State Assembly District 32 sees 4 write-in candidates

Official Ballot Box on Kern St outside the Fresno County Clerk/Elections Office.(Kenny Goodman)

Voters in State Assembly District 32 have four write-in candidates to choose from in lieu of listed incumbent Vince Fong, who is running for Congress

TULARE COUNTY – State Assembly District 32 voters in Tulare and Kern County will not be left without a representative to vote for who is actively campaigning for the office thanks to four write-in candidates who joined the race.

Democrat David Wood and Republicans Ian David Smith, Ken Weir and Thomas Willis are entitled to receive write-in votes for State Assembly District 32, according to the certified list of write-in candidates released by the Secretary of State’s office on Feb. 23. To elect one of these candidates, voters will need to both write the candidate’s name on the designated line and fill in the bubble next to it.

Only current Assemblyman Vince Fong’s name is printed under the office on the March 5 primary election ballot; however, Fong is not running for reelection and is instead seeking the 20th Congressional District seat vacated by former Rep. Kevin McCarthy in December 2023.

If any of the write-in candidates receive the highest or second-highest number of votes in the primary, they will appear on the November general election ballot. There is no other method for voter-nominated candidates to be in the general election.

Meet the write-in candidates

Wood is from Three Rivers, a foothills community in Tulare County. As the only Democrat and the only Tulare County resident in the race, Wood said he decided to run because he wanted voters to have more of a choice between the candidates that will appear on the general election ballot.

When filling out his ballot in early February, Wood said he was bothered by the situation with the State Assembly seat.

“The incumbent was running unopposed, and at the very same time he was running for Congress District 20,” Wood said. “I thought California 32 deserved better, and I wrote myself in. Then I learned about how to be a write-in candidate … and in two weeks time I went from being annoyed and frustrated to a qualified voter-nominated write-in candidate.”

Wood is a recently retired clinical psychologist who worked in the mental and behavioral health fields in Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties for nearly four decades. Additionally, he has experience on local advisory boards, including the Tulare County Mental Health Board, and served as a Senator in the California Senior Legislature.

Wood said that he is interested in addressing public health, public safety, mental health and wildfire prevention.

“I’m very much interested in the intersection of education and mental health,” Wood said. “I’m very concerned about our children being able to get an education without fear and dread and anxiety.”

Republican write-in candidates Smith, Weir and Willis all hail from Bakersfield.

Smith describes himself as a “disciple of Jesus” and a small business owner raised in the Central Valley. In an email, he said he is running for the State Assembly to “reject the so-called ‘progressive’ ideology that is devouring California.”

“Los Angeles and San Francisco may set the values and policies of our state at large, but we should never allow their lawless ideology to consume our children, families, churches, schools, businesses and communities,” Smith said. “We are the Bible Belt of California, and we must call this state and its leaders to repentance.”

According to his website, Smith is pro-life and is for school choice, law enforcement, de-regulation of business, budget transparency and more. He said that his campaign is a “campaign for life,” and his pro-life views encompass more than just abortion.

Smith said that voters should choose him because he will “always stand firm on objective truth guided by my Christian faith, Biblical principles and conservative values.”

Weir is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has been a Bakersfield City Council member since 2006. He also served on the Bakersfield City School District Board of Trustees for 14 years and has been the chair of the Kern County Republican Party since 2017.

Weir said that he had been interested in representing the Central Valley in the Assembly for many years, but felt that it was already being well-represented by Fong and his predecessors. When Fong decided to run for Congress instead of reelection, Weir filed to be a write-in candidate.

“I’ve been involved in public service my whole life; I do enjoy it, and I think it’s a vital service that we provide,” Weir said. “When the Assembly opened up, I had a chance to go from one type of jurisdiction to another, and … I think I’d do well in the state, and I look forward to actually being in the Assembly.”

Endorsed by Fong, District 12 State Sen. Shannon Grove, former Rep. Connie Conway and Tulare County District 1 Supervisor Larry Micari, Weir said he believes he has the qualities and skills needed to be in the Assembly.

Crime is one of Weir’s top issues, and he said that California needs someone who will take initiative and find different alternatives to the problem.

California’s budget is another issue important to Weir; he said that the state budget is more of a “spending plan” than a real budget. Weir said the situation is not going to improve until the state gets past that and makes budget cuts that are more than just delaying spending on certain projects until the next year.

“We’re always spending, and there’s always spending issues there that just can’t be handled, and that’s not a proper way to handle a budget,” Weird said.

Willis was raised in Kern County and is a veterinarian at the San Joaquin Veterinary Hospital in Bakersfield, which he established in 2000. According to his website, Willis is running for the seat because he is “frustrated with the direction California is heading.”

“I want California to be run like a business, with accountability and transparency for its citizens,” Willis’ website says.

His top issues include crime and homelessness and he believes Proposition 47 and Assembly Bill 109 need to be repealed or “significantly modified,” according to his website. He also lists the state’s budget deficit and water infrastructure as important issues.

Willis was unable to be reached for comment by press time.

How we got here

Fong could still be among the top-two candidates who move on to the general election.

This is because he first filed for reelection to the State Assembly and was accepted onto the ballot before the filing deadline on Dec. 8, 2023. Then, on Dec. 11, 2023, Fong announced that he filed to run in the 20th Congressional District race and his candidacy was accepted by the Kern County Registrar of Voters.

At that time, he said that he would only be running for Congress, and would have taken his name off the ballot for State Assembly if there was a way for him to do so.

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber initially said Fong was ineligible to run for Congress, which Fong contested in the Sacramento Superior Court. While Fong won his case, and it was decided that his name would appear on the ballot under both offices, the judge in the decision noted that the situation could lead to voter confusion.

Fong was left on the ballot under the State Assembly office because the California Elections Code does not allow candidates to withdraw from a primary election if they have already filed the declaration of candidacy for that election.

Further, the Elections Code does not allow a candidate nominated in a primary election to withdraw from the ensuing general election. The only exception to those rules is if a candidate dies at least 68 days before either election.

Fong has consistently said he is only running for Congress and has declined to comment on hypothetical outcomes; however, he has said that if he is elected to Congress, he will resign from his Assembly seat.

When voting for write-in candidates, voters must fill in the bubble next to the write-in box and should clearly print the name of the candidate they are voting for.

The Secretary of State’s website says that “county elections officials will accept a reasonable facsimile of the spelling of a candidate’s name.” For example, Willis is listed on the certified write-in candidate list as “Thomas Joseph Willis.” A vote that says “Tom Willis” or “Thomas Willis” would be acceptable.

Ballots with write-in candidates take longer to count, and results for write-in candidates will not be included with other results posted online on election night, the Secretary of State’s website says. The results for write-in candidates will be published on April 12.

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