Congressman David Valadao’s newest attack ad against Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta paints him as a chainsaw-wielding madman who used intimidation to try to take a woman’s land and water well.
The problem: several of the ad’s claims are false, according to Kern County Superior Court records.
The ad, titled “Dangerous,” starts with Valadao’s voice saying, “I approved this message” and then slides in a reference to a Huerta land deal in Fresno County that Valadao has criticized in earlier spots.
Then it moves into Chainsaw Massacre territory.
“Huerta sued a woman to get her land and water wells,” the female narrator states. “She was harassed and even threatened with a buzzsaw.”
The video shows Huerta turning to apparently grin at a running chainsaw as its buzz breaks through the narration.
“To protect herself she sought a restraining order against Huerta because she feared for her safety,” the woman says.
The 30-second spot slaps nasty labels on the son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta: “Emilio Huerta: Dishonest. Greedy. Dangerous.”
The property battle referenced took place in 2007 and 2008 in Keene, where the United Farm Workers’ headquarters, La Paz, is located.
Huerta said he was an officer of Stonybrook Corp., the entity that managed the La Paz property for the UFW and its related entities.
“There was a feud between some neighbors up there,” he said. “They claimed property owned by La Paz was owned by them.”
Ava Jane Haas was one of those neighbors.
But, court records show, the land was actually owned by Stonybrook.
The property had a water well that the neighbors wanted, Huerta said. The situation got nasty, he said, and ended up in Kern County Superior Court in July 2007.
The neighbors, he said, blocked access to the property, wrote epithets on buildings and threatened Richard Chavez, Huerta’s step-father and the brother of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez, with a gun.
A year later, on July 22, 2008, the court ruled that while there had been an error in recording the transfer of the property from the UFW to Stonybrook, the disputed property belonged to Stonybrook.
Haas and other neighbors were ordered to stop interfering with Stonybrook’s access or use of the property and well.
According to court records, Valadao’s ad is factually inaccurate. You can’t sue someone to get “her land and water wells” if she does not own the land or water wells.
The Californian asked Valadao’s campaign to address the issue of the ownership of the property.
“The fact is a woman filed a restraining order against Emilio Huerta because she felt threatened and frightened,” responded Valadao spokesman Cole Rojewski. “While legal disputes and mediation are common, threatening a woman with physical violence is never appropriate.”
And that brings us to the bit about the chainsaw.
According to Kern County Superior Court records provided by the Huerta campaign, there is no proof Haas was ever threatened. The claim was dismissed. And Haas clearly stated in court documents that Huerta wasn’t there when the harassment allegedly happened.
According to the Oct. 29, 2008, “Request for Orders to Stop Harassment” Haas filed with the court against Huerta, a six-person team of Stonybrook staff led by the corporation’s project manager Rudy Delgado shoved her and threatened her with sticks and a “buzzsaw” on Oct. 12, 2008.
Haas claimed the crew threatened her at Huerta’s direction. But he wasn’t there.
Huerta said the crew never threatened her, and neither did he.
“I never walked around with a chainsaw or sticks or stones and threatened people,” Huerta said.
Huerta said the crew was on the property, which is a natural watershed, doing an annual clean-up of brush that grows thick in the area.
“They were using chainsaws to clean up brush and debris,” Huerta said.
The court never approved Haas’ request for a preliminary restraining order.
Kern County Superior Court Commissioner Larry Errea dismissed the case 16 days after it was filed with the comment “No Proof” after Haas failed to serve the case on Huerta and failed to appear in court.
Huerta campaign staff issued a press release on Wednesday calling the ad “a smear campaign” and “an attempt to revive his failing bid to be re-elected to Congress.”
“It’s really upsetting that they would stoop so low that they would fabricate” the information in the ad, Huerta said.
The Californian asked the Valadao campaign, via email, how the congressman could justify running an ad with a dramatic claim (the buzzsaw) that had been rejected by a court; an inference that Huerta personally threatened Haas; and a claim Huerta was stealing land from Haas when the land was not hers.
Rojewski replied with: “The information presented in the commercial have been documented and verified. Voters should know all the facts about each candidate before they cast their vote on election day."
Additional documentation and verification, requested by The Californian, were not provided.
Valadao’s buzzsaw ad isn’t his only recent offering to the airwaves.
He also hits Huerta with “No Plan,” an ad that quotes a Los Angeles Times interview with Huerta in which he reportedly said he has no plan for addressing the 21st District's water needs and would wait to work with other House members to build legislation.
The Valadao ad states Huerta is bankrolled by environmental groups.
Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC, a Democratic campaign cash powerhouse, has launched another independent ad in support of Huerta's bid for the 21st District seat.
It resurrects a claim from a Democratic-leaning watchdog group that named Valadao one of the “most corrupt” people in Congress.
The claim is based on the fact Valadao, in June 2013, offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that would have defunded the California high-speed rail project in the 21st District — potentially removing impacts the project would have on nearly $1.8 million in property owned by him, his family and their dairy business.
But Valadao, despite detailed facts reported by The Fresno Bee, was cleared of any corruption by a bipartisan House ethics committee – the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The six-member board of the OCE – made up of three Democrats and three Republicans - found unanimously that while Valadao ”did not disclose his financial interests in the affected property to the Appropriations Committee during markup of the bill,” there was “not a substantial reason to believe that a violation of House rules and standards of conduct occurred.”
Huerta wouldn't repeat the corruption claims from the ad but said he was concerned that Valadao didn't report the potential conflict of interest to his colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee.
Huerta also said Valadao's opposition to high-speed rail is short-sighted because it will bring jobs and business to the Central Valley.