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Political races featuring new faces against seasoned veterans in 2018

The Bakersfield Californian - 1/22/2018

Jan. 22--Kern County's political dance card is beginning to fill in the new year as a Shakespearean cast of candidates throw their names at seats in Congress, the state Senate, the Assembly and local races for Kern County supervisor, judge and district attorney.

Many of the races include people new to the political process facing seasoned incumbents or veteran politicians.

Others feature rematches from previous contests.

And a couple have already gotten interesting.

Candidate lists aren't complete and names will likely be added or dropped before the June primary contests are finalized on March 9.

But those lists give us a glimpse at what is in store in this gubernatorial election year.


Kern County's most prominent politician, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of the 23rd Congressional District, will face re-election again, as he does every two years.

So far the field of four potential candidates seem to represent little threat to the well-funded, politically influential confidant of President Donald Trump.

Wendy Reed, the desert Democrat who faced McCarthy in 2016, is making another go at him in 2018.

She said she is convinced that she can win this time around despite the fact McCarthy crushed her in November 2016 by more than 38.4 percentage points in the heavily Republican district.

Joining her as challenger for the June primary are three new political names.

Tatiana Matta is a Democrat and military wife from east Kern who said there is a large Latino community in the 23rd, which needs someone to represent its voice.

James Davis is a local man who has been involved behind the scenes in Republican politics in the past but says he's running as a "deviant" to challenge the current political status quo and reform money policy in the nation.

And Jonathan Hall, a retired aerospace engineer who moved to Tehachapi from Los Angeles and has served for 12 years on the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District Board, is running as a Libertarian to hold McCarthy accountable.

Hall isn't raising funds and has no illusions about his chances for victory.

"I can't win. I hope to make him at least face the people for five minutes somewhere, sometime," Hall said.


Right now it looks like Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, will be treated to a rematch with Bakersfield attorney and civil rights advocate Emilio Huerta, the son of labor leader Dolores Huerta.

The 21st Congressional District, which runs up the east side of the valley from Kern County to Fresno is heavily Latino, Democratic and went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

But Valadao beat Huerta handily in a multimillion-dollar matchup where Valadao and supporting political action committees battered Huerta on his background as an attorney for the United Farm Workers union.

But Valadao's name has been on the target list of Republican representatives that Democrats are hoping to knock off in pursuit of their plan to take control of the House of Representatives.


State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, is another Republican who holds a seat in a Democratic-heavy district.

He's managed to take and hold the district handily though.

Currently, two Democrats are vying to unseat Vidak.

Abigail Solis, president of the Earlimart school board and a community development professional at Visalia nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, is running against Vidak.

On her campaign website, she blames Vidak for the "economic inequality, disparity and chronic disinvestment" she says the 14th District has faced under his leadership.

Small rural communities have been left behind.

Ruben Macareno, a bow-tied Democrat from Farmersville, is running to improve affordable housing, health care offerings, education and the environment.

Devon Mathis beat Macareno soundly in the 2016 race for the 26th Assembly District.


Former Assemblywoman Shannon Grove is the apparent front-runner to replace Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, when she terms out at the end of 2018.

So far Grove, a staunch conservative, has picked up only one potential opponent.

Gregory Tatum, of Bakersfield, who came in sixth in the 2016 Bakersfield mayor's race, has pulled papers to run for the 16th District seat as well.


Assemblyman Rudy Salas is the incumbent in the Democratic-leaning 32nd Assembly District.

So far, only Stephen Cano, a young Kings County Libertarian and Navy veteran, has shown interest in facing off against Salas.


Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, is running for re-election for the first time.

The politically connected former staffer for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy won handily in the heavily Republican 34th District in 2016.

Democratic activist Nicholas Nicita, of Bakersfield, has thrown his hat into the ring against Fong.

Nicita has a degree in philosophy from Cal State Bakersfield and is a member of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee who is currently involved in progressive activism.

"I think it's important that the progressive message get out to Bakersfield," he said.

Kern's economy needs to diversify from just an oil and agriculture engine, but Fong has done little to bring in growing industries like the tech business, Nicita said.


Supervisor Zack Scrivner, of Tehachapi, may have at least two opponents.

Tehachapi conservative Michael Biglay has run for Congress and competed with Fong in 2016 for the 34th Assembly District.

Now he's pulled papers to run for supervisor.

But Bakersfield gay and lesbian leader Whitney Weddell, a continuation high school teacher, also has announced a run.

Weddell is a seasoned activist and experienced with politics and the media who could bring some unique discussions to the fore in the 2nd District race.


One of the most dramatic races this election year promises to be the challenge to 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard by Bakersfield city firefighter Jeff Heinle.

Maggard actually announced Heinle's candidacy before he was able to do it himself, wrapping his future opponent into accusations that the commercial cannabis industry was funneling support to Heinle through 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez and her husband, Fernando Jara.

Maggard's accusations were refuted by those he accused.

Heinle said he isn't taking mariuana money and Perez and Jara aren't involved in helping his campaign.

But Maggard hasn't backed down.

The rancor is likely to get more intense before the pair meet on June 5.


Co-workers Scott Spielman and Cynthia Zimmer, both high-ranking officials in the Kern County District Attorney's office, are vying to replace their boss, Lisa Green, in the elected district attorney position.

The race has split political and law enforcement circles with Green backing Spielman, her second-in-command, and former District Attorney Ed Jagels backing Zimmer.


Deputy District Attorney Chad Louie, who once expressed interest in the district attorney's race, has shifted his interest to a judge position on the Kern County Superior Court.

Facing him will be private attorney Brandon Martin, the chief of staff for Supervisor David Couch and son of influential local attorney George Martin -- the architect of the Bakersfield Business Conference.

James Burger can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.


(c)2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at www.bakersfield.com

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