Ryan Nance keeps a peppy dialogue going as he and campaign volunteer Isaiah Perez wend their way through the neighborhood around Laurel Glen Elementary.
Nance is checking in with voters who are likely to cast a ballot in next month’s special Ward 5 election for a seat on the Bakersfield City Council.
The Republican candidate chats with voters in their driveway, knocks on doors, drops campaign literature when the resident is gone and – in the time between houses – talks about his campaign.
“This is a race we started over a year ago,” he says. “We’re five Saturdays away. For us it’s going to be a dead run.”
On June 6, voters will make a choice between Nance and his two opponents, businessman Bruce Freeman and stay-at-home dad Noel Pineo.
Nance, 42, brings a rather unique story to the race.
He’s a third-generation tradesman. His grandfather came to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl to work the state’s fields and orchards.
He served in the Korean War and came home to work on piers in Long Beach, where he picked up the carpentry trade.
Nance’s father followed him into the trades and, after graduating from Foothill High School and completed the apprenticeship program at Bakersfield College, so did Nance.
“I swung a hammer for 22 years,” Nance says. It’s one of his favorite phrases.
It is that working-man’s story that is Nance’s chief selling point in this race.
He understands the raw infrastructure of the city from a street level, having helped to construct many of the major buildings, roads and developments in the city.
His first job was helping to construct the State Farm building in southwest Bakersfield.
“That’s where we come from. That’s what we bring to the table,” Nance says.
It’s critical to have a carpenter on the Bakersfield City Council, he says, because he has an important perspective on some of the most important job-creating projects coming down the pike for the city.
The city needs people who are trained to take on the challenges of working outside, solving real-life problems with their brains as well as their their trade skills, Nance says.
“We need educated guys building our city,” he said. “That’s what I push in our craft.”
The Centennial Corridor and the widening of 24th Street will require the city’s best and brightest craftsmen — like those he trains as an instructor with the local carpenter’s union, Nance says.
“I’m bringing that expertise at a time when we’re building massive infrastructure."
Out in the Laurel Glen neighborhood, Nance works to engage the people who come to the door.
A couple agree to let him put up yard signs.
Some are happy to chat a bit and even ask him questions.
Others don't know, until he tells them, that an election is one month away.
He tells them about the election, touting support from the Bakersfield City Firefighters and police unions.
One woman, in very Republican Ward 5, asks him if he is a Republican.
“Good,” she replies, when he says, “Yes.”
Nance’s name is known to some he visits, which is not surprising.
He was on the ballot for the very same office just six months ago.
Nance is the only hold-over from the November Ward 5 race. He came in a close third place behind incumbent Councilman Harold Hanson.
But Jeff Tkac won handily. Then Tkac shot himself to death just weeks into his tenure on the council, and his colleagues voted to fill his seat via a special election.
Nance says he just had time to fill out the handwritten thank you cards to the donors who supported him last year before he had to have another hard talk with his wife and jump back into campaigning.
Their agreement, he says, was that he would take the Sabbath off.
Though the race has only been a few months long, it hasn’t been an easy one.
Freeman, former president of the Castle & Cooke mainland building division based here in Bakersfield, has been embraced by the Republican establishment and is being represented by political consultant Mark Abernathy.
Freeman and Nance have largely ignored Pineo, opting instead to take hard swings at each other.
Nance accused Freeman, who moved his voter registration to his beach home in Newport Beach when he retired in 2014, of carpet-bagging. Freeman said he still lived in Bakersfield during that time.
Nance asked the Kern County District Attorney's office to investigate whether that meant Freeman had committed voter fraud by living in one place and voting in another.
When the D.A.’s office declined to press charges, saying it could not prove Freeman had split his residence and registration in a clear attempt to commit fraud, Nance said he dropped it.
Why the political attacks? Nance says a lot of people were concerned about the situation and wanted answers.
Nance says he felt it was his job to get them.
Freeman has made targeting union pensions a plank in his campaign slate and, with help from Abernathy-affiliated groups, taken swings at Nance’s union background.
Nance calls that sour grapes because Freeman wanted the support of the public safety unions who have taken Nance’s side.
The sniping has died down in recent weeks. But there’s no guarantee it won’t start again.
Nance says he doesn’t plan to go after any other issues but, if the community starts asking him questions, he’ll try to provide answers.
For now, though, Nance has walking to do.
And on the street, going door to door, is where Nance has grown during the past year, says his wife, Jillian.
Not all of city leadership is crafting budgets and dealing with grand policy, she says.
Her husband has heard the small everyday concerns people have about crosswalks at schools, mailbox thefts and intersections that need stop signs.
“Speaking to people and learning what they are looking for in their representative, someone that understands the needs of the city as well as the individual concerns of the people — listening to all those things have opened his eyes,” Jillian Nance says.
Why will her husband be a good council member?
“He is an extremely humble guy. And he is the ultimate servant. He takes that to his job with him. He doesn’t need the credit for it if it gets done,” she says. “I know that the city and the whole area would be greatly served by him. He would give everything.”