Political Notebook

With Fresno’s Olivier in for state Senate bid, race starts to take shape

From left, Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen and Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier
From left, Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen and Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier

The next statewide election is more than a year away, but the pool for one Central California state Senate race already appears deep – and possibly treacherous.

The first few pieces fell into place Tuesday. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, announced he would not run for the state Senate’s 8th District seat, which Republican Tom Berryhill will vacate in 2018 after reaching his term limit. Hours later, Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier announced he would seek Berryhill’s seat.

The timetable was no coincidence.

Olivier, whose wife, Alisha Gallon, works as Patterson’s district director, said Wednesday that his candidacy announcement was written months ago. He had always intended to run, but he waited for Patterson to make his decision before going public.

“I support Jim Patterson for Senate, Assembly, Congress – anything he wants to run for,” Olivier said. “I would not run against him. I am going to support him.”

When you run for a major office, the first time is a learning experience. I am better prepared to win because I lost.

Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier

Just over a year ago, Patterson announced he would seek the vacant Senate seat. But Patterson said Tuesday that staying in the Assembly, where he was recently named to the Republican leadership team, would allow him to stay in office longer under the state’s term limits. He could only serve one four-year term if elected to the Senate in 2018 but could serve three more two-year terms if re-elected to the Assembly.

Patterson was not available for comment Wednesday.

Olivier tried unsuccessfully to join Patterson in the Assembly in 2016, when he lost both a special and a general election for the 31st District. Dr. Joaquin Arambula – son of former Assemblyman Juan Arambula – first won the special election needed to replace Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, who left a year early to take a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Olivier then lost badly in both the primary and general elections.

“When you run for a major office, the first time is a learning experience,” Olivier said. “I am better prepared to win because I lost. There are some things I am going to do differently, and some others I will do the same.”

Olivier said he met with people on all sides of the political spectrum during his Assembly campaign and learned that many are unhappy with the state Legislature.

“They feel (the Legislature) is not addressing the needs of everyday Californians,” Olivier said.

Olivier believes he can fix that. And while he isn’t happy with his recent loss, he pointed out that Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Perea and Berryhill all lost their first political races but rallied back. He also said the Senate bid will not require him to move and coincides perfectly with his term limit on the City Council.

“I won’t be leaving my neighbors in the lurch,” he said.

Olivier will not have to run against Patterson, but a showdown with his best friend could be in the offing.

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau – Olivier’s closest ally on the council – said Wednesday that he was “strongly considering a run” for the 8th District. He hopes to come to an official decision in the next month or so.

“Steve Brandau is my best friend,” Olivier said. “He’s my son’s godfather. He is a part of my family. We’ve discussed it and I respect his decision to run if he chooses to.”

Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, another young Republican rumored to be eyeing higher office, said Wednesday that he is “actively considering running for state Senate.” He plans to consult with friends, family members and supporters in the next few weeks and announce a decision “at the appropriate time.”

Both Borgeas and Brandau recently won re-election, meaning either would have to leave local office if elected to the Senate.

This potential trio of Fresno Republicans could be joined by a fourth familiar face – former Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, also a Republican.

Poochigian chose not to seek re-election in 2016, but she told The Bee last month her political career may not be over. She currently has nearly $600,000 stashed in a campaign fund currently earmarked for a 2022 run for Fresno County assessor-recorder, but she said that account was really a placeholder for any future political races.

Poochigian said Wednesday that she is considering running for the Senate seat, but gave no timetable for making a decision.

A pool of Fresno Republicans would make sense, given the district. The sprawling 8th encompasses all or part of 11 counties along the eastern side of Central California. A good portion of the voters are in Fresno County, as a little more than half the county – including all of Clovis and about two-thirds of Fresno – fit into the western part of the 8th. It also includes part of Madera, Sacramento and Stanislaus counties, as well as a tiny sliver of Tulare County.

41 vs. 33The percentage of registered Republicans vs. Democrats in the 8th Senate District, according to 2016 state numbers.

The voter registration for the area is predominantly Republican.

According to the California Secretary of State’s website, no Democrats have filed statements of intent for the race. However, another Republican – one perhaps more formidable than any Fresno candidate – did file such a statement.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen of Riverbank was believed to be a candidate for the 8th District. At 43, she’s yet to lose an election, having won at the city, county and state levels. In 2010, she succeeded Berryhill in the Assembly’s 25th District.

Just last week, The Modesto Bee reported Olsen started up her own political and legislative consulting firm to assist other Republicans in their bids for state office. She was also appointed vice chair of the state Republican Party in December and is campaigning to fill that role on a permanent basis. A vote will be held in February.

Like Poochigian, Olsen already has a stout campaign fund – nearly $500,000 – waiting for a bid.

However, Olsen told The Fresno Bee on Wednesday that she does not plan to run for Berryhill’s seat.

Even with Olsen out, Olivier and other Fresno Republicans could have their hands full in June. The California system is top-two, meaning two Republicans could advance to the November 2018 general election. But a Democrat or a strong Republican from another county could split the primary vote. Should Brandau, Borgeas and Olivier all run, at least one but maybe all three could be shut out.