By Michael D. Evans
No doubt everyone was shocked by the outcome of the national election. We will be assessing and analyzing how Donald Trump could possibly have been elected President for months, but we already know that whatever factors were at play had little effect on the results in California. For the second time in a national wave election (the last being 2010), the national poison stopped at the West Coast.
The election results in Fresno County, however, were a mixed bag. Although a rigid analysis would be premature until all the votes have been counted and certified, we can speculate on what was observed and reported during the election cycle.
Hillary Clinton carried Fresno County by almost four percentage points, delivering the county for the Democratic candidate for U.S. President for the third election in a row. That makes sense in a county where Democrats have a 16,000-person registration advantage. Turnout as of press time was up to 59.65%, almost the level of four years ago. Local Democrats also made thousands of phone calls on Clinton’s behalf, primarily into Nevada, which also went for Clinton.
Fresno County supported U.S. Senator-elect Kamala Harris by a narrow margin of 50.98% to 49.02%, far less than her winning margin statewide. Because of the open primary system, both candidates to fill the seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer were Democrats. The result in Fresno County was somewhat surprising as it was generally thought that Loretta Sanchez would get strong Latino support in the Central Valley and substantial crossover votes from Republicans. In addition, Sanchez visited Fresno County far more often than did Harris.
In the four Congressional districts that come into our county, there were no real surprises. Incumbents Tom McClintock (R–Elk Grove) in District 4 and Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) in District 22 won easily in their heavily Republican districts despite competent challengers in Bob Derlet, a doctor and an environmentalist, and Louie Campos, a longtime community activist, respectively. Since the election, Nunes has been named to the Trump administration’s transition team. Should he accept a position with the administration, those interested in the open seat would likely include outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Assembly Member Jim Patterson and Supervisor Andreas Borgeas. The seat will almost certainly remain Republican, especially in a special election.
Jim Costa (D–Fresno) won in a landslide in District 16 versus Republican challenger Johnny Tacherra. The outcome was far different than two years earlier when Costa narrowly defeated Tacherra in a nail biter that was not decided until well after Election Day. Costa has positioned himself well for reelection in 2018.
The most competitive Congressional race was supposed to be District 21, where Democrat Emilio Huerta, son of United Farm Workers legend Dolores Huerta, challenged incumbent David Valadao (R–Hanford). The district was a nationally targeted red-to-blue district because of the substantial Democratic registration advantage in the district (+15 percentage points). However, Huerta lost by a similar margin as John Hernandez in 2012 and Amanda Renteria in 2014, with the district remaining an enigma. Huerta performed poorly in the portion of the district that is in Fresno County (the rural towns) despite a Latino majority, albeit better than he did in notoriously red Kings County.
For the State Assembly, in District 23, another race affected by the open primary arrangement, incumbent Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) was challenged by another Republican, Gwen Morris, whose experience is in the nonprofit world, but Patterson won convincingly. In the other Assembly race in Fresno County (District 31), the incumbent, Democrat Joaquin Arambula, defeated Republican challenger Clint Olivier for the third time this year (i.e., special election, primary election and general election).
For the Fresno County Board of Education, incumbent Mike Robinson (Republican) survived a close challenge from Deborah Harkness (Decline to State) to maintain his District 2 seat. In District 3, 26-year-old Nelson Esparza employed an aggressive grassroots campaign to unseat longtime incumbent Barbara Thomas (both Democrats). Thomas had a distinguished tenure on the Board.
For the State Center Community College District, there were three races on the November ballot with 10 candidates (all Democrats) vying for three seats. In Trustee Area 2, Eric Payne survived four challengers to maintain the seat for his second term. John Leal in Trustee Area 3 similarly was reelected to a second term easily outdistancing Ted Miller, who ran unsuccessfully for public office three times this year. Finally, in Trustee Area 6, Deborah Ikeda, the former president of Clovis Community College, defeated longtime incumbent Patrick Patterson, who had a rather undistinguished tenure.
In probably the highest-profile local race, Republican Lee Brand was elected mayor of the City of Fresno versus Democrat Henry Perea. Given that the city has a decidedly higher Democratic registration advantage than the county (which went for Clinton) at 43.1% to 32.0%, this outcome was somewhat surprising. Although all the data are not yet in to fully analyze the results, the likely explanation is that turnout north of Shaw was considerably higher than that south of Shaw, even though a clear majority of the registered voters is in the south.
Several factors likely played into the Perea loss. A focus on north Fresno by the campaign might have come at the expense of shoring up Perea’s natural base in the south. Some prominent individuals who should have been allies—for example, Sal Quintero, Blong Xiong and Susan Anderson—endorsed Perea’s opponent; his failure to resolve whatever differences they might have had was a significant drawback. Finally, there was a lot of negative public sentiment about Perea’s son, Henry T. Perea, having resigned his Assembly seat before the end of his term, thereby costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in a special election.
For the Fresno City Council, Garry Bredefeld, who almost won outright in the June primary, easily defeated Elvis impersonator Jeremy Pearce in District 6. Both candidates were Republican in this reddest of Fresno districts. In the special election to fill the vacancy left by Quintero’s resignation following his election to the Board of Supervisors (to succeed Henry Perea), Democrat Luis Chavez won. Chavez, who is currently on the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) Board of Trustees and served as Quintero’s senior aide, defeated Jose Leon Barraza, who founded the Southeast Fresno Community Economic Development Association and has led the effort to get a soccer park on city property in southeast Fresno.
School board races were on the ballot throughout the county. In the county’s largest school district, FUSD, progressive groups were split on their endorsements in both races. However, the Fresno Teachers Association endorsed Elizabeth “Rosas” Jonasson in Trustee Area 2 and Claudia Cazares in Trustee Area 6 and worked aggressively to ensure their election. The runners-up, Jack Jarvis and Yuritzy Villasenor, respectively, will both no doubt find a way to serve the community in some capacity. Measure X, a $225 million bond measure for facilities improvement in FUSD schools, passed easily with almost 65% support (with 55% needed to pass).
In the rural towns, there were some interesting results.
- In Huron, community activist Rey Leon was elected mayor over incumbent Sylvia V. Chavez (both Democrats). Leon will no doubt advocate for a high school in Huron.
- In Sanger, Daniel Martinez defeated incumbent Tony Pacheco and Melissa Hurtado won the open seat vacated by Raul Cantu (all Democrats), who lost in the mayoral race, to become the youngest female City Council member in Fresno County.
- In San Joaquin, the incumbent City Council members turned back a challenge from candidates being supported by a grassroots community group.
- In Kerman, two Democrats were elected, Raj Dhaliwal and Espi Sandoval, to a City Council that previously had no Democratic representation.
- In Mendota, Victor Martinez, a 27-year-old of Salvadoran descent, and Oscar Rosales (both Democrats), were elected.
On the statewide propositions, Fresno County was far more conservative than the state. Our county differed from the more progressive statewide result on Prop 51 (funding for K-12 school and community college facilities), Prop 53 (requirement for statewide approval for revenue bonds), Prop 57 (criminal sentencing reform), Prop 59 (reversal of Citizens United), Prop 63 (regulation of ammunition sales), Prop 64 (marijuana legalization) and Prop 67 (banning plastic bags).
All the above races and ballot measures are important, particularly as they will affect us locally, but the 2016 election will long be remembered for the crisis that was initiated by putting Donald Trump in the White House. How we respond to that will be the subject of many analyses, meetings, debates and discussions over the next few months, but the bottom line is that we must remain vigilant in protecting the rights of every American, promoting progressive ideals and fighting back against the radical right-wing Trump onslaught on society every day.
Michael D. Evans is an editor and a community activist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.