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Bill McEwen

Forget All You Think You Know About Fresno Mayor’s Race



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You think the old-school Republican establishment, which long has ruled the roost in Fresno, got rocked by the 2018 city council results?

Wait until you see what 2020 could bring.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen

Bill McEwen


Fresno’s changing demographics should be obvious to everyone: The city is neither a conservative nor a Republican stronghold.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in five of the seven council districts. Even the once reliably red northwest district has turned purple, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by less than a percentage point. Only the northeast seat held by Garry Bredefeld remains rock-ribbed Republican.

Last November, the changing tide produced a city council with a majority that is Democratic and Latino.

Voter’s Choice Act, Earlier Primary in 2020

Up ahead in 2020 is an election in which Fresno County debuts the Voter’s Choice Act. In addition, with California hoping to become more relevant in the presidential nomination sweepstakes, the primary moves from June to March.

With both Fresno City College and Fresno State likely to host community voting centers, the number of young voters figures to increase — favoring Democratic candidates.

The goal of the Voter’s Choice Act is to make voting more accessible, thus increasing turnout. The 268 precincts of old will be replaced by 50 community voting centers. Ten of them will open 10 days before the election, and 40 will open three days early.

Every registered voter will receive a ballot by mail, and secured drop boxes throughout the county will accept mail-in ballots. Voters can obtain personalized ballots at any voting center. And each center will offer same-day registration.

Madera County Voting Skyrockets

Madera County used a similar format last November and the 68% turnout was its highest midterm total in 20 years.

The midterm four years earlier produced a 52% turnout.  Looking at the raw numbers, 27,300 Madera County residents cast ballots in 2014. In 2018, that number — reflecting growth and higher turnout — climbed to 38,969.

In comparison, Fresno County — using the traditional precinct voting system — had general election turnouts of 56.4% in 2018 and 39.2% in 2014.

Voter interest will be significantly higher in 2020 because it’s a presidential election. And local Democrats will be eager to have a say in picking their party’s standard-bearer to face President Donald Trump.

Yes, the huge field of Democrats will narrow considerably after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in February. But you have to believe there still will be four or five Democrats with legitimate shots at the presidential nomination when Californians vote March 3.

2018 Fresno Election Offers View of the Future

Why does turnout matter in the Fresno mayoral and city council races?

For decades, Republicans reliably filled out their ballots while many registered Democrats were hit-or-miss voters. In addition, significant numbers of poor people eligible to vote didn’t register. This enabled north Fresno to dominate city politics.

But 2018 offered a window into the future. And, with both Fresno City College and Fresno State likely to host community voting centers in 2020, the number of young voters figures to increase — again favoring Democratic candidates.

All of these factors have campaign consultants reconfiguring the essentials to victory for 2020. In fact, even conservative Democrats — the so-called “Valleycrats” of old in the state Legislature and Congress — may face real challenges from fellow party members who lean further left.

Regardless of whether the next Fresno mayor is Democrat Andrew Janz or Republican Jerry Dyer — or someone else — the road to victory no longer is exclusively north of Shaw Avenue.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email