Low turnout in Calif. primary empowers rural voters
SACRAMENTO — While less than 20 percent of California voters overall cast ballots in the June 3 primary election, rural voters flexed a bit of political muscle.
Voters in agricultural communities vaulted some of their fellow farmers — including Republican U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham of Atwater, David Valadao of Hanford and Doug LaMalfa of Richvale — to the tops of their respective fields. The top two finishers in each state and congressional race will square off in November.
Rural residents also gave Republicans a modicum of life in the Democrat-dominated state, producing fall runoff races that will give the GOP a chance to end their rivals’ legislative supermajority and even take a statewide office or two, noted Casey Gudel, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s manager of political affairs.
“It (the turnout) shows why it’s so important for farmers and ranchers to get out in these areas,” Gudel said. She pointed to the state controller’s race, in which Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin was the top vote-getter and fellow Republican David Evans holds a slight lead for the second spot.
“In a low-turnout election, when those rural voters can get out we have opportunities,” she said.
A divided state government is better for agriculture, agreed Billy Gatlin, the California Cattlemen’s Association’s executive vice president.
“We work very well with many Democrats, and we work well with many Republicans,” Gatlin said. “But any time one party has that two-thirds majority it causes some concerns. I think agriculture, the business community and everyone in general does better when there’s a certain level of debate in the Legislature … and it’s not just one party pushing a single agenda.”
Of the 37 state Assembly candidates the CCA contributed to, 34 won their races, Gatlin said. Likewise, 13 of the 14 state Senate hopefuls backed by CCA won, he said.
Among the individual races in California that were of interest to farm groups:
• Rice grower LaMalfa, almond farmer Denham and dairyman Valadao all won handily and will face Democrats in the general election. Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, a member of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee, carried a six-person field with 44 percent of the vote and will face the GOP’s Johnny Tacherra in the fall.
• In legislative races, state Sens. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, will face rematches with their Democratic opponents after beating them with more than 60 percent of the vote. The two have authored legislation for a November water bond that prioritizes water storage.
In the Assembly, Lassen County farmer Brian Dahle appears likely to be re-elected after winning with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Republican Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, a past Madera County Cattlemen’s Association president, is unopposed for re-election.
“We’re really proud of the farmers and ranchers who do run for office, whether it be for a local elected office or for the state Assembly or Congress,” Gudel said. “The more farmers and ranchers we can have in office, the greater our voice is heard.”
California Secretary of State primary election results: