she will soon officially represent the district that includes all of Kings County and parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties.
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“I feel comfortable and I’m at peace at where we are at in this election,” Hurtado said Friday. “Senator Vidak is a friendly guy and it is nothing personal against him, but I think the voters wanted change. They did not feel they were being represented. “
Hurtado’s apparent victory surprised more than a few in San Joaquin Valley politics.
Although the district is heavily Democrat at 47 percent compared to 27 percent Republican , Vidak is well-liked. He won a special election for the 16th state Senate District seat in 2013 and then two terms in the 14th District. A cherry grower and cattle rancher, Vidak had broad-based support from local and statewide leaders in government, law enforcement and business groups.
But Hurtado was a relentless campaigner going door to door and visiting many communities in the district. She campaigned on a platform of improving access to health care, creating more jobs and emphasizing career technical education.
What made her victory even more impressive is that Hurtado had never run for office before joining the Sanger City Council in 2016.
‘It was kind of surprising’
“Yeah, it was kind of surprising,” said Councilman Eli Ontiveros. “We probably disagree on things, 90 percent of the time, but I have to commend her, she did a great job running her campaign.”
Tyler Maxwell, former director of the Central Valley Young Democrats, said that given the current political climate Hurtado appealed to voters because she doesn’t grandstand or use rhetoric to get her point across.
“Hurtado is very humble, she is a natural leader and was very easy to get behind,” Maxwell said.
As a health care advocate, who formerly worked for Health Access California, Hurtado said she was moved by the challenges people in her district face in trying to get health care and finding good jobs.
“I’d come across people who had lost hope of living a better life,” she said. “They didn’t believe there were any more opportunities available in the area or they were dealing with health issues like Valley fever.”
Hurtado, who was raised in Sanger, moved back to the area to be closer to her family after living in Sacramento for nine years. She said that it was after she resettled that she saw the inequities that existed in her community and her district.
Supports Temperance Flat
She said she understands the needs of farmers in her district. She is a supporter of above-ground water storage, including building Temperance Flat dam in eastern Fresno County.
“Water is extremely important to the Central Valley and our local economy,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are employed in agriculture and it’s an important part of our economy.”