Dennis Smith, 64, is one of the two remaining candidates vying for the District 1 seat on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. He and Kuyler Crocker will contend in a runoff election November 8. In the June general election, Smith received 21.56% of the votes; Crocker received 19.11%.
District 1 covers central Tulare County and is home to most of its cities, including eastern Visalia, Exeter, Farmersville, Woodville, Plainview, Lemoncove, Lindsay, Strathmore and Three Rivers, as well as portions of Kings and Sequoia National Parks, and Sequoia National Forest.
The District 1 seat is currently occupied by Allen Ishida. Ishida, who was elected in 2004, did not seek reelection in 2016.
Dennis Smith remembers fondly coming of age in rural Visalia during the 1950s and ‘60s, a time of post-WWII prosperity when the country was at its economic best.
“We did all the fun things of growing up in the country,” he said. “Lots of fresh fruit to eat. Riding bikes. Playing marbles in the driveway. Playing in Mill Creek, fishing in Mill Creek. Sleeping outside almost every night, making forts.”
It was a time when poverty in America, at least for Smith, had a different meaning.
“I had the privilege of growing up on a little bit of property in the country and experiencing all that,” he said. “On the one hand, an idyllic middle-class lifestyle, and on the other we were poor and couldn’t afford a car every three years and stuff like that as we (Smith and his two brothers) got into teenage years.”
Smith graduated Redwood High in 1970, then attended the College of the Sequoias. A series of sales jobs followed while he and his wife Barbara started a family that now includes three children and a quartet of grandchildren.
‘I Could Do It Better’
With his family growing larger at home, Smith found himself growing dissatisfied at work. A few years working in Esterman’s Hardware, a long-gone former fixture at the far end of East Main Street, had convinced him he had what he needed to strike out on his own.
“After a few years of working in that, I decided that I could do it better myself,” he said. “I quit working there, and then a few months later, I and Noel Anderson started National Builders Supply. We’ve been partners for 38 years.”
A family business, NBS employs six people, including Smith, Anderson, their wives and two others. Specializing in doors, trim, molding and related hardware, NBS should do more than $1 million in sales this year, Smith said. It’s his experience operating NBS that Smith believes makes him a more qualified candidate than his much younger opponent.
“I’ve run my business for a long time, the same business for a long time. I’ve been making payroll every other week for 38 years,” he said. “I have with all that life experiences and understanding and knowledge of stuff that Mr. Crocker at 29 years old hasn’t begun to appreciate. I believe in a citizen-formed government. I believe the government should be populated by citizens who have lived a life, earned a living, learned what it takes to survive in the private sector.”
During nearly four decades in business, Smith and NBS have seen both ups and downs. The million-dollar bottom-line he boasts about marks a return to prosperity. The housing crash of 2008 that began the Great Recession nearly did NBS in.
“Let’s go back to 2010, because we see this begin in 2008 and by August ‘10 I’m laying off everyone,” Smith said. “We had a crew of 15. I started laying off in 2008-2009. In August of 2010, that’s where we laid off everybody. I laid off my daughter. That spring, we laid off our wives. They kept doing their jobs, but they were laid off. They got no pay.”
The business almost closed.
“This is something that I as a businessman never faced in 38 years of business, the fact we could have the property almost paid for and (might) lose it through foreclosure and not be able to turn any of that equity,” Smith said.
That brush with disaster, which Smith blames on corrupt government, the Federal Reserve Board and fractional-reserve lending, endowed him with something he believes Crocker and the other supervisors already in office lack.
“I’ll be one voice, at least on the Board of Supervisors of Tulare County, who can say, ‘Look, guys, this is how the system works,’” he said.
Smith is sure a broken system and distant lawmakers are also behind Tulare County’s water problems.
Smith places blame for the “government-created” drought threatening the state not on a lack of rainfall, but on failure of its current leader, Gov. Jerry Brown. Ignoring the eight years of governorship by Ronald Reagan that came between their terms, as well as the others who followed them, Smith says the younger Brown failed to continue the building program started by his father, Gov. Pat Brown.
“We have a fault there of Sacramento in not continuing to do infrastructure development,” Smith said. “Had they done that, we would have the canal structure. We’d have everything in place to where we would not be pumping out of the aquifers. We wouldn’t have to.”
Personal interest, Smith said, has led him to look deeply into the issues of water in California. This also gives him an edge over his opponent.
“So you’ve got all these issues going on with water, but at least I’ve got an understanding of where we were, where we are, and the problem is where we’re going,” he said. “In the meantime, I am totally against giving the state the right to control our groundwater. I’m totally against me taking that water under my ground and selling it to someone else, in other words going off my property.”
While he cannot directly effect state laws from a position on the county’s board of supervisors, Smith said he can use it as a bully pulpit.
“I can sure raise a ruckus,” he said. “I can sure call other supervisors up and down the state in the counties, especially in rural areas, that hopefully we have enough rural political clout to slow down–ideally I would like to see it stop–the state from coming in and taking private property from away us, because this isn’t just water we’re talking about.”
Attempts by state legislature to regulate the use of groundwater is more than just an effort at conservation, Smith says. He believes it to be another step in a government-led effort to lessen the right of citizens to own and control property.
“This is a private-property issue, and when they take this from our private property, which will devalue all of our rural property, then what is next on the agenda in terms of private property? So, there’s always dots to be connected, and I try to connect dots. OK, here we are. Can I look down the road here and see? What’s next? What’s after this? Because there will be something next,” he said. “We are sitting here at a moment in history for the people of California that is a monumental moment, and we the people will either step up and say no and do whatever it takes to fight this taking of private property and private-property rights, or we’re going to let them do it. My fear is we the people are too complacent.”
Continuing in this vein, Smith said he sees an opportunity in this election to return Tulare County and the rest of rural California to a previous, more ideal state.
“I bring to that campaign of what it used to be and what it could be, should be, as opposed to what it’s evolved into, where we’ve got people from urban areas passing laws that might be appropriate for the urban areas … but in no way are they appropriate to those of us living in the rural areas,” he said. “How do you push back against that? The county level of government is the closest level of government we have where we can actually say, ‘No, let’s not do this.’”
Smith, however, admits he’d couldn’t do much about the “horrendous imposition of laws and stuff that the state is passing in Sacramento” from a supervisor’s seat.
“At least let’s least put someone in office who is willing to say, ‘No, we don’t need this. We don’t want this. It shouldn’t apply to us,’” he said.
Smith also intends to bring this always-say-no approach to Tulare County’s planning for the coming of high-speed rail. The rail system is already under construction, yet leaders in Kings County, where the rail line will pass, have refused to work with the HSR Authority to plan the station that will eventually be built there. Smith says Tulare County, which has shown an interest in having a seat at the planning table, should follow suit.
“We should not support it,” he said. “It’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”
Sitting down to plan for a train station, Smith said, is tantamount to supporting the HSR project as a whole.
“Why would I put money into that? What voice are you going to have?” he asked. “You get the right to plan and participate in a boondoggle.”
He Knows What Tulare County Needs
Job creation is another area where Smith believes Tulare County is suffering at the hands of distant government. Ignorance, he says, is to blame.
“This concept of jobs is one where I don’t think people understand what a job is, meaning if we bring this in this big corporation and that’ll create X number of jobs, and everybody will be happy, ‘cause everybody will have a job,” he said. “And I look at it a little differently than that. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a job. Many, many years ago, I was an employee. It isn’t the issue of the job; it’s the issue of accomplishing something.”
Our education system, he said, is designed to allow corporations to track students as they progress, eventually allowing them to “step in” and offer them a job appropriate to their skills.
“What I would like to see is our educational system to come back to a point where we are training young people to be adults, and in that training provide them the ability to balance that checkbook, to, metal shop, whatever that is in metal shop, wood shop, whatever that is in wood shop, and so forth, where it is a system that trains people to be small-business, independent business people,” he said. “It’s something I support, something I can vocalize and say, ‘Look, this is something we need. Tulare County, because of our demographics, this is what we need.”