EDITORS’ NOTE: This article was updated to correct false domestic abuse allegations leveled against Jose Sigala, and include comment from his ex-wife, who denies that any abuse ever occurred.
In a civil but testy debate, Republican State Assembly member Devon Mathis and Democratic Tulare City Council member Jose Sigala exchanged barbs during last week’s candidates’ forum put on by the Tulare County League of Women Voters.
Both men survived a competitive June Primary and are now vying for the State Assembly District 26 seat November 6.
In their opening statements, Sigala and Mathis described how they overcame an upbringing of hardships and poverty.
“I’m just a redneck Okie from Porterville, real poor, been on welfare, and been on workman’s comp,” said Mathis.
Sigala’s parents were immigrant farm laborers who hadn’t reached past a third grade education. Even though, it was from his parents where he learned values such as hard work, caring for other people, and the need to make a difference in your community, “and that’s what excites me most about running for assembly,” said Sigala.
The similar economic backgrounds has not lead to similar politics. Though both men have demonstrated an adept ability to reach across the aisle, they espouse the party line in their beliefs.
Most striking in their different beliefs was their take on the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Sigala said he was moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, especially how she is still so affected 36 years later, by the two aggressors laughing at her expense during the assault.
On the other hand, after the forum, Mathis stated that he was equally moved by the emotional and combative statements made by Senator Lindsay Graham and Kavanaugh. He was encouraged by how the two Republicans stood up to the Democrats for allegedly engaging in an orchestrated smear campaign against a good man. Mathis felt that Senator Dianne Feinstein purposely presented the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh at the last minute purely as a political maneuver to derail his appointment.
Questions of leadership, experience, and character were posed throughout the evening that further exposed each candidates’ complicated relationship to women.
When questioned about leadership, Sigala stated several times throughout the evening, “I want to put this district on the map for the right reasons and not because of my personal shortcomings, or lack of character, but because of my tenacity when it comes to poverty, healthcare and education. That’s the type of leadership I want to bring to the table.”
Sigala was referring to the PAC Enough is Enough Voter Project that has targeted Mathis for sexually harassing women in his Sacramento office. Mathis was required to participate in sensitivity and sexual harassment training after an investigation found he had frequently engaged in sexual “locker room talk.”
Mathis responded to Sigala’s statement by saying, “I won’t waste your time in explaining why the other person running for assembly left Los Angeles seeing as he wants to attack my character.” Mathis, who repeated this refrain multiple times during the forum, was referring to a whisper campaign that Sigala was involved in a domestic abuse incident.
Lisa Baca, Sigala’s ex wife responded to Mathis’ insinuations, “Jose Sigala not once has ever hit me or any other woman. We had a successful 17 year marriage that ended due to our individual growth. Today we remain friends. Jose Sigala is NOT Mathis and voters do have a clear choice for authentic ethical leadership who will create change based on the facts of their record.”’
Even the subject of bipartisanship was contentious.
Mathis said that when he got to Sacramento he was ready to “kick down the door” to talk with Democrats and work together with them on water, Cap and Trade and taxes, but discovered he didn’t have to.
Because of term limits Mathis is considered a senior legislator after only four years in Sacramento. “I am part of every major policy that has happened in this state. I am willing to cross party lines and am proud of it. “
He said he has brought everyone to the table whether he liked them or not. “There is a difference between leadership and likership and that is something I learned in the military. You are never going to make everyone happy.”
Mathis said that he is here for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from. “Everyone has a seat at the table.” He then gave out his cell phone number and encouraged everyone to call 559 209-5692.
Sigala responded by saying having effective representation in Sacramento is why he joined Republican Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler in challenging Mathis. “It’s very easy to say you want to work with the other side but then go and demonize them, then it’s not going to work.”
Mathis retorted, many of the people backing Sigala in Sacramento “are the same people who said our area is just a bunch of tumbleweeds and they have treated us as such.”
“That’s disturbing,” said Mathis.
Ground Water Sustainability Act (GSA) and Proposition 6 were two of the policy issues that came up during the forum.
Proposition 6 is an effort to repeal the Gas Tax approved by the Democratic majority in Sacramento earlier this year. A yes vote would repeal the tax and a no vote would keep it. The new law increased the gas tax by $0.12 and the diesel fuel tax by $0.20 per gallon, and increased vehicle registration fees $25-$175, depending on the vehicle’s value. The revenue generated will be used to repair California’s aging transportation infrastructure.
Sigala said that as a Tulare City Council member he has seen how the money provided through the new tax has improved the roads and infrastructure. “I have seen the positive impact it has had. Tulare County needs that money for roads and I see that first hand.”
Sigala said though that he was glad that the voters will be able to have their say on the tax in November.
“Yes on 6 please,” said Mathis.
Funding has already been put in place Mathis said, and the taxpayers are already paying to repair the infrastructure.
“We need to reclaim that money and put it back into fixing roads.”
Mathis said emphatically, “We have the largest surplus we have had for years. We are the fifth largest economy in the world. But yet the decisions in Sacramento are to tax you more and more and more. We are the highest taxed state in the Union and our people have a 24% poverty rate. That’s not going to change until we stop taxing everyone and start using some common sense.”
The question of how each candidate planned on helping their district comply with the Sustainable Ground Water Act (GSA) was also asked.
Mathis is vice chair of the Agriculture Committee and sits on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. “I’ve been doing this for four years and when it comes to water policy I am one of the few Republicans that Democrats ask to come into the room. Every water district has a different issue. Every GSA has a different hydrology and it is important to understand that.”
Sigala countered saying, “out of both of us up here I am the only one to actually sit on a GSA board.”
He sits on the Mid Kaweah GSA that is comprised of Tulare, Visalia, and Tulare Irrigation District, “so I am on the front lines of implementing state water policy.” The board members will work hard to balance the needs between urban and agriculture uses he said.
Who will be the better leader?
In the end both candidates made their case of why they would make the better leader.
Sigala said he has 10 years experience in Sacramento helping pass legislation and has worked with community leaders throughout the state. With all the relationships he has developed over the decades in Los Angeles and Sacramento he will be “ready on day 1” as our new assembly member.
“I was the only elected official last year to stand up for our hospital in Tulare. No supervisor, no assemblyman, no senator, no congressman coming forward to fight the corrupt board that we had at Tulare Regional Hospital.”
Sigala said that he brought a lot of people together and worked across party lines to help get the hospital reopened and was the only local official to request an audit.
“That’s what I want to bring to the assembly,” he said.
“The characteristics I bring to the table are very simple,” said Mathis, “I have a proven leadership. When I was first elected in 2014 the first thing I did was get everyone around the table whether you liked them or not and figured out a solution to the problem and moved forward.” Mathis was referring to when he helped connect 2000 homes in Porterville to water during the drought.
Mathis said he has a track record of being part of 500 bills that were bipartisan. “Everything from education, mental health, health care, public safety, you name it I’ve worked on it,” he said.
Sigala refuted his legislative record saying, “It’s not effective leadership when you have an 80% failure rate in the last two years. It’s not effective leadership to have 37 of your 44 bills killed via committee.”
Sigala said in his closing statement that he shared the frustration with Gubler about our area’s representation “and we wanted someone in Sacramento that we can trust and trust their word.”
“I want to demonstrate that you have a choice. You have someone with the experience and leadership and who will represent his district well in Sacramento. Someone that if they look you in the eye and say they will vote a certain way you can count on it,” said Sigala.