Political Fix (5 March, 2015)

History Averted

In the January 1 installment of Political Fix it was announced that Farmersville had possibly the youngest council member ever to be elected in the county. At only 22 years old, Freddy Espinoza took office December 8 along with two other new members.

According to The Foothills Sun-Gazette, “Freddy Espinoza, Jr. pulled off the surprise of this years’ local elections when he defeated Leonel Benavides’ bid for a fourth straight term, 371 to 370.” Mr. Espinoza is a 2011 graduate of Farmersville high who got out the vote himself through his Facebook page.

Now it looks like life got in the way of history, and Mr. Espinoza had to resign from his seat as of February 12 because of work. He had not attended a city council meeting since January 26, and came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to be able to juggle his new job and the responsibilities of being a council member.

During the February 23 city council meeting there was some debate among the remaining council members about how to fill the vacancy. Mayor Greg Gomez suggested appointing the second highest vote getter to avoid a repeat of what happened a few years ago.

Mr. Gomez said, “In December 2010, we had Mike Santana leave the city council and we were in the same situation. Rather than go with the next highest vote getter from that election, Paul Boyer, the council chose to ask for letters of interest and then we appointed an ultra conservative to the council.  During the next two years we saw our housing program decimated and also the defunding of youth sports from our budget. “

Although two of the council members felt the voters had spoken and wanted to appoint Mr. Benavides, council member Matt Sisk convinced the group to take letters of interest to make the process as transparent as possible. He didn’t want to create the appearance that they were just appointing their buddy.

The council has 60 days from the date Mr. Espinoza resigned to fill the vacancy. The direction to staff was to solicit letters of interest and appoint the new council member at the next meeting.

Letters of interest can be dropped off or mailed to the Farmersville City Hall. All letters are due by noon on Friday March 6.

The Swing Vote Fantasy

A week after the 2012 general election, I opened my Visalia Times-Delta to see the final results. I was shocked to see that Mitt Romney had actually beaten Barrack Obama 56% to 42%. After doing a double take I realized that the VTD was reporting on Tulare County’s final results. Another election result was that Elizabeth Emken beat Dianne Feinstein for senate by a landslide. Remember her? According to Wikipedia, “Feinstein easily won re-election, breaking the record for the most popular votes in any U.S. Senate election in history in the process.”

But Ms. Feinstein lost in Tulare County.

This all came to mind when John Ellis of The Fresno Bee pondered the role of the Central Valley in a north-south political clash for California’s senate seat in the 2016 election.  He mused over which urban Democrat would do the best in the Central Valley and how important the Valley vote will be in 2016.

I can answer that right now, a year and a half before the election–none.

The Fresno Bee quoted assembly member Henry T. Perea as saying, “The Valley will play a big role for the first time.” Whatever.

The California Latino Legislative Caucus thinks it’s time for the state to have a Hispanic senator. So it was to the chagrin of many Hispanics that Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa quite wisely announced that he will not run for Barbara Boxer’s senate seat.

Mr. Villaraigosa is the Hispanic with the widest name recognition in California, but likability is a problem.   In a recent poll, more than six in 10 respondents could identify him, but unfavorable impressions of him were twice as high as for Kamala Harris. When the best thing a veteran political analyst has to say about your campaign bid is that “it would not have been a suicide mission by any stretch of the imagination,” it’s time to fold up your tent and go home.

California Hispanics can all rest easier though, because Republican John Estrada from Fresno has declared his candidacy and filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission. And even if he is an unknown Republican, he will beat Ms. Harris for senate in Tulare County.

The Trial Balloon

On the subject of the California senate seat, it was front page news in The Fresno Bee that Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin would not be running. Hello? The Valley Voice broke that news weeks ago in Political Fix. Ms. Swearengin made it clear, when Ms. Boxer announced that she would not run for office again, that she did not want to be a legislator. Ms. Swearengin did say she was definitely going to run for office sometime in the near future. Seeing as I don’t think she is going to run for dog catcher, that only leaves Governor.

So why did Ms. Swearengin want to be elected State Controller in 2014? That’s not exactly an executive position. The answer is that she didn’t.  Her campaign for Controller was a trial balloon for her eventual run for governor.  In 20/20 hind sight one can see that she didn’t exactly kill herself campaigning and didn’t even bother putting a statement in the voter’s guide mailed to all registered voters. She did manage to show up to all of the Republican gatherings in order to get her name known and test her electability.

In that sense, she did extremely well and was probably the happiest loser on record election night. That explains why she wasn’t afraid of the repercussions of not endorsing Neel Kashkari for governor. So what if she lost votes for controller because she wouldn’t blindly support the Republican slate?  Who wants that dead-end office anyway? Besides, he pissed her off with his Fresno homeless stunt. By the time she is running for governor, he will probably be back in Washington and no one will remember. (Except me.) As for endorsing Henry Perea, Ms. Swearengin’s can kiss her dream of being governor goodbye without Democratic support.

Seeing as her most likely Democratic opponent will be former Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, I don’t think that support is going to be that hard find.


Working on a Saturday night is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes, before wrapping up work, I’ll text Cole Azare, chief of staff for Assemblyman Devon Mathis, who also seems to work every Saturday night. I’m usually in a jovial mood and found it particularly funny that last December the Visalia Times-Delta (VTD) was still listing Connie Conway as the assembly representative three weeks after Mr. Mathis was sworn into office. Mr. Azare didn’t seem as amused, but he tried to be a good sport.

By January, the VTD was still listing Ms. Conway as the assembly member. So I thought I would help our daily paper out and put all of Mr. Mathis’ contact information in my column for the VTD to conveniently copy and paste on to their editorial page. I thought that was pretty amusing also. Mr. Azare was losing his sense of humor about the whole thing.

When I finally got a hard copy of the Valley Voice in my hands, I couldn’t wait to re-read my column and chuckle thinking of the VTD editor or publisher seeing my excerpt.  But after seeing Ms. Conway’s name again listed as Tulare County’s assembly member on February 25, it didn’t seem so funny anymore. For one, I felt a twinge of sympathy for Mr. Azare and Mr. Mathis. Second, I was pretty pissed that the powers that be at the VTD actually don’t read the Valley Voice. They always said they didn’t, and now I guess they were telling the truth.

Then, in last week’s VTD, I finally put two and two together and realized the editor and publisher don’t read the Valley Voice because they don’t live here. They may not even know we exist! That explains why the VTD editorial page doesn’t know of Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ existence either. But that was no excuse to Mr. Azare, who had this to say. “In a democratic society it is important for the public to have accurate information on who their elected officials are. I encourage the Visalia Times-Delta to update their information to reflect the results of the November 4th election.”

Devon Mathis was elected on November 4, sworn in on December 2, and started working the first week of January. The VTD has had almost four months to get used to the idea that Ms. Conway is no longer our representative. So what gives?

What gives is that I do think the publisher was lying. I think former publisher Amy Pack did read the Valley Voice. As for Assemblyman Mathis? Maybe he can write a letter to the editor.

Central Valley Republicans Hold Minority Leadership Positions in Sacramento

It was always a point of pride for Tulare County that Assemblywoman Connie Conway was the leader of the Republican Party in the assembly. Since her departure, lawmakers from the Central Valley have continued to be elected to leadership positions in both the assembly and senate. Tulare County is back in the forefront with Senator Jean Fuller appointed as minority leader of the state senate. She replaced Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. Her 16th Senate District is one of the largest in California and includes Visalia, Tulare and Exeter. Ms. Fuller will be the first woman to lead the Republican Party in the senate. Assembly woman Kristin Olsen of Modesto replaced Ms. Conway as the minority leader in the assembly last summer.

Both Central Valley women face a slightly better environment than that with which Ms. Conway had to contend. Republicans are currently in the minority in both houses, but not a super minority as was the case in 2012-2013. The Democrats managed to lose their supermajority even before the midterm elections when a couple of their members got kicked out of office because of legal troubles, and they never regained it. Now, Republicans have a seat at the table. Democrats cannot pass legislation without Republican votes, giving Sen. Fuller and Assembly member Olsen bargaining power that Ms. Conway did not have.

One would tend to assume that these leadership roles would go to big city representatives where the votes and power reside. But they do not for a very simple reason. Los Angeles and San Francisco do not elect Republican representatives, thus there exists none from which to choose. When Republican Catharine Baker won an assembly seat in the Pleasanton, Walnut Creek area it was huge news.

Before Assembly member Conway, Mike Villes of Clovis was the minority leader and in 2008 the Senate Republicans elected Modesto’s Dave Cogdill as their minority leader.

Out-of-State Money Puts Plastic Bag Ban on Hold

In California there are more than 100 cities and towns that have passed ordinances banning the use of plastic bags. So it made sense last summer when Governor Brown signed a bill banning plastic bags statewide. According to the AP, “California was to begin pulling plastic bags out of checkout counters at large grocery stores such as Wal-Mart and Target this summer. The ban was scheduled to expand to convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.”

Other states are also considering the ban because plastic bags do extensive damage to our environment, killing the marine animals that ingest them. One report said that plastic bags could take as long as 1,000 years to biodegrade. Less than five percent of the estimated 14 billion single-use bags used in California each year are recycled; the rest go to landfills or end up causing problems in the environment.

Every poll shows that Californians want to ban plastic bags. But the plastic bag industry is trying to tell Californians otherwise and bought their way onto our ballot. The industry spent $3.2 million gathering signatures to put a referendum on our ballot to overturn the bill. Ninety-eight percent of that money came from out of state.

The Secretary of State’s office announced that the trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance submitted at least 110% of the 504,760 verified signatures it needed to qualify its measure to overturn the plastic bag ban. The referendum will be on the November 2016 ballot.

California’s first-in-the-nation bill is now on hold until the next election, when the measure is predicted to fail and the ban will be reinstated. But for the next 16 months the plastic bag industry is free to trash our state and billions more plastic bags will invade our environment.

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