Tulare County Board of Supervisors District 1 candidates Kuyler Crocker and Dennis Smith went face to face during a forum October 5 at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building. Moderator Paul Meyer, editor of the Foothills Sun Gazette, prepared a half dozen questions concerning the most pressing issues facing Tulare County residents today.
Though both candidates are Republican, and born and raised in Tulare County, a few differences between them surfaced during the forum.
Crocker and Smith agreed on how to handle most of the problems facing the county–ranging from the drought to public safety–but did not agree on how supervisors should receive raises. Meyers asked the candidates how they would change the system and also pointed out the fact that supervisors make more than double the average household income of the average Tulare County resident.
“I don’t approve of the salary round robin way of getting raises,” said Smith. He was referring to the fact that when supervisors vote to raise the salaries of the sheriff, district attorney, and auditor controller, the supervisors then automatically receive a raise. This happens once a year when the supervisors approve the county’s budget.
Crocker floated the idea of an independent commission, similar to what is used in Sacramento for the state legislators’ salaries. He said that during the recession the legislators took a pay cut because the commission recommended it.
“I would be very in favor of starting something in those lines so pay makes sense and that we are being good stewards of our finances.”
Crocker said that appointing a commission could research what the supervisors’ pay should be and take the issue out of the board’s hands. “It’s positive because it is the people deciding , and puts it outside of the board’s control,” said Crocker.
Smith did not agree with the idea of a commission. He said that a commission is just another level of government and wondered out loud why the government is “allowed to continue to grow, grow and grow? That’s a problem for me.”
“I look at it from a constitutional point of view. I am more of a patriot than a career politician. When I see that senators have been in office for 30 or 40 years, that upsets me. That’s not right,” said Smith.
In terms of how much the supervisors should receive in compensation, Smith said that each candidate needs to make his position clear on what they think his pay should be before the election. “I don’t know that I need $150k to live on during the course of the year. I think I can be a lot more frugal than that. “
The Candidates Address GSAs
One of the last questions posed by Meyers concerned the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA.) He stated that Tulare County is already a member of two of the three GSAs formed within its boundaries. All three have to work together to come up with a plan for groundwater sustainability by 2020. He asked the candidates, “How would you foster a working relationship?”
Smith said that working with Sacramento is not going to fix our water problem. He feels that the county should take the lead in forming the plan but he doesn’t think the county should take the lead in terms of trying to satisfy Sacramento.
“In that I mean the liberals in the Bay Area while they try to tell us what to do with our lives and our property,” Smith said.
He said that the county needs to push back and build coalitions with the other Valley boards of supervisors.
Smith is a member of a coalition involved with the irrigated Land Regulatory Program and the Kaweah Basin Water Quality District that is a member of a GSA.
Crocker’s response to the GSAs was that it was a “terrible piece of legislation” but we need to make sure that the county is following the guidelines and securing the flexibility needed by the farmers. “Ground water sustainability will never be attainable if we don’t have the surface water. Before the Friant Kern canal we had overdraft issues and those were alleviated once we had surface water.”
Crocker continued, “I have a track record of working with people from all different sides and all different areas. I’m proud to have the support from many of the county’s board of supervisors from Kings, Tulare, and Fresno, and of Eric Borba, chairman of the Friant Water Authority. These people understand water. We have to work together with our farmers, with our business owners, and residents to deal with this terrible piece of legislation. “
Both Crocker and Smith went to the water forum put on by Congressman Devin Nunes on August 31 that outlined the serious challenges facing the Central Valley’s farmers. Smith said that he is behind Nunes’ efforts “to get everyone together to stand firm and give a united front to confront the evil people who are trying to take our water away from us.” Smith said that Nunes predicted in 2002 that the government and environmentalists were going to dry up a million acres on the west side, then move to do the same on the east side.
“Extreme environmentalist have pursued the goal to depopulate the targeted land. Their tactic has been water deprivation and it has been ruthless.” Smith said. “Folks, they think they [the environmentalists] have already won and they are packing up their bags and moving to Merced and Stanislaus Counties.”
Crocker said that as a farmer he has worked with these groups, the Nisei Farmers League, Citrus Mutual, Farm Bureau, and the California Cotton Growers. “Those are the types of individuals we have to get on board and have a unified voice. It’s not always easy or a given that it is going to happen but that is what we have and the stakes are too high for us not to try and do that…. Sacramento has had their way with us and its time we banded together and recover our voice and say enough is enough,” he said.
Candidates’ Professional and Personal Differences Come Through in Their Opening and Closing Statements
During the candidates’ introductions Smith brought up the fact that by the time he was Crocker’s age he had already been running his own business for two years. Smith started National Business Supply when he was 27 years old and has been in business for 39 years.
Smith said he pulled his business through a full-blown depression in terms of the building industry. “The reason we survived is because of my conservative values,” he said. He understands what businesses in Tulare County have to go through in terms of dealing with bureaucrats, regulations, permits and licensing. Smith added that the country might be headed for a slow down and he would be the one best able to tackle a bad economy.
“I’m running for supervisor because as I turn 64 I am backing out of my business and handing it over to the next generation,” said Smith. “I have been fortunate and blessed to be healthy and full of energy to work 10 to 12 hour days. And I plan on continuing that 10 to 12 hour day when elected.”
While Smith is very well versed in water issues, Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida pointed out that “Kuyler has lived it.” Supervisor Ishida has endorsed Crocker and made generous donations to his campaign. Crocker and Supervisor Ishida are both graduates from Strathmore High School and from longtime farming families.
As a farmer in Strathmore, Crocker’s family farm and hometown is affected by the politics surrounding the Friant Kern Canal, which received zero allocations for two years in a row.
In his closing statements Crocker said he was proud of the endorsements he has received from Supervisor Ishida, the Deputy Sheriffs Association, Tulare County Firefighters, former Tulare County Sheriff Bill Whitman and former Exeter Mayor Ted McCauley. “I will fight tirelessly against Sacramento and Washington from trying to run our life.”
Smith said in his final comments that, “I have been a faithful voter having maybe missed one vote in my entire life,” alluding to the fact that Crocker had not voted in the last five years, or at lease had not voted during those years in Tulare County.
“I am not running an establishment campaign where I have got tons of endorsements from all the political class in this county. I am running a grassroots campaign talking with people and knocking on doors sharing my vision and what I plan to do.”
Smith ended with, “Being the top vote getter in the primary I am confident we will be able to carry that right through to the election and I appreciate your vote.”