Three candidates vie for District 1 seat on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors
TULARE COUNTY – The District 1 on the Board of Supervisors is again the most hotly contested race in Tulare County.
Only districts 1 and 4 represent more than one incorporated city and District 1 is the only district to represent four cities, including all of Exeter, Farmersville and Lindsay as well as the eastern portion of Visalia. The seat has been held by the Lindsay-Strathmore area since the late 1990s but two challengers will attempt to bring the seat north to Exeter.
Four years after emerging from a crowded field of nine candidates, Strathmore native and current Board of Supervisor chair Kuyler Crocker will face off against Larry Micari and Robyn Stearns in this year’s primary. Micari is a retired captain with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office who has not run for political office before but oversaw major pieces of the county’s largest law enforcement agency. He was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve on the Step Up Committee, the county’s gang prevention program for at-risk youth, during his time with the Sheriff’s Department. Micari said he is running to be a more accessible candidate.
Stearns has been a realtor for 17 years and spent a total of eight years on the Exeter City Council between 2008 and 2016, two of which were as a councilmember, two more as a mayor pro tem, and then four as mayor from 2008-2016. She was the city’s second female mayor. When Stearns decided not to seek a third term on the council, she ran and won the District 1 seat on the Republican Central Committee. Stearns said she understands the needs of the cities represented in District 1.
Crocker is a fifth generation citrus farmer with statewide policy experience as a government affairs liaison for utility giant PG&E. Prior to being elected, Crocker served on the Tulare County Water Commission, Redevelopment Successor Agency Oversight Boards for the cities of Exeter, Farmersville and Lindsay, as well as the Tulare County Audit Committee and Kings/Tulare Area Agency on Aging Governing Board and the San Joaquin Valley Insurance Authority. Crocker points to a series of successes in his first term including securing money for Temperance Flat dam project, taking the board of supervisor meetings out to unincorporated communities, such as Strathmore and Springville, and has held more than a dozen town hall meetings in rural communities over the last year, funding a new property and evidence facility for the Sheriff’s Department, and breaking ground on a new Fire Department headquarters.
He has chaired the Tulare County Association of Governments for the last year, serving as the only elected official on the Blueprint for San Joaquin Valley and being involved on all three of the county’s Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, which are in charge of drafting Groundwater Sustainability Plans and submitting them to the state in the early part of this year.
Those who aren’t sure which candidate they will vote for will have plenty of time in District 1 as there will be four candidate forums dedicated to the race. The first will be held at the Visalia Country Club on Thursday, Jan. 9 and the last will be held on Thursday, Feb. 6 at Exeter Woman’s Club. In between will be a forum co-hosted by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and The Sun-Gazette on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 210 Café and another hosted by the Tulare County Farm Bureau on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building.
Tulare County Supervisor, District 3
Amy Shuklian is seeking a second term on the Board of Supervisors after claiming victories for reversing a controversial ordinance that allowed county supervisors to receive a percentage of the raises received by other county elected officials, the sale of the county’s long vacant historic courthouse to be redeveloped as a boutique luxury hotel, reinvesting in revitalizing Mooney Grove Park and helping to improve the Tulare County Museum and the arts. Prior to being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2016, Shuklian served nine years on the Visalia City Council, including stints as vice mayor (2009-2011) and mayor (2011-2013).
Brad Maaske is real estate broker who has been buying and selling homes since the 1970s but was probably best known for his radio talk show Real Talk which has aired on KMJ AM580 since 1989. He has been interviewed on Fox
News, CNN, and C-SPAN but more recently made headlines for his campaign signs which printed “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” a reference to the internet meme about the death of disgraced New York financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while he was in prison, in fine print at the bottom of the sign. This is Maaske’s first run for public office but he has served on several committees in both his hometown of Exeter and his current home in Visalia including Exeter Planning Commission, Visalia General Plan Committee and countywide on the Measure R Task Force and Tulare County Association of Realtors.
The District 3 race, which encompasses the core of Visalia, will center around homelessness as Shuklian is the chair of Tulare County’s Task Force on Homelessness and Maaske says he wants to take swifter action on reducing homelessness. Shuklian and Maaske will face off at the candidate forums on Jan. 9 and 14.
Tulare County Supervisor, District 2
Current vice chair of the Supervisors, Pete Vander Poel, is running unopposed for District 2, which encompasses the southwest portion of the county.
Congressional District 22
Democrats are again gunning for Devin Nunes who has managed to overcome lawsuits of news and social media outlets, while being one of the most ardent supporters of President Trump, to be elected to seven straight terms in Congress, first in the 21st District and later in the realigned 22nd District. Nunes began his political career as trustee on the College of the Sequoias board before attempting his first congressional race in 1998 where he lost to Democrat Cal Dooley. Nunes won the newly reapportioned 21st District in 2002 when he narrowly emerged from a crowded field that included former Fresno mayor Jim Patterson and Assemblyman Mike Briggs. Nunes coasted with a two-thirds majority for most of his tenure but had his closest race in 2018 against Fresno County deputy district attorney Andrew Janz (D). Janz found an upswell of support as Nunes, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, was dogged by his memo alleging an FBI conspiracy against President Trump just a few months before the primary. Locally, groups began to boycott Nunes’ office for his refusal to hold a town hall meeting with his constituents or publicly debate his opponents.
Janz is now running for mayor of the city of Fresno but Nunes will be challenged by a familiar face, Bobby Bliatout, and three new faces in Phil Arballo, Dary Rezvani and Eric Garcia. Bliatout, the song of Hmong refugees who runs a nonprofit health care consulting firm, finished behind Nunes and Democrat Andrew Janz in the 2018 primary with just 4.9% of the vote. Arballo runs a small financial services business in Fresno lost in a special election for the Fresno City Council last year. Rezvani, a first generation American, has never run for political office before but says he is running on criminal justice reform, teacher wages and more water storage. Garcia, a former Marine and current college student, did not specify a party preference on the ballot.
Congressional District 21
In a rematch of the 2016 election, TJ Cox and David Valadao will vie for the 21st Congressional District, which primarily encompasses Kings County, southwestern Fresno County, northwestern Kern County and the unincorporated communities of Tipton, Pixley and Terra Bella south of Tulare and Porterville in southwestern Tulare County. But this time Cox is the incumbent and Valadao is the challenger. Cox defeated Valadao in a razor thin race with just 50.4% of the vote after Valadao crushed Cox in the primary with nearly two-thirds of the vote in 2018. Other than partisan talking points, much of the campaign in the 2016 election focused on Cox’s permanent address as he listed his primary address as a house in Fresno and another Bethesda, Md. Cox eventually clarified the error on his taxes and lives in Fresno where he was registered to vote prior to the election. Valadao is a life-long Kings County resident who grew up in Hanford and represented the 21st District from 2013-2019. Valadao previously represented California’s 30th Assembly District.
Residency will again be the focus of this race as two newcomers who do not live in the district have qualified for the ballot.
Perennial presidential candidate Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente threw his hat into the ring. De La Fuente owns businesses and properties in U.S., Mexico and Uruguay and ran in the 2016 primary as a Democrat and in the general election under the American Delta and Reform Party, garnering 33,000 votes. He also ran for the U.S. Senate in Florida that year. In 2018, De La Fuente simultaneously ran for U.S. Senate seats in nine states including California. Rocky has already qualified for both the Republican and American Independent parties as a presidential candidate in the California primary. His son, Ricardo “Ricky” De La Fuente, is also listed on the ballot. The 65-year-old is running as a Republican while his 29-year-old son is running as a Democrat. The younger De La Fuente was the campaign director for his father prior to running for Florida’s 24th Congressional seat in 2018 when he was handily defeated by Frederica Wilson with 83.7% of the vote.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, California does not have a “durational residency requirement” to be candidate for the U.S. Representative. The only requirements are that candidates be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years and a resident of California on Jan. 3, 2021, the date the candidate would be sworn into office. In addition to the 21st, Ricky is also running for the 27th Congressional District in Texas, which also doesn’t require residency in the district but does require that you live in the state prior to taking office, according to Texas Secretary of State. Both primaries are on March 3. The De la Fuente family calls San Diego home.
At one time, former perennial candidate and current Farmersville City Councilmember Ruben Macareno was also running but has since pulled his nomination.
Assembly District 26
Both Republicans and Democrats have been unable to push Mathis from his rise to becoming one of the top Republicans in the California Assembly. As a Tulare County native and veteran, Mathis has fought off other Tulare County contenders in the last two elections defeating fellow Republican Rudy Mendoza in 2014 and Democrats Ruben Macareno in 2016 and Jose Sigala in 2018.
Since being elected to represent California’s 26th Assembly District in 2014, Mathis has chaptered a number of bills he authored and co-authored protecting agriculture, private water wells, veterans, children with special needs, nonprofit youth organizations as well as bills addressing Valley problems such as water storage, valley fever, human trafficking and environmental overreach.
He is currently vice chair of the agriculture and human services committees and also sits on the natural resource, rules, veterans affairs, and budget committees, among others.
Before joining the Assembly, Mathis served for 10 years as a sergeant in the Army National Guard, including two tours in Iraq. During his second tour in Iraq, Devon was severely injured in a roadside bomb attack, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Fresno State, and an associate degree in social sciences from Porterville College. Devon and his wife, Aubrey live in Visalia with their five children.
Mathis now faces Democrat Drew Phelps, a 24-year-old Tulare native who works as project manager for Granville Homes. Phelps said he is running on water quality and quantity, health care access and economic opportunity for the Valley. His first foray into local politics was interning for several Valley elected officials during his time in school, including former Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, Congressman Jim Costa and former Senator Andy Vidak. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Studies from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. and his master’s in American Politics from Claremont Graduate University. Phelps got involved in his community shortly after returning from school and was named Tulare’s Volunteer of the Year for his work with the Tulare Senior Center and Meals on Wheels, among other organizations. In 2015, Phelps said he was part of the citizens movement known as Citizens for Hospital Accountability that stopped Tulare Regional Medical Center for approving a second bond measure to complete its medical tower, a boondoggle which led to lawsuits between the hospital district and its former management company.
Assembly District 23
Republican Jim Patterson is again being challenged by Independent Aileen Rizo. Patterson defeated Rizo with more than two-thirds of the vote in the 2018 primary. Patterson is seeking his sixth term in the State legislature. Patterson currently represents District 23 which primarily comprises eastern Fresno County and eastern Tulare County. Three Rivers is one of the only communities in Tulare County that falls within the district that covers most of the National Park, Forest and National Monument lands in the eastern portion of Tulare County. Prior to state office, the 71-year-old Patterson served as mayor of Fresno for eight years. Rizo, 43, is an early childhood education researcher who has advocated in Sacramento on issues facing women and young girls. She said she is running on a platform of equal pay for women.
Five Tulare County Superior Court Judges are running unopposed. They are Kerri Lopez for seat No. 9, Walter Gorelick for seat No. 15, Gary Paden for seat No. 17 and Juliet Boccone for seat No. 18.
District 1 & 3 Candidate Forum
Thursday, Jan. 9
11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Visalia Country Club, 625 N. Ranch St. in Visalia.
Presented by the Visalia Republican’s Women Federated. For more information, contact the Visalia Republican Women at [email protected].
District 1 & 3 Candidate Forum
Tuesday, Jan. 14
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
210 Café, 210 Center St. in Visalia
Presented by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and The Sun-Gazette newspaper. For more information call the Visalia Chamber of Commerce at 559-734-5876.
District 1 Supervisor Candidate Forum
Tuesday, Jan. 21
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Exeter Veteran’s Memorial Building, 324 N. Kaweah Ave. in Exeter CA 93221.
Presented by the Tulare County Farm Bureau. For more information contact the Exeter Chamber of Commerce 559-592-2919.
Congressional District 22 & Assembly District 26 Candidate Forum
Thursday, Jan. 30
6:30 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.
College of the Sequoias, Ponderosa Hall, 915 S. Mooney Blvd. in Visalia.
Presented by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters. For more information, call 559-732-2009 or email [email protected].
District 1 Candidate Forum
Thursday, Feb. 6
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Exeter Woman’s Club, 201 N. Kaweah Ave. in Exeter. Presented by the Exeter Republican Women’s Federated. For more information, contact the Exeter Republican Women at [email protected].