Political Fix (15 November, 2018)

A Midterm Post Mortem

It was freezing and quiet outside St John’s Hall in Hanford with a few unconcerned security guards lingering by the doors, but hot and crowded inside the Portuguese Hall on Election Night. Even though not in his district, this was still Nunes country, and a Nunes-friendly crowd, where no sharp edged questions or Fresno Bee reporters were to be had.

I raced to Hanford in between Visalia City Council candidate parties to get a group picture of State Senator Andy Vidak, Assembly Member Candidate Justin Mendes, Congress Member David Valadao, and Congress Member Devin Nunes, who were all hosting the party. Entering the hall and threading myself through the throng of people I realized how unrealistic my goal was, which was confirmed when I cornered a Nunes staffer who said, “Not going to happen.”

The party was actually in the heart of Mr. Valadao’s district and seeing him and Tulare Local Health Care Board Member Xavier Avila and his wife, Susie, chatting I thought – well that’s a better picture anyway.

Mr. Valadao moved on to other constituents so Mr. Avila took the time to congratulate me on my election predictions. He said if someone gets 50% correct plus one that’s doing well. But two-thirds correct is genius.

I’ll accept that. Out of nine predictions, I got seven correct.

The easiest was to predict Mr. Valadao’s and Mr. Nunes’ victories. But I also came close to nailing the percentages, predicting 54% Nunes to 46% Janz, The final tally was 55% Nunes to 45% Janz with votes yet to be counted. Mr. Valadao’s race has pulled within two percentage points but he is still projected to win.

The Nunes/Janz congressional race cost a combined $20 million and well known local Republican, Michael Der Manouel told the Fresno Bee, “I was surprised at the amount of national rage that converted itself into money for Janz, but it was all wasted.”

But Mr. Janz’ campaign gave voters a choice, and gave the constituents of District 22 a candidate with whom they could meet and talk. Mr. Janz also won over 30% of voters that in the past six elections voted for Mr. Nunes.

That is Democracy at work and not a waste of money.

I do agree with the assessment of rage on both sides. It really came down to the 22nd District’s support for President Trump.

A minority of constituents want Mr. Nunes to employ the system of checks and balances put in place by our three branches of government. But Mr. Nunes protects the president, which is greatly appreciated by the majority of his constituents and they voted to send him back to Washington to keep doing what he is doing.


Tulare County Superintendent

The most surprising result of election night was the race for Tulare County Superintendent, where Tim Hire, Superintendent of Exeter Union High School (EUHS,) beat Craig Wheaton, Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) deputy by two points.

I thought voters were fairly undecided in the beginning of the race and heard criticisms and compliments on how both men ran their respective school districts. Mr. Wheaton was the superintendent of Visalia Unified School District before working for TCOE.

That changed after the candidates’ forum. Mr. Wheaton clearly outperformed Mr. Hire and I was miffed by how many times Mr. Hire parroted Mr. Wheaton’s responses to the questions. In addition Mr. Wheaton had several campaign events, sent out multiple press releases, put ads in all the papers, and his fans swamped us with letters of support.

On the other hand, I never heard from Mr. Hire’s supporters, except to complain that we were not covering him.

We finally received one press release from Mr. Hire that we posted on facebook. We decided against putting the release into print because it had spelling and grammatical errors unbecoming of someone seeking the highest office in education.

Given all this, I made my election prediction that Mr. Wheaton would easily win. In response to my column I was trolled by Mr. Hire’s wife and his supporters.

The clincher, what I thought would send voters running in the opposite direction, was a statement in his press release, “Hire encourages voters to consider that longevity has played a huge role in the success of out-going Tulare County Superintendent, Jim Vidak, and notes at age 50, he (Hire) will do his best to stay in the position as long as possible.”

Given Mr. Hire’s logic, I guess he expects to be our superintendent until 2050. Last time I checked TCOE superintendent is a four-year term, not a lifelong appointment.

So much for Democracy.


Tulare City Council

The second most surprising result, but maybe not for Tulare, was Alex Gutierrez’ loss to Terry Sayre for Tulare City Council District 2.

Allowing my bias to cloud my judgment, I thought for sure Tulare would not elect a woman and I predicted an easy win for Mr. Gutierrez.

The only woman on the council is Maritza Castellanoz, also in District 2, but she was never elected. In 2014 she lost to a man who ended up resigning. In 2016 she was uncontested.

But gender may not have played a role. Registered Democrats are not far behind registered Republicans in Tulare, and District 2 might even have more Democrats.

Yet, Ms. Sayre won 57% to Mr. Gutierrez’ 42%.

City council is a non partisan office, but Mr. Gutierrez campaigned on the fact that he was active in the Tulare County Democratic Central Committee, so one would assume most Democrats would vote for him.

Part of the answer lies in voter turnout. 750 voters cast their ballots in District 2, while in District 4 it was 2,100 voters. That’s a huge difference for a small district.

The story to be told is that, once again, Hispanics and Democrats did not show up.

Of course race, party or gender might not have had anything to do with the election. After everything Tulare has been through in the last few years, voters may have wanted someone older and wiser, and they found that person in Ms. Sayre.

In 2050 we might be saying the same of Mr. Gutierrez.

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