Election Day on Tuesday was stuffed with shenanigans as supporters of Ward 5 candidates Ryan Nance and Bruce Freeman squabbled over signs, stalking and scripts.
It all culminated in a demand from the Kern County Republican Party that Nance supporters stop using a highly questionable phone banking script to promote their candidate.
In the end, absolutely none of it mattered. Vote-by-mail voters had already decided the outcome of the Bakersfield City Council contest.
But, said one longtime observer, it shows why people are so turned off by politics.
The Freeman and Nance campaigns traded barbs and accusations throughout Election Day.
Nance supporters complained about Freeman signs posted near polling places and said Freeman staffers were trailing their teams as they pounded the pavement turning out voters.
But the biggest dust-up of the day came late in the afternoon when the Kern County Republican Party, which had endorsed Freeman, issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Nance camp telling it to stop calling voters and saying the local party supported Nance’s candidacy.
In a video released by the Republican Party, Kern County Young Republican leader Javier Reyes films as an unidentified party representative hands the letter to what appears to be a group of union members grouped in the Carpenters’ Union Hall.
That representative then orders the entire room to stop using the county party’s name to support Nance.
When one man responds that they are not using the Kern County Republican Party name, Reyes snatches a script that appears to have been sitting on the table and reads from it.
Another man in the hall says the callers aren’t using the script.
Reyes says he has proof they are because he received the call that afternoon.
Union members demand the pair leave the property and a couple of men follow Reyes and his companion outside.
Nance’s campaign consultant, Fernando Jara, said Wednesday that any people that might have been making calls off a prepared script that made those claims were not working directly for the Nance campaign.
“I can only speak for our team and the ‘dedicated’ volunteers. What others did, I can’t answer for them as they were not part of the campaign, contracted by us, nor organized by us. Carpenter’s likewise were not involved,” Jara wrote in a text message.
Would Nance have authorized the script to be used on his behalf?
“No way,” Jara wrote.
Freeman said earlier on Tuesday that one of the young people working on his campaign got a call from a Nance supporter who made a shocking claim.
The person claimed to be from the Republican Party and said he was calling on behalf of “Republican leaders” to urge voters to cast ballots for Nance.
Freeman said the young millennials on his campaign jumped into gear.
They headed down to Nance’s campaign headquarters at the Carpenters’ union hall on 20th Street in downtown Bakersfield.
They went into the hall, he said, got a copy of the script being used and video of campaign staffers making the calls.
And then they left.
“I think the Nance guys stepped way over the line,” Freeman said. “I thought that was an act of desperation and then they got caught.”
Jara said he’s been told by people who were working in the union hall that a woman came in offering to volunteer, sat down for four minutes and then ran out of the hall.
People who saw her later identified her as a member of the Kern County Young Republican group that was supporting Freeman, he said.
Jara said he was less clear on whether the script that was used to support the cease-and-desist letter was actually being used by Nance supporters or was brought into the hall by the young Republican staffer.
The script also claimed that Nance had the support of Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford, and state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.
“David Valadao did not endorse anybody in the race,” said Valadao Chief of Staff Cole Rojewski. “If his name was used by either campaign in any way, it would have been completely inappropriate to do so.”
In a phone call, recorded by Freeman supporters, a man who identifies himself as a veteran calling for Nance clearly says Nance has been supported by Vidak and Valadao.
The Nance caller did not appear to use the controversial script that triggered the cease-and-desist order.
The big concern for supporters of Nance Tuesday was that Freeman’s team was posting signs very close to all the polling places in Ward 5.
Kern County Elections Chief Karen Rhea said signs near polling places don’t necessarily violate elections law.
To place a sign, she said, “you have to have the permission of the property owner and it has to be more than 100 feet away from the room where voting is taking place.”
Tactics like using a bullhorn and aiming signs at the polling place can also break the rules.
“If you can hear within the 100 feet area, then it’s electioneering. If you can see it from the polling place, it’s wrong,” she said.
All of the signs being placed by Freeman’s team were outside of the 100-foot limit line – though sometimes they were very, very close to that line.
At one nursing home, the signs flanked the only walking route for voters to get to the polls.
“The signs were placed 3 feet from the 100-foot sign. They were directly in the line of travel for voters,” she said.
Freeman said he sees nothing wrong with those placements.
Some Freeman signs were, however, removed, Rhea said.
She said the Freeman camp had not gotten permission from the property owners to put up signs and, when the property owners were made aware of the situation, they took the signs down.
“I would agree with the property owner on that,” Freeman said.
He said Nance’s staff placed a ton of signs on property without permission early in the campaign.
“The truth is the property owners took them down,” Freeman said.
Cal State Bakersfield Political Science Professor Kent Price said he doesn’t understand why these kinds of antics play out on Election Day.
“The whole thing is unnecessary and it’s harmful. People in the campaign need to take the high road. It suppresses votes and it suppresses engagement,” Price said.
People begin to doubt the validity of the elections process and that makes them question the legitimacy of their leaders, he said.
If Nance supporters were using the script that made Republican Party claims, Price said, he’s baffled why the party would make a last-minute cease-and-desist order.
“Why would Freeman do anything with it? They knew they were going to win,” Price said.
Putting signs around polling places, even if they are at a legal distance, can still be an unethical attempt to influence voters at their most vulnerable, he said.
On the other hand, making a fuss about it doesn’t accomplish anything good. It just increases strife, Price said.
In the end it comes down to poor sportsmanship.
“Part of putting that out there, whether or not you’re going to win or lose,” Price said, “is just to get back at whomever (you) don’t like.”