Driving his elation is what he describes as broad-based support for his campaign, a claim supported by a large turnout for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at his recently opened campaign headquarters.
“I’m really excited so many folks are here,” Phelps said.
List of Supporters Growing
Already backed by such Tulare County notables as Tulare Mayor Jose Sigala, Tulare County Board of Education Trustee Pat Hillman, and retired Tulare City School District superintendents Bill Postlewaite and John Beck, Phelps has also picked up endorsements from former Tulare County Supervisor Lali Moheno and former Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) director Dr. Prem Kamboj.
“Hometown guy, he’s intelligent,” said Kamboj. “He’s moderate and knows the issues.”
Kamboj cited Phelps’ work to help restore control of the TLHCD through the Citizens for Hospital Accountability group as underlying his support for the young candidate. Phelps also has the support of current TLHCD directors Mike Jamaica and Senovia Gutierrez.
Beyond his appeal as a native son, Phelps also believes his popularity is due in part because he’s made it clear his representation won’t be bound by party lines or limited to his financial backers.
“I’m going to make sure everyone has a voice,” he said.
He’ll do that, he says, by making sure his constituents’ needs are addressed in the state legislature.
“I am really focused on local issues,” Phelps said. “It’s so basic, the things we need that we’re not getting in Sacramento.”
Specifically, Phelps says he intends to pay more attention to issues impacting Tulare County residents, such as water availability and quality, bringing more medical personnel to the Central Valley, creating new economic opportunities, as well as addressing the growing problem of homelessness with more housing and mental health care options.
In Tune with Voters
Polling in the 26th District, the candidate says, show he’s on the right track, with his platform a good match with what voters say they want from state government.
“I thought I knew the issues, and it’s good to have that confirmed,” Phelps said. “It’s the same thing I’ve been saying all campaign.”
According to Phelps, that’s not something voters can expect from Mathis. Specifically, he points to what he calls Mathis’ anti-vaccine stance. Mathis opposed SB 276, a bill that removed certain medical vaccine exemptions for California students attending public schools and daycare centers, and his social media content has included coverage of vigils for “children who have been lost due to vaccine injuries.”
“He (Mathis) focuses on the wrong issues,” Phelps said. “It distracts from the real issues.”
Proof Phelps’ message is reaching voters is plain when you look at the number of individuals donating to the two candidates. Phelps reports he has three times as many individuals giving to his campaign as compared to the incumbent’s fundraising. The numbers, he says, point to a strong campaign resonating with 26th District voters.
“That’s evident in our grassroots turnout. It’s obvious in our contributions,” Phelps said. “It’s all from individuals. I’m really encouraged.”
Mayor Sigala, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Mathis during the last election cycle, believes Phelps has the momentum to succeed.
“I think he’s been working hard to be a competitive candidate,” he said. “I think definitely it’s a good fit. He’s someone who understands the issues as someone who lives here. He understands local politics.”
A More Responsive Representative
The mayor also said he expects Phelps to be a more responsive representative. Mathis, Sigalia says, had not contacted him during his stint on the Tulare City Council until a recent invitation to lunch. He’s not the only local official complaining about Mathis.
Al Aguilar, a former member of the Tulare County Grand Jury and a current director at the Tulare Public Cemetery District, says he got no help from the assemblyman when attempting to get Mathis to initiate a state-level audit of the TLHCD while it was deeply embroiled in controversy. Aguilar was serving on the TLHCD’s Bond Oversight Committee at the time.
“When I went to Mathis to have the state do an audit, he said he couldn’t do it,” Aguilar said. “He (Mathis) said it was because he owed Dr. (Yorai) Benzeevi a favor.”
At the time, Benzeevi was serving as the TLHCD’s CEO and ran the company which held the management contract for the Tulare Regional Medical Center. He was accused of not providing proper documentation for bond fund spending.
Aguilar says he trusts Phelps to do a better job.
“He’s a good man,” Aguilar said.