On March 10, the day before filing closed, Rudy Mendoza declared his candidacy for California State Assembly District 26. In an election year that has already produced many surprises, a rematch between Woodlake Mayor Rudy Mendoza and Freshman Assemblyman Devon Mathis could inject some welcome excitement into local elections.
Ruben Macareno, Tulare County Democrat Central Committee chairman, has also declared his candidacy for District 26. Because registered Republicans have a 14-point advantage over Democrats in the district, the two winners of the June primary could be Mathis and Mendoza, both of whom are Republican. California’s “top two” primary system sends the two top vote-getters to the November General Election regardless of party. The district encompasses all of Tulare and Inyo Counties and part of Kern County.
“As the filing date got closer,” Mendoza said, “people were calling me and saying that Mathis is an embarrassment and encouraged me to run.” Mendoza’s statement echoes the sentiments of local Republicans who have reported to the Valley Voice that Mathis has shown weak leadership in the assembly.
Mayor Mendoza submitted this statement to the Valley Voice the day he filed:
“Mr. Mathis does not represent the values of our district, the strongest Republican district in the Central Valley where we fight tooth and nail every day against government bureaucracy and bad regulations. I have been in touch with many people over the last couple of weeks that quite frankly, are embarrassed with his performance. Just last week, Mr. Mathis voted for a major tax increase that will hurt the working class families of our district. He has become the best friend of Governor Jerry Brown by helping to pass yet another tax that will do nothing but create additional hardship on our citizens. For the last fifteen months I have watched our assemblyman fumble around the issues with his fortune cookie wisdom and bumper sticker rhetoric. I believe the voters deserve a true conservative voice in Sacramento that will work towards solutions – not one that creates more problems. I am a small business owner with two decades of experience working in agriculture. I have worked the issues in business and as Mayor of Woodlake, I have worked tirelessly to reenergize a city into a vibrant economy without raising taxes. I am a Republican with a long history of conservative values, I will be proud to serve with honesty and integrity.”
The tipping point for Mendoza to file was when Mathis voted for a health care tax that State Senators Jean Fuller and Andy Vidak, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson all voted against. Mathis was recently on a radio talk show discussing the issue, when he said he went to college so he understands how to read bills.
Mendoza’s response was “if Mathis is so smart then he should know it is a tax.”
Though many of the same people support Mendoza’s candidacy who did in the 2014 election, he said he isn’t concerned with endorsements right now.
“I have a list of 150 hardworking ordinary people, who do not hold political office and want me to run. I’m going to walk the districts and have direct contact with the voters by talking to them every day,” he said.
One of those hard-working locals is Val Guzman, owner of R&N Enterprises. Guzman said he saw Mendoza grow up and is impressed how he frequently goes to Sacramento and Washington, and brings his knowledge back to Woodlake. Guzman said that Mendoza is a voracious reader and, though he attended Porterville College, he is mostly self taught. Mendoza was instrumental in getting R&N Enterprises in compliance with government regulations.
“He has a bright future and we have a bright future with him as our assemblyman,” Guzman said.
Mendoza says that his knowledge comes from his many years of experience in business and his personal story.
“My life has given me a lot of wisdom,” he said.
Mimi Rogers, who got to know Mendoza during his last campaign, has just signed on as his new campaign manager.
“It was kind of sudden, but I’ve known him for years and I believe in him,” Rogers said. “Rudy has the best interests of the district in mind and is a very compassionate, hard-working individual. He has a lot of compassion for people and passion for his community.”
Mendoza also plans on keeping his campaign activities grassroots and his fundraisers local, which is a direct contrast to Mathis’ current strategy.
“His financial support is from Political Action Committees (PACs) and he doesn’t surround himself with people from the district, but with Sacramento lobbyist and political hacks. Whoever comes into his life he bleeds him dry,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza’s is referring to Mathis’ relatively new staff and his campaign finance report filed at the end of December, 2015. Out of the $176,000 raised by Mathis for Assembly 2016, much has come from Indian Casinos or big city PACs. More than $100,000 has come from outside the 26th District and a good portion of that sum came from out of state.
Just as concerning is the question of where Mathis’ campaign money goes. One third of Mathis’ donations goes to Willow Grace Productions, a consulting firm in Oak Grove just outside of Sacramento. Willow Grace Productions is owned by Judith Dougherty, the wife of Mathis’ chief of staff, Sean Dougherty. The campaign finance report does not itemize how the $57,000 was spent, just that it went to Dougherty’s firm.
Mendoza ended by saying that, “This is not about ego or revenge. It’s about doing an honest job for the people of this district and doing that job with integrity.”