For the first time in four decades the District 1 supervisor will call the Exeter area home after breaking Lindsay-Strathmore’s grip on seat
TULARE COUNTY – Despite the nation’s Democratic shift, Tulare County remained a Republican bastion in a sea of blue on California’s Nov. 3 ballot.
Two Congressional seats and possibly a third, two state Assembly seats and the vote for President remained in the red column. Two conservative leaning candidates battled over the only county supervisor seat up for election and county voters opposed the statewide vote on half of the propositions.
The most closely watched race in the county was for the District 1 seat on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. Many voters still don’t understand exactly what a county supervisor does but the pandemic certainly shed light on county government’s unique position between the Governor’s office and local districts. In the era of defund the police and COVID enforcement, supervisors oversee the budget for the county’s largest police force in the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s largest department, Health and Human Services Agency, which oversees restaurant inspections and clarifies industry guidelines for public health emergencies such as coronavirus.
As of Monday, Larry Micari had a nine-point lead over incumbent Kuyler Crocker with only an estimated 2,200 votes left to count in the district, which encompasses the cities of Exeter, Farmersville and Lindsay as well as the eastern portion of Visalia and the unincorporated communities of Lemon Cove, Three Rivers and Strathmore. The Sun-Gazette is calling this race as Crocker would have to get nearly all of the vote to catch his opponent.
Micari would have been an unlikely candidate for victory in many California counties but his 33-year career in law enforcement and experience capped off as captain with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department earned him points with voters looking to push back on national trends. Micari was endorsed by former Sheriff Bill Wittman, current Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and Supervisor Pete Vander Poel.
Crocker, one of the youngest people ever to serve on the board of supervisors, is a fifth generation citrus farmer who brought statewide policy experience as a government affairs liaison for utility giant PG&E. Crocker’s first run for election was a gauntlet of nine candidates in the 2016 primary before narrowly defeating Exeter’s Dennis Smith in the November runoff. Prior to that, Crocker had served on various county level commissions and committees. Crocker was endorsed by District Attorney Tim Ward, County Assessor Roland Hill and former county supervisor and Assemblymember Connie Conway.
Outside of age and career experience, there wasn’t much to differentiate the two conservative leaning candidates when it came to policy. Both denounced calls to defund the police and racial riots.
Both agreed the county needed to begin the process allowing school districts to reopen to all elementary grade levels. Both blamed the state for the economic impacts of the pandemic. Both agreed the Board of Supervisors should be able to have a check on the powers of the public health officer, an unelected position with powers authorized in the State Constitution that supersede local electeds during a public health hazard or emergency. And both demonstrated their support for Tulare County’s more than 36,000 undocumented immigrants. The candidates also came close to raising the same amount of money for their campaigns. Crocker’s contributions totaled $102,000 while Micari’s topped $110,000.
Crocker’s loss also means District 1 will be represented by someone not from the Lindsay-Strathmore area for the first time in at least four decades. Tulare County’s online election results only go back to 1984 but showed the southeastern edge of the district had a firm grip on the seat.
Clyde Gould briefly lived in Exeter before moving to Lindsay where he started growing oranges and worked as a Lindsay Police officer. He served as the District 1 Supervisor from June 1984-1992. Lindsay’s Bill Sanders served from 1992-2004, and Strathmore farmer Allen Ishida from 2004-2016 before mentoring Crocker to take over the seat from 2016-2020.
Devon Mathis continues to beat challenges from both sides of the aisle despite being questioned by Democrats for harassment scandals on his staff and being criticized by his own party for working with the other side. Mathis has been elected to this fourth straight term in the state Assembly after defeating challenger Drew Phelps with 54% of the vote. Tulare County makes up 90% of the district and Mathis leads here by more than 11,000 votes with about that many left to be counted. This is however Mathis’ smallest margin of victory since his all-Republican general election against Woodlake Mayor Rudy Mendoza in 2014.
Phelps was able to capitalize on Mathis receiving a $12,000 campaign contribution from Healthcare Conglomerates Associates (HCCA), whose executives were charged with more than 40 felonies in September. Despite claims he “looked the other way,” Mathis still wrote a letter on Nov. 7, 2017 in support of auditing the hospital district and its management company, describing HCCA’s leadership as “a long history of questionable activities associated with the management of bond funds.”
A Tulare native, Phelps was part of the Citizens for Hospital Accountability, a grass roots group that helped rally opposition against the hospital’s former management company.
Republican Jim Patterson ran unopposed for the District 23 Assembly seat, which covers southeastern Fresno County and northeastern Tulare County.
The tightest race of the three Congressional seats is a rematch of 2018, when Democrat T.J. Cox edged out incumbent Republican David Valadao for California’s 21st District. The candidates split Tulare County evenly with Valadao having just a two-point lead with a few hundred ballots to go, but Tulare County represents the smallest portion of this district of the four counties it covers. Valadao locked up his hometown of Hanford with more than 62% of the vote and only a few hundred votes left to be counted.
Valadao has a 1,500 vote lead in Fresno County where there is an estimated 7,000 votes to be counted. The deciding factor will be Kern County, which still has an estimated 44,000 votes to count for this district. Cox currently leads Valadao by 7,000 votes in Kern County.
Over the district Valadao holds a decent margin of 3.6% over Cox.
For the second straight election, longtime Congressmen Devin Nunes faced a Democratic challenger who garnered over 45% of the vote in California’s 22nd District. Nunes was never in jeopardy of losing and easily defeated Phil Arballo earning the Republican a 10th straight term in Congress. Arballo finished with 43% of the vote in Tulare County and nearly 47% of the vote in Fresno County, which makes up 63% of the district.
It’s no surprise House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is cruising to a victory over challenger Kim Mangone in the 23rd District. The Republican incumbent has nearly 60% of the vote in Kern and Tulare counties but just 52% of the vote in Los Angeles County. Tulare County makes up the smallest portion of the district, or less than 10% of the overall registration. The race will be decided in Kern County where there are still an estimated 89,000 votes to count for this district but where McCarthy leads by more than 25,000 votes.
While votes are still being counted in a few states, Tulare County sent a clear message it was Team Trump. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence won the county with 52% of the vote and a 7% margin over former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. Voter turnout was down slightly from 2016 when Trump was first elected and just under two-thirds of the registered voters compared with more than three-quarters four years ago. But nearly 22,000 more people voted in Tulare County this time around.