Republican cherry farmer Andy Vidak claims to be in favor of bringing cheap, reliable water to the Central Valley -- but the 16th Senate District candidate's voting record doesn't support that, his opponent, Leticia Perez, charged Tuesday.
In a preview of what she is expected to say during a one-hour debate the candidates will record Thursday evening at KGET Channel 17 studios in Bakersfield, Perez accused Vidak of failing to vote in six elections since March 2000, and missing key votes on water.
"Mr. Vidak has made it a point in his campaign to say that he is the best person on issues related to water, and the Central Valley delivery of a reliable water supply ... . And yet in two recent opportunities he has had as a California voter, to vote on the water bonds" that would provide that, Perez said, "(he) was totally and completely absent."
Perez referred to water votes in 2000 and 2002, and Kings County voting records indicate she is correct.
Vidak said the political process always has been very important to him, and that if elected, he would not miss a vote.
"That's your job, to represent the folks of the district. There's no missing votes when you're an elected representative. That's not an option. I want every one to vote. Always have," Vidak said, characterizing himself as the person in his family who always gets out the vote. " ... I'm the one who always calls my brothers and sisters and (tells) them to vote."
Neither candidate, in fact, has a perfect voting record.
According to Kings County election officials, Vidak has been registered to vote in 17 elections since March 2000, but has only voted in 11 elections. He did not vote during primary elections in March 2000, 2002 and in June 2006; during a general election in November 2002; and during special elections in November 2005 and May 2009.
These included opportunities in March 2000 to vote on Proposition 12, the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act, and Proposition 13, which authorized the state to sell $1.97 billion in general obligation bonds to support safe drinking water, water quality, flood protection and water reliability projects.
Vidak also did not vote in March 2002 on Proposition 40, the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002; and Proposition 50, which authorized the sale of $3.4 billion in general obligation bonds for water projects that included coastal protection, regional water management, and water quality.
In an interview, Vidak said he may have voted elsewhere in those elections.
"Dude, I can't even remember where I was living. I know I was working in Salinas for three and a half years. That could have been it," said Vidak, 47. "They're saying that I didn't vote in Kings County. I could have been voting in Tulare County at that time, correct?"
Tulare County election officials said Vidak was registered to vote there from 1988 to 1998, and that he voted in general elections in Tulare County in 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1998; and in the 1994 primary election. Vidak may have voted in Tulare County prior to 1992, but officials said they had no record of that -- noting that due to changing computer systems and natural disasters such as flooding, some records from that time period may be missing.
"I don't remember that far back. But my vote has always been very important to me, and it's very important for everyone to vote," Vidak said, demonstrating his commitment to water access by pointing out that he has taken part in water protests and rallies since 2001 when he drove to Klamath Falls, Ore., to protest water being turned off there.
Perez, a Democrat who is Kern County's 5th District supervisor, has voted in every election since 2006, according to Kern County election officials. From 2003 to 2006, Perez said she attended law school in Valparaiso, Indiana, and was registered to vote in Indiana. Indiana election officials did not respond to requests for information about Perez's voting record in that state.
According to Santa Barbara County election officials, Perez was registered to vote from October 1995 to August 2005, but only voted in five of 10 county elections during that time. Perez voted in two elections in 2002, as well as elections in 1996, 2001 and 2004, but did not vote in three general elections in 1998, 2000 and 2004; in one special election, in 2003 when Gray Davis was recalled as governor and Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to replace him; and in one uniform district election in 2003.
"She was in college, and clearly didn't make every election," Trent Hager, Perez's campaign manager, said of the candidate's Santa Barbara County voting history.
Perez also challenged Vidak's financial history.
Vidak Ranches Inc., a Visalia corporation of which Vidak is president, has been listed as "suspended" by the California Secretary of State's website since May 2008, five years after its incorporation.
"They were suspended. For non-filing of state tax returns," said Denise Azimi, spokeswoman for the state Franchise Tax Board. Azimi declined to disclose more information about the tax returns in question.
"The corporation, it doesn't even exist. You've got to be kidding me. I was going to make my ranch a corporation," Vidak said, adding that he decided not to go forward with that. "It didn't make sense for me to have it, so I just went ahead and dissolved it. (T)here is no taxes because it never had any income."
Azimi disputed his version, saying that a corporation cannot be dissolved if its status is suspended. Any issues leading to that suspension must first be resolved, Azimi said, and the corporation must be in good standing with the state in order to be dissolved.
"It's been dissolved. Yeah, it's gone, dude, I'm telling you," Vidak said.
Documents from Kings and Fresno counties also show that in August 2000, Vidak had a judgment recorded against him in court, showing that he owed $2,846.12 to Agribank, ECB, an agricultural lender with offices throughout the United States. Did he subsequently pay it?
"Of course I did," Vidak said, laughing. "Let's move on. It's paid. Let's move on."
Tulare County tax records show that Vidak and then-wife Barbara Vidak briefly owed the county $137 in unpaid taxes, from Nov. 16, 2010, to Jan. 19, 2011, when the loan was listed as paid.
"I don't remember," Vidak said, when asked about the tax lien.
"How can we trust him to go up there and do the right thing, financially, when his actions in his personal life show that he doesn't do that?" asked Perez, who is 36. "This is a matter of moral turpitude, it's a matter of honesty, and once again actions speak louder than words."
"I'm a farmer. I don't read about it. Dude, I live it," Vidak said. "That's one reason I ran for Congress in 2010, is because I had friends of mine that were standing in state food lines in San Joaquin. They were being given cans of Chinese carrots. They should have been working, but instead, they were standing in food lines (being) given products from China."
The debate will be taped at 7 p.m. Thursday, and broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday. The election is July 23.