Debrief of First-Time Progressive Candidates

Turnout was low for the March 5 Primary Election. Photo by Peter Maiden
Turnout was low for the March 5 Primary Election. Photo by Peter Maiden
2024

The 2024 Primary Election did not go well for first-time progressive candidates. They lost every contest in which they appeared.

Fresno progressives had the opportunity to vote for several strong, dynamic, young candidates. Progressive candidates Bryce Herrera, Jennifer Cruz, EJ Hinojosa and Matthew Gillian discussed with us their experience and what they learned during their campaigns. (A fifth candidate, Caleb Helsel, who ran for State Assembly District 8, did not respond to our outreach.) 

These candidates offered some suggestions for future candidates:

  • Start early to get name recognition (perhaps a year before the election).
  • Develop a team of volunteers who will stay with you throughout the campaign.
  • Have an inspiring message.
  • Open a campaign account early to raise money.
  • With money, a candidate can then get paid staff.
  • Get early endorsements from fellow Democrats.
  • Push for fair and open debates rather than candidate forums.

All were disappointed in the lack of financial support and endorsements from incumbent Democrats and the county’s Democratic central committee.

Bryce Herrera

Race: Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 2

Opponents: Incumbent Steve Brandau, Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld, Fresno County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos, Dion Bourdase

Occupation: owns and operates a catering business

Result: Bredefeld 37.9%, Brandau 28.1%, Dictos 16.0%, Herrera 10.3%, Bourdase 7.6%; Bredefeld and Brandau advance to the November General Election

Herrera says that he ran to offer a valid alternative to the failed policies of Republicans Brandau and Bredefeld on issues such as homelessness.

“I’m definitely not done,” he says. “[It’s] just the beginning. I remain optimistic. I will continue to advocate for areas I am passionate about.”

Addressing the uphill battle against Fresno’s moneyed interests, he said, “We [progressives] need to be better organized and consolidate our support in order to get out the vote.”

Herrera says that he would work harder to increase voter turnout (39.9% in Supervisorial District 2, but only 20.3% in Supervisorial District 3).

He would also like to see real debates. He did not feel that candidate forums allowed for a debate on the issues.

Jennifer Cruz

Race: Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 5

Opponent: Incumbent Nathan Magsig

Occupation: LGBTQ+ resource manager at the Fresno Equal Opportunities Commission

Result: Magsig 71.0%, Cruz 28.9%; Magsig wins

“I learned more in 90 days than in two years of law school,” Cruz says, regarding her campaign.

She ran in response to the Board of Supervisors passing the Parents Matter Act by a 3-2 vote on Nov. 30, 2023. The act creates an 11-member committee with the authority to review and remove books from the children’s section of the Fresno County Public Library that the committee deems inappropriate. District 2 Supervisor Brandau wrote the act to remove books that, in particular, addressed LGBTQ+ concerns.

For quite some time, Cruz had been upset about the “ineffective nature, complacency and corruption of the Board of Supervisors.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting on the Parents Matter Act, she told Supervisor Magsig, “We are coming for your seat if you vote for the act. See you at the ballot box.”

After Magsig’s vote on the Parents Matter Act, Cruz felt obligated to oppose him. Just a week before the Dec. 8 deadline, she rounded up the needed money, got the qualifying signatures and filed her campaign papers.

She feels that her campaign was a success by emphasizing collaboration and partnerships. With no name recognition, no team and no paid staff, in 90 days of campaigning she achieved several of her goals. She made her opponent spend his money. She was told she would not get 10% of the vote. Her goal was to get more than 20% of the vote, and she got almost 30%. 

Although she would not commit to running again, she left open that possibility.

She asked to send a shoutout to strong Democrats Myra Coble and Monte Forkas, who helped with her campaign.

EJ Hinojosa

Race: Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 3

Opponents: Incumbent Sal Quintero, Fresno City Council Members Luis Chavez and Miguel Arias

Occupation: music teacher at Gaston Middle School

Result: Quintero 37.2%, Chavez 26.0%, Arias 19.8%, Hinojosa 16.8%; Quintero and Chavez advance to the November General Election

Hinojosa says that he ran “to bring investment to Fresno County’s urban core—investments such as healthcare and mental health services, art and music, business, humane strategies to address homelessness, and the construction of public spaces like libraries and public markets.”

“I feel like a winner by taking 15% of the votes,” he says. He considers that a major achievement for an unknown with no name recognition, no campaign manager and minimal funding. Funding came mainly from individuals giving small donations.

He says that a lot of “younger people voting for the first time came out to vote for me” and that his campaign had an impact on the discussion around the issues of homelessness and infill housing. “Increasingly, people are waking up to the Fresno political mire.”

Although he would not commit to running again, he is “wide open to future possibilities where I can have a good impact on the community.”

Hinojosa hopes that more teachers, trades people and other regular people will consider running for public office.

Moreover, he believes that, locally and nationally, candidates need to address the issues of young people to get younger people to vote. He contends that young people are not voting due to their cynicism and nihilism in terms of their ability to change the political system and address the issues of the economy, housing and education.

What he saw during the campaign is that national politics, especially the war in Gaza, is discouraging millennials and Gen Z voters. They are not enthused by the top of the ticket. Yet, he feels that “it is not too late to right the ship. Democrats in this country need to look at the relationships abroad.”

Matthew Gillian

Race: Fresno City Council District 2

Opponent: Incumbent Mike Karbassi

Occupation: founding director of Inspiration Transportation, a nonprofit organization that provides sustainable, electric transportation services to underserved communities in the San Joaquin Valley

Result: Karbassi 72.3%, Gillian 27.6%; Karbassi wins

“I feel it was a good experience and I learned a good amount,” says Gillian. “I plan to continue to help people have their voices heard.” He says people have asked him if he would run again. He is contemplating whether to do so.

He learned the importance of support in order to run an effective campaign. He better understands the timeline of a campaign, the need for a campaign manager and the need for adequate funding.

He feels that it is most important for the public to be able to see “behind the curtain” how government works and how decisions are being made, which is not necessarily in favor of the average resident. Although he found it necessary to attack his opponent’s policy positions, he learned how to talk about his own values and how those affect his policy positions.

Gillian thinks he did a good job of “being authentic while at the same time having conversations with people who would not [usually] have had conversations with a person like me.”

As the campaign progressed, his vision of how he wanted to run his campaign and what he wanted to say became clearer. After Karbassi sent out an attack mailer, Gillian says that he learned about the need to be able to respond rapidly to attacks.

While acknowledging the importance of having experienced personnel in a campaign, he would work harder to have more young volunteers (ages 18–25) involved in his campaign.

As a newcomer, he now realizes the importance to compare and contrast to better define his own positions. He would have exposed his opponent’s weaknesses more but added, “When you’re confident, it is easier to lean into your strengths rather than your opponent’s weaknesses.”

Primary Election
For complete results of the March 5 Primary Election, visit fresnovote.com.

Author

  • Jim Mendez

    Jim Mendez came to Fresno in 1977 for his medical residency training at what was then called the Valley Medical Center. He stayed to practice medicine and raise a family. He is now a retired physician and a community activist.

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