Political Notebook

Debbie Poochigian’s political career might not be over

Retired Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian is “parking” her remaining campaign money in an account for the assessor-recorder election in 2022.
Retired Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian is “parking” her remaining campaign money in an account for the assessor-recorder election in 2022. Fresno

Retirement can mean different things to different politicians.

Whereas retired two-term Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian is considering extending her political career, retired Clovis City Council Member Harry Armstrong signaled that his political days are at an end when he donated remaining money from his campaign to Clovis nonprofits.

Poochigian has moved her money into an account to campaign for Fresno County Assessor-Recorder in 2022. But that money could be used for other campaigns – once she decides which seat to run for. No matter what position she seeks, her campaign war chest is formidable, just shy of $600,000, according to campaign financial documents filed with Fresno County.

She also doesn’t rule out a 2018 run for assessor-recorder against the incumbent, Paul Dictos, a county official she has battled since he took office in 2011. “I think assessor-recorder fits me well,” she said, “and that account can be used at any time.”

For now, Poochigian said, she will lead the life of a retiree.

“It’s basically a placeholder for now,” she said. “I will ponder my opportunities and take some time to think about what’s next, if anything.”

She said the newly established account “could really go a lot of different directions.”

Poochigian, 64, said she will attend the state Republican Convention later this year and see if opportunities for state offices surface.

Dictos, 73, said he will run in 2018, and a 2022 run isn’t out of the question.

“If God gives me health and the people want me, I will run,” he said.

Dictos and Poochigian butted heads frequently when she was a supervisor. The most significant battles were over tax rates for farmland that went out of production and were removed by Dictos from Williamson Act contracts, which provide a tax discount for agricultural property owners.

By doing so, Dictos raised more tax revenues for the county from affected farmers. Poochigian frequently opposed those efforts.

Dictos said voters get an opportunity every four years to determine if public officials “fulfilled our promises, pursued solutions, worked on pressing issues and been honest and good stewards of the public trust. I think I have done that and have served our citizens with integrity of heart.”

“I am wholeheartedly looking forward to having lots of entertaining discussions with the public and my declared opponent on our respective records,” Dictos said.

Meanwhile, retired Clovis City Council Member Armstrong, 86, was required to relinquish his campaign fund after his retirement in October because of ailing health. He served 46 years on the Clovis City Council.

Armstrong had $110,756 remaining in his campaign account. He donated $70,000 to the Clovis Senior Center and the remainder to Friends of Clovis Adoption, Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center, according to state financial disclosure forms filed with the city.

“We have a care fund for sick and injured animals, and that’s something we can put the money toward,” said Erin Ford-Horio, supervisor at Miss Winkles Adoption Center.

The donation also could be used to build shade structures in the adoption center’s courtyard and exercise yards, she said.

“Mr. Armstrong has always been a contributor to the animals,” Ford-Horio said. “We are very thankful for his thoughtfulness, generosity and compassion toward the animals.”

The funding for the senior center will go to a construction fund for the proposed senior center next to a new county library and public transportation shelter near Clovis Avenue and Third Street, said Shonna Halterman, the city’s general services director.

Under state Fair Political Practices Commission rules, a retiring candidate doesn’t have to move remaining money until 90 days after leaving office.

The steps taken by both Poochigian and Armstrong are not unusual, said Thomas Holyoke, a Fresno State political science professor.

“What politicians normally do when they aren’t continuing a political career is find a charity to donate to,” he said. “It’s a signal that you are done and you want to be viewed as donating your money to good causes.”

If retiring politicians want to maintain their influence, he said, they will give money to other politicians, but that wasn’t Armstrong’s intention. Nor was it in Poochigian’s plan.

With $600,000 left in her account, Holyoke said, Poochigian would have a head start on other candidates and could mount a formidable run for all but statewide races.

In addition, she has name recognition from her own political career as well as from her father, late Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian, and her husband, former state Assembly Member and Sen. Charles Poochigian.

By putting her funds into a campaign account for the 2022 race for assessor-recorder, Debbie Poochigian is demonstrating that she isn’t making any move in the immediate future, Holyoke said.

But, he added: “That’s the kind of money you hold on to for something serious.”

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin