One of the disappointing things about the midterm elections held Nov. 4 was the poor voter turnout at all levels. In Kern County, just 39.2 percent of registered voters thought it important enough to vote.
Conventional wisdom often takes aim at young people for not taking an interest in politics. But you need not look further than the city of Arvin, where young people are getting actively involved in their community and literally putting a new face in city government.
That's where 24-year-old Jazmin Robles and 28-year-old Erika Madrigal were elected to the Arvin City Council. Out of six candidates running for three seats, Robles came in with the highest number of votes, followed by Madrigal. Not bad when you consider neither of these energetic candidates had ever run for office before.
So how much can they know about politics and city councils, I wondered?
"Not much, but I'm going to learn," Robles said with a hearty laugh.
A graduate of Arvin High School, she now works there as an instructional assistant after earning her bachelor's degree in criminology from Cal State Bakersfield. She wants to be a teacher, has a bubbly personality and wants to see improvements in her city.
"I got really tired of wishing for things to happen," Robles said. "After a while you have to see that you have to make that change happen."
Imagine that. Someone who got tired of being on the sidelines and is willing to give it a try to better her small town, the fifth largest city in Kern County.
"We're a small city, but we're very divided. We don't have any events or anything that brings us close as a community," Robles said.
She wants to work on that.
Erika Madrigal has a similar take. She works as a recruitment specialist at CSUB and has a master's degree in public administration. Hers is the story of thousands of others in Kern County.
She was 12 years old when she arrived in Arvin from El Desmonte, a very small town in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. Not comprehending English was a challenge, but she did not let that stop her hunger for education.
"I still remember my first day at Haven Drive Middle School crying because I couldn't find the office," Madrigal recalled.
Along with working on her studies, Madrigal also worked in the fields to help support her family. She is the second-oldest of seven children.
Both Madrigal and Robles said they want to listen to what Arvin residents have to say and need to make the city known as "the garden in the sun" a better community.
Both will be sworn in Dec. 16. They will join another 20-something councilman already serving. Jose Gurrola was just 19 and a sophomore at Bakersfield College when he was elected in 2012.
What is it about Arvin that has young people getting involved in the political arena? For that answer, I turned to veteran educator and Kern Community College District Chancellor Emeritus Jim Young, who lives in Arvin.
"It's about getting kids involved in their community in high school and teaching them the value of serving their communities," said Young, who has been a mentor to young people at Arvin High. "The best part is that these kids vote. We get them to sign up."
The other interesting bit of news coming out of the midterm election deals with the 21st Congressional District race. Incumbent Republican David Valadao of Hanford beat his challenger, Democrat Amanda Renteria of Sanger.
The district is a whopping 71 percent Latino and the number of registered voters favors Democrats over Republicans. Democrats have no one to blame but themselves in losing this seat -- again.
But flying under the radar was the fact that the United Farm Workers union chose to stay neutral in this important race. How did that happen?
Renteria is Latina, pro-union and favors comprehensive immigration reform. Valadao also favors comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship; to do otherwise would most likely lead to political suicide.
The UFW chose not to go against Valadao because "he is a different kind of Republican" when it comes to immigration policy, said union spokesman Marc Grossman. Both Renteria and Valadao met with UFW members.
"With Renteria, union members saw someone who is clearly very talented, shares some common background and spoke passionately about issues they care about," Grossman said in an email. "In Valadao, they were surprised to see a Republican who didn't behave like Kevin McCarthy or any other Republican they had encountered, and who genuinely seemed to listen to their views and change some of his own after conversations where he learned new information."
The UFW's stance puzzles Renteria.
"It was more confusing than disappointing," Renteria said. "Congressman Valadao is strongly anti-union, voted against lunch breaks, water and shade for farm workers, and voted against the California Dream Act. On the issues alone, UFW had a pretty easy choice here."
Ray Gonzales, a veteran political observer and onetime assemblyman from Bakersfield, had a different take on the UFW's position.
"The UFW probably saw Renteria's victory as rather remote, so there was no need to loose Valadao's support on immigration reform," said Gonzales.
Hey, the 2016 general election is just two years away. Maybe some young person from Arvin is willing to run for Congress?
-- Jose Gaspar is a reporter for KBAK-TV. The opinions expressed are his own.