A Democratic-dominated state Assembly seat that is being targeted by Republicans for a takeover is certain to produce lots of fireworks in both the June 3 primary and November general elections.
Incumbent Democrat Rudy Salas of Bakersfield faces two Delano Republican challengers, Romeo Agbalog and Pedro Rios, in the primary. The two top vote getters will face each other in November.
Clearly Salas has the advantage. Voter registration in the 32nd Assembly District leans Democratic. And since being elected in 2012 to represent the district, Salas has followed a conservative, "Valleycrat," bipartisan path in Sacramento.
A former Bakersfield City Councilman who once served as former state Sen. Dean Florez's field representative, Salas is being rewarded for his willingness to work across party lines.
The Hanford Sentinel recently reported that Salas' re-election bid has been endorsed by four of five Kings County supervisors -- two of them Republicans. Hanford Mayor Gary Pannett, who calls Salas a "no-nonsense type of guy," and Hanford Councilwoman Joleen Jameson also endorsed Salas' re-election. Among other endorsements, Salas has the support of Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
Explaining his endorsement, Republican Supervisor Doug Verboon told The Fresno Bee that Salas has been responsive to Kings County's needs. But most importantly, Verboon said Salas "believes in agriculture." He also praised Salas for being skeptical of the high-speed rail project.
Salas spent his first two years in office pushing for job-training funds and drought legislation. He is the co-author of Assembly Bill 2686, a $9.25 billion drought relief proposal that has bipartisan support. It includes $3 billion for water storage and $1 billion for safe drinking water.
This is the second time Salas has faced Rios, a teacher and the former mayor of Delano. Rios narrowly lost to Salas in the November 2012 election.
This time around, Republicans leaders are throwing their support to Romeo Agbalog, a Delano Union School District trustee and field representative for Republican state Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield.
Former Hanford Republican Assemblyman Danny Gilmore summed up the strategy when he told a local reporter, "I think both gentlemen would do an excellent job, but I really feel Romeo would have the best shot at (defeating Salas)."
Agbalog, who has been endorsed by Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford, also is being supported GROW Elect, a group established to elect more Republican Latinos to public offices. Ruben Barrales, a former San Mateo County Supervisor who is also a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and White House director of intergovernmental affairs, is the organization's president and CEO.
Before joining Fuller's staff, Agbalog worked as a district representative for Kern County Supervisor Jon McQuiston. The Delano native and father of five children has served on the Delano school board since 2004. He also is a member of the Kern County Civil Service Commission, Delano College Center Foundation, City of Delano Public Transportation Commission and several other committees and agencies. Suffice to say, he's deeply involved in his community.
Voters in June should cast their primary election ballot for either incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas or Republican Romeo Agbalog. These are the two most capable and politically experienced candidates, and they should bring a robust debate of serious issues to the November election.
Meanwhile, in the 34th Assembly District, Republican incumbent Shannon Grove of Bakersfield faces only one challenger: Democrat Virginia "Mari" Goodman of Tehachapi. Under California's "top-two" primary system, both will advance to the November election. We'll worry about that one when the time comes.