This article has been updated to correct Phelps’ current job title.
Candidate Drew Phelps is getting an early start in the 2020 race for the District 26 State Assembly seat, announcing his candidacy at a kick-off party in Tulare last week.
The 24-year-old Tulare native believes the incumbent–Devon Mathis (R-Visalia)–isn’t getting the job done and lacks a vision for the 26th District.
“I’m running because things have been ignored for too long,” Phelps said.
The problem, according to Phelps, is our current assemblyman isn’t taken seriously by his colleagues in the state capital.
“Devon Mathis doesn’t get a whole lot of respect,” Phelps said. “That leads to not getting a lot done on the policy side.”
Phelps, who has worked for State Senator Andy Vidak, Congressman Jim Costa and former State Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, sees himself as a “policy guy,” and believes he has both the knowledge and experience to do a better job for the 26th District. Currently, Phelps works as a policy analyst and land use manager for Granville Homes; he has held multiple positions in the past, including serving as the director of grant oversight for the Manuel Torres Resource Center.
While Phelps is young–he will be 26 by the time the race is decided in June of 2020–he already has a long list of impressive endorsements. Those backing Phelps include Tulare County Board of Education Trustee Pat Hillman, Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) directors Senovia Gutierrez and Mike Jamaica, retired Tulare City School District superintendents Bill Postlewaite and John Beck, and Tulare Mayor Jose Sigala.
“I think he’s going to be an excellent candidate,” said Sigala, who ran for the District 26 seat against Mathis in 2018. “We all want to have leadership we can trust.”
For Postlewaite, who also believes Mathis is an ineffectual politician, his support for Phelps means crossing party lines.
“When things are almost equal, I vote Republican,” Postlewaite said. “Things aren’t equal in this race.”
TLHCD’s Gutierrez called Phelps a “bright mind”, and lauded him for his wide participation in Tulare civics.
“He cares about the people,” she said.
Phelps, who has already added $50,000 to his campaign’s war chest, realizes he faces an uphill climb to unseat the Republican incumbent in a heavily red area of California. Yet, he believes the 26th District is evolving in its political outlook, pointing to recent gains in support for Democratic candidates.
“It’s a tough district, but things are changing,” he said.
Sigala–who points to Phelps’ leadership role in challenging the former “corrupt” leadership of the TLHCD as a reason for his support–says the youngster can take the race by being a good communicator.
“My advice for Drew is get out there and talk to people,” Sigala said.
Alberto Aguilar, a former TLHCD Bond Oversight Committee member who also played a key role in changing the hospital district’s leadership, is also backing Phelps. Assemblyman Mathis, Aguilar said, could have saved the TLHCD from bankruptcy but refused to act.
“I definitely believe we need a change. (Mathis) hasn’t done what he promised to do,” Aguilar said. “I’m doing more than voting for Drew. I’m supporting him all the way.”
Phelps says the key issues he hopes to address in the Assembly include water regulation, health care access and the creation of new economic opportunities for District 26.
Phelps hopes to not only ensure adequate water for agriculture, but also see to it residents have access to “clean, safe water.” He also wants to take decisions about California’s water supply out of the hands of bureaucrats, giving citizens more say in water policy.
“My focus is going to be that the final decisions are coming back to the legislature,” he said. “When it’s a vote, the people can come back and do something about it.”
In terms of economic development, Phelps also wants to “get away from the one-size-fits-all” approach. He believes tax incentives will help attract more business and industry to the 26th District, and that the state also needs to do more to protect small businesses in rural areas.
“What works in Los Angeles or San Francisco doesn’t necessarily work here,” he said.
Also in the area of economic opportunity, Phelps said he’d like to work on getting a four-year college open in the 26th District. That might also help his aim of improving health care, especially in the area of mental health, by attracting more doctors and medical professionals to the area.
Still, Phelps and his supporters realize they have a lot of work to do.
“It’s a challenge,” said Sigala. “It’s a big district.”