Midterm Election Outlook

The 2022 election cycle is already upon us. Midterm election cycles typically are defined by the national frame, and the party of the incumbent President rarely fares well.

In the current environment, two factors loom large to deter the hopes of progressives/Democrats in this cycle.

First is what E Street band guitarist Steven Van Zandt has referred to as the “Benedict Arnold twins”—Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D–W.V.). The Biden administration has put forth a good agenda, but it has stalled because of these two obstructionists. If the administration had passed the spending bills it originally put forward and a voter protection measure, victory in 2022 would have been virtually assured. But, alas, that hasn’t happened.

The proposed legislation is proceeding slowly through Congress and being weakened at every stage, passing—when it does—as a shadow of what was proposed. Still good but far from transformative. And the times we live in beg for transformative change now.

Second are the voter suppression measures and gerrymandering that have taken place primarily in states with Republican legislatures and governors. One recent report said that the gerrymandering already in place ensures that Republicans will win the House in 2022.

Although California has largely bucked the right-wing trend in Republican midterm cycles (see 2010 and 2014), we will no doubt witness an abundance of Donald Trump–driven, far right candidates who believe that they can say or do anything without being held accountable. Throughout the Central Valley, this could become the norm.

Fresno County itself is somewhat schizophrenic. The county has voted Democratic for President in the last four cycles—Barack Obama twice, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden—but over the same time frame has voted for the Republican in each gubernatorial race—Meg Whitman, Neel Kashkari and John Cox. And Fresno County narrowly voted to recall Governor Gavin Newsom.

One cannot overstate the influence of Trump on today’s political environment. He pioneered the idea that you can insult anyone, be abusive, be an absolute jerk and abuse rules, laws, ethics and morals, and as long as you do it under the Republican moniker, you have no realistic expectation of being held accountable. That he is neither in jail nor in criminal court gives credence to that viewpoint.

We are seeing this in the brazen acts of local political leaders and the shenanigans at school board meetings. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS) and its White, male, Republican majority recently approved a slight variation of an admittedly Republican-designed map for its new districts. They could not have been more in-your-face, doubling down on the institutional racism that has defined the body for decades and ignoring months of community input.

Trump wannabees—such as Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld, Supervisor Steve Brandau and Fresno Unified School District Trustee Terry Slatic—seem to be popping up everywhere. And there are the Trumpers who present with a slicker face such as Supervisor Nathan Magsig.

Moreover, you have the background of high gas prices, ongoing fracking and other environmental degradation, and a host of other issues that governments have failed to address adequately, in some cases even our progressive state government. This is fuel for political opposition.

Several candidates have already come forward for 2022 races although we will not know what the final districts will look like until mid-December. With the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the state-level independent body that determines districts for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and Board of Equalization seats, and the loss of a Congressional seat statewide, rather radical changes in districts are likely. Therefore, it is premature to weigh in on candidates and their chances for these races given that we don’t know where they will be running yet.

On the June Primary ballot in 2022 will be Congressional seats, statewide offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Controller, State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and the Superintendent of Public Instruction), the state legislature and the Board of Equalization.

Also, all the countywide offices are on the Primary ballot (Sheriff/Coroner, District Attorney, County Clerk/Registrar of Voters, Assessor/Recorder, Auditor/Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools) as are BOS Districts 1 and 4, for which we now know the new district mapping.

The incumbents for both District 1 (Brian Pacheco) and District 4 (Buddy Mendes) are both seeking reelection, and both will have challengers especially given that both dismissed community-driven maps for redistricting. Pacheco is the only supervisor to have had a challenger in his last race.

For District 1, Ismael Herrera, a Kerman City Council member who previously served as a trustee with the Fresno County Board of Education and the Mendota Unified School District, will likely run. He would be the strongest challenger that Pacheco has faced. Firebaugh City Council Member Felipe Perez also has indicated an interest in this race.

In District 4, Fowler City Council Member Daniel Parra, a perennial candidate (BOS, State Senate, Congress), has already announced, and others are expected to enter the fray against Mendes. Unlike Magsig, there is no duplicity with Mendes; he is a right-wing Republican, an unabashed supporter of farmers and rude, and he presents that way 100% of the time. During his first term on the Board, Mendes verbally attacked one of his constituents during public comment. (See the Fresno Bee article [April 19, 2016], “What triggered Fresno County supervisor to shoot off his mouth?,” and the accompanying video.)

Also on the Primary ballot will be judicial elections and the Fresno City Council. For the City Council, the four odd-numbered districts are on the ballot in 2022.

Esmeralda Soria is terming out in District 1 having served since 2014. Annalisa Perea, who is currently a trustee with the State Center Community College District, and Cary Catalano, a conservative in the business community, are running for that seat. Catalano previously ran for the seat when Soria was elected. He is supported by the city’s historic power structure, which has been frustrated with the current Council’s lack of devotion to its hold on power. Also running are Jeremy Preis, a former Fresno police officer, and Mike Briggs, who runs an Internet TV station.

Incumbents Miguel Arias (District 3), Luis Chavez (District 5) and Nelson Esparza (District 7) are also on the ballot. A challenger has surfaced in District 5: Brandon Vang, a trustee on the Sanger Unified School District board.

Looking briefly at the November election, education boards will be important to watch. They have become decidedly more diverse in Fresno County in recent years, and 2022 could be the year that diversity starts to creep into other elective bodies.

But given the outrageous behavior exhibited at many school board meetings, it could also be challenging for incumbents to retain their seats. Some incumbents might even be reluctant to seek reelection because of the abusive behavior and threats encountered.

The right has no doubt been emboldened by what is happening nationwide at school board meetings and locally with the fact that Slatic, despite having been censured, is still on the Fresno Unified board.

All this analysis speaks to one thing: Progressive engagement in next year’s election is critical. You are no doubt sick of hearing that “this is the most important election ever,” but until we scrub the right-wing menace from any modicum of political viability, each election will be increasingly critical to our nation’s survival.

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