On January 14 the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and Foothills Sun-Gazette hosted a candidates’ forum that posed the typical questions but whose answers illustrated a stark difference between incumbent District 3 Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian and challenger Brad Maaske.
Tulare County Board of Supervisors (TCBOS) District 1 challengers Robyn Stearn and Larry Micari, along with District 1 incumbent Kuyler Crocker, shared the stage with Shuklian and Maaske but did not present as clear a choice as did the District 3 candidates.
District 3 encompasses mostly Visalia.
Maaske said in his closing statement, “If being a Christian, if being pro-life, if being pro-business, if being pro- small government, means that I am far-right then I will wear that as a badge of honor.”
In Maaske’s campaign flyer left on the audience’s chairs at Café 210, he stated his priorities were homeless, water, and fair pay for sheriff deputies. But he also stated he would “stop the sexualization of our schools” and that he would “appoint Pro-Life conservative candidates to every committee and office.”
Shuklian responded by saying, “It’s difficult to be called names that you may not be. I have been called a liberal Democrat lately and I am not. I am an Independent. I do not know many liberal Democrats with a CCW permit (Conceal and Carry Weapon) signed by the sheriff.”
The homeless issue is one of the main reasons Maaske decided to run for public office and is another point of divergence between the two candidates. He said, referring to the Home Base report commissioned and paid for by the TCBOS, “one of things we need to stop doing is quit talking so much and take action.”
Maaske said his plan for the homeless would get 600 people off of the streets. He proposed a low-barrier shelter similar to a KOA campground located on a piece of fallow land the county owns next to the Bob Wiley Detention Facility. The location would not only reduce the cost of a low-barrier shelter, since the county already owns the land, but will solve the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) problem.
“You need somewhere to triage them, somewhere for a temp facility where there are counselors, where is there is Christian based help when people want that help.”
Maaske says he knows 100 homeless people by name in his neighborhood (Tulare and Locust area of Visalia.) He said the homeless told him that “if they had a place that would allow them to pitch their tent, and had an electric outlet, and there was a shower, and a bathroom, and food, and transportation, they would take it tomorrow.”
Shuklian responded that a campground 10 miles out of town “would be a logistical nightmare.”
Her priority “hands down is a low-barrier shelter but not a KOA campground on some fallow field.” She says the shelter needs to be an actual building where homeless can sleep and where there is staff to help the homeless navigate the system.
A low barrier shelter is where there are no restrictions on couples, children, pets, sobriety, or having to attend religious services.
She added that there is no silver bullet that can solve the homeless problem.
Shuklian’s priority outside of the low-barrier shelter would be to utilize the landlord mitigation program presented in the Home Base Report. She said that there are many unused units and if the county could get the landlords to participate they have the vouchers to help homeless pay for rent. She also supports the suggestion of a fulltime staff person dedicated to the homeless issue and be the regional point person.
Maaske also criticized the new Self-Help project, Fort Visalia Lofts. The project will have art studios on the ground floor and 81 units for low-income housing on the upper floors close to downtown. Though he praised Self-Help and its method of providing low-income housing for families, he does not agree with the location of the Lofts.
Maaske said that the units will rent for less than $600 a month and will “bring in a lot of people into downtown, that live there, and now don’t have the money to spend at the restaurants or to support our vibrant downtown.”
He also voiced his concerns at the December 4 Visalia Planning Commission meeting. In reference to Fort Visalia Lofts, Maaske said, “I’m worried. I see what happened in Woodlake, I see what happened in Orange Cove. What do we do to protect downtown Visalia?”
Shuklian said that while she was on the Visalia City Council it bought the Fort Visalia property specifically to be developed into a live-work space. “I applaud Self-Help with what they are doing in making that a dream come true.”
The two candidates also showed a huge difference of perception when it came to an audience question asking them about the “assault on free speech.”
Maaske said that at one point Tulare County had a policy “that you could not have Merry Christmas or have anything that said Merry Christmas on your desk.”
Shuklian said that she was unaware of that policy and in fact the county just hosted a Christmas decorating contest at Government Plaza. “Supervisor Vander Poel and I were the judges and it was very Christmassy. It was pretty cool.”
But Maaske thought the county’s alleged Christmas policy was an “assault on free speech.”
“All in all, fighting values, fighting Christians is creating chaos all over the world, its creating chaos in our schools and I think you need to elect strong leaders that have strong moral values and compass and we need to keep God in our schools and in our country. Who is attacked the most is the right.”
Shuklian said in response, “I come from a background that my ancestors were massacred because of their Christianity. But I need to represent everybody.”
Shuklian emphasized that being a supervisor is a nonpartisan office and that when someone calls with a concern she does not ask their political party, ethnicity or religion. “You are my constituent and I will take care of you.”
While the District 3 candidates showed their glaring differences, those for District 1 made it hard to determine how differently each candidate would vote on the dais. All of them stated that their priorities are water, roads, safety and the homeless.
The greatest differences between the three candidates were their age and life experiences.
During their introductions and final statements each candidates painted a picture of the type of person the voter would be electing.
Micari lives in Exeter with his wife and two daughters. He started his career in law enforcement at the Farmersville Police Department and ended by retiring a few years ago from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department as a Captain. “I have a passion for public service and to help people and have done that my entire career.” He said that he built a reputation throughout his career as someone you could trust, someone who would listen, and someone who could solve problems.
He wanted to let people know that there is much more to him than, “Do you know why I pulled you over today?” Micari said he is familiar with the flexibility needed when self-employed because he runs a small cherry farm, owns rental properties, and is involved in a retail business.
Crocker beat out a wide field of candidates in the 2016 primary in June of 2016, then narrowly beat Dennis Smith in the general election of that year. He listed off the numerous committees onto which he was appointed by his fellow supervisors, the most recent being Tulare County Agency of Governments. For 2019 he was the Supervisor Chair.
He listed his achievements as approving Children’s Hospital to build at Caldwell and Highway 99 and clawing back the $17 million in Highway 99 funds taken away by Governor Newsom. He also said he approved a solar project that will save the county millions in electricity costs, saw the purchase of a new property evidence crime lab, led the effort to create a new Veterans Affairs Committee and made sure that the county maintained its strong reserve fund.
Crocker is being endorsed by Visalia Mayor Bob Link, former Mayor Warren Gubler, who now lives in New Zealand, District Attorney Tim Ward and former Assemblywoman Connie Conway.
Stearns said that she has been involved in her community her entire life. “In 2011 I was awarded the Heritage Award by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce.”
“I didn’t start attending meetings or going to functions because I am running for supervisor. This is what I have always done.”
Stearns said that when she ran for a seat on the Exeter City Council, “I didn’t buy one sign, I didn’t spend any money on a campaign because people knew me and they voted for me because of who I am.”
Stearns has started two businesses, the Wildflower Café and E Street Market, both in Exeter. She says she understands all the hoops that businesses have to jump through at the county level, “and I know that small businesses are truly the heart of our community.”
“What you get with me is an individual with a mind of her own. I will always do what is best for our county.”
She ended the forum by saying, “When I was young what I didn’t like about this area was that everyone knew everyone. What I love about the county now is that every knows everyone. You don’t appreciate that as a child.”
To get more details go to the forum on January 21st @ Exeter Memorial Building 6:30- 8:30pm located at 324 N. Kaweah Ave., hosted by the Tulare County Farm Bureau and Exeter Chamber of Commerce. For more information contact the Exeter Chamber of Commerce (559) 592-2919. Doors open 6:30pm and the forum will begin at 7pm with moderator asking questions and audience submitting questions in writing.