It’s a new year and the primary election is five months away: June 5. Here are five local races to keep a close eye on. School districts are not included, as voters do not choose candidates during the primary (that is saved for the November general election.)
Fresno City Council, District 7
The Fresno electorate will choose at least two new council members this year. Clint Olivier, the District 7 representative, terms out after 2018.
The city established District 7, which covers central Fresno, in 2000. Only three men have represented the area: the father-son duo of Henry R. Perea and Henry T. Perea, and since 2011, Olivier.
The Pereas are Democrats, albeit more on the moderate side. Olivier’s views lean conservative with a strong libertarian tilt. With its history of voting for council members of varying political creeds, the new member could change the ideological balance of power of the board.
Three candidates have expressed interest:
— Attorney Brian Whelan, a conservative, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012 against incumbent Jim Costa.
— Nelson Esparza, a trustee for the Fresno County Board of Education. Esparza has run into trouble regarding his campaign fundraising.
— Veva Islas, director of health advocacy group Cultiva La Salud. Esparza and Islas appear to be favorites of Fresno’s progressive community.
Here’s the current council dynamic: two left-leaning Democrats, two moderate Democrats, and three conservatives/Republicans. If voters flip District 7 to a more liberal representative, it could alter the power of the council starting in 2019.
Fresno City Council, District 3
Oliver Baines is termed out, but it is unlikely the new candidate will have a drastically different political point of view. The district covers downtown and southwest Fresno, a reliable Democratic stronghold. Politically, 54% of district voters are registered Democrats, followed by 23% no-party preference and 18% Republican.
The diverse demographic could be a factor if voters play into the identity politics game. The district is 46% white, 23% Latino, 15% black and 11% Asian (the remaining 3% are listed as other, according to the U.S. Census). For the past 16 years, an African American has represented the area: Cynthia Sterling from 2003-11 and Oliver Baines since 2011.
The top candidates thus far are:
— Tate Hill, a manager at the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission and former head of the Black Chamber of Commerce.
— Daren Miller, Madera Unified educator and community advocate. He makes his official announcement Thursday (Jan. 4).
— Barigye McCoy, a community advocate and commercial sales executive, has announced his intention to run as well but has not filed with the city clerk’s office.
One other candidate has filed paperwork to run, but not much is known about Ramon Perez.
Miguel Arias, a State Center Community College District trustee and communications manager of Fresno Unified School District, could be a wild card.
Political insiders say Arias would be a strong contender if he runs, but he tells GV Wire that he hasn’t decided. One comment, however, may offer a hint into his thinking: “If there is a better candidate, I would want them to represent me. I have not seen that yet.”
In his 2014 run for the community college school board, Arias demonstrated an ability to fundraise. He collected more than $40,000 in contributions for a down-ticket race.
Incumbents Unlikely to See Challenges
Two other Fresno City Council seats are up for election. They are held by Esmeralda Soria in District 1 and Luis Chavez in District 5. No one else has taken out papers.
Chavez notes that he has $31,000 in his account and plans to raise another $70,000 just in case.
According to Soria’s last campaign filing, she has $3,200 cash on hand leftover from her 2014 campaign account.
The fundraising period starts Feb. 12, the first day that city candidates become official. The final day candidates can declare to run is March 9.
Madera County District Attorney
Incumbents are hard to beat. But, headlines in the past year have made District Attorney David Linn vulnerable.
The Madera Board of Supervisors censured Linn over abusive conduct. GV Wire’s Bill McEwen wrote a column about a voice mail message Linn apparently left with his insurance agent, threatening him with arrest. Linn has since said that the phone call was made in jest.
Fresno County prosecutor and Madera County resident Sally Orme Moreno plans to run against Linn.
Could an incumbent DA fall? It happened in Fresno County in 2014, when Lisa Smittcamp toppled Elizabeth Egan. That same year, Linn took out incumbent Michael Keitz.
Congress, District 22
Going strictly by Twitter posts, long-standing Republican Congressman Devin Nunes could see his eighth term representing Fresno and Visalia be his last.
His top challenger, Democrat and Fresno Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz, and his supporters bombard social media with negative stories about Nunes and his ties to President Donald Trump and Russia.
The metric of campaign cash tells a different story. The Federal Election Commission has yet to update the most recent reporting period, ending Dec. 31, 2017. Neither campaigns was willing to say how much it raised in the last quarter. However, Janz’s campaign said it raised $25,000 on Dec. 31 alone.
Figures through Sept. 30, 2017 show Nunes with a sizable lead: $3.6 million cash on hand versus Janz’s $40,000.
Janz spokeswoman Heather Greven says fundraising numbers are irrelevant.
“We will not be able to out-fundraise Devin Nunes. Our goal is to raise $1 million and we are well on our way to doing that,” Greven said, thinking that will be enough to topple Nunes.
Two other Democrats announced their intention to run: Bobby Bliatout and Ricardo Franco. Bliatout raised $55,000 in the first three quarters, with nearly half of that cash in the form of a loan to himself. Franco only reported $14,000 raised.
California Senate, District 8
As reported last month, Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas has the inside track to replace to-be-termed-out Tom Berryhill in representing Fresno and the surrounding areas in Sacramento.
The reason to watch this race is the potential chain reaction it will have if Borgeas is successful.
If Borgeas wins, an election for his supervisor seat takes place in 2019. And, if someone holding public office wins that seat, that would create another election.
Drew Phelps contributed research to this story.