David Couch is hoping voters in the newly formed 4th district Kern County Board of Supervisors will look kindly toward his record in public office.
Specifically, toward one action he took while he served on the Bakersfield City Council. In 2007, Couch jumped into the politically charged immigration issue. What can a Bakersfield city councilman do about immigration, you ask? As Couch learned, not much. But he went forward anyway by proposing a resolution declaring English as the official language of the city. English is already the official language of California by the way. A second resolution declaring Bakersfield will not be a sanctuary city, and third, he requested city staff prepare a report on what city services, if any, could be reserved "for only those individuals that are citizens of this United States or are working on being here legally."
Dozens of people turned out at the city council meeting that night in September to voice their anger/disappointment/frustration with Couch's proposals. Couch said he heard from hundreds, if not thousands of people by phone or email who agreed with him.
After a contentious and heated public hearing, the city council said no to both of Couch's proposals, calling them divisive and unnecessary. As for denying city services to undocumented immigrants? City staff said it would probably be illegal to do so, citing other cities which tried to do the same and were shot down in federal court.
"Why, when the city has neither the authority nor influence on these matters, would such a vote be taken?" asked city manager Alan Tandy. Why, indeed? Hmmmm. I recently asked Couch why he would even bother to ask city staff to look into denying city services to undocumented immigrants? "I was being asked that many times by many people," said Couch. "What can we do, what can be done at the city level to deter illegal immigration?"
Couch must now defend his past actions as he runs for Kern County Supervisor against two Hispanic candidates, Delano mayor Grace Vallejo and Lamont Chamber of Commerce president political novice Jose Gonzalez. Recall that the new 4th district is now comprised of a majority of Latino residents and runs from Delano on the north to Arvin and Lamont on the south. It was created by a court order after a coalition of Latino groups successfully sued Kern County earlier this year claiming the county was in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Does Couch's past actions matter now?
"When you're the incumbent everything is fair game," said Ivy Cargile, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cal State. "Past records can be used as a guidance post for voters." Up to now, Couch has been consistent in his stance on immigration-related matters. Just last year he was the only supervisor who supported Sheriff Donny Youngblood's proposal to declare Kern County a "non-sanctuary" county.
Couch, a republican is the minority in the 4th district. According to the peeps at the Kern County Elections department 49 percent of the registered voters in the district are Democrat, 29 percent are Declined-to-State and Other and 23 percent are Republican.
That hardly means however that Couch stands to lose. He has a solid advantage over challengers Vallejo and Gonzalez, namely name recognition. He's been working the new parts of his district very hard, being visible in Lamont, Arvin, Shafter, McFarland and Delano, all majority Latino communities. And he's hired some brown faces for his new staff including former Delano mayor Art Armendariz. And then there's the obvious---having two Latinos running against Couch splits the Latino vote.
Crucial to this race is voter turn out. While the new 4th may be majority Latino and democrat, the fear is that they will not show up to vote. Republicans are more reliable when it comes to voting. "The reality is that if people don't show up to vote, it doesn't matter if the district is majority Latino," said Cargile. "You've got to mobilize, mobilize, mobilize."
Some say this is a "non-partisan" race and that party affiliation doesn't matter. Really? "Every campaign is partisan," observes long time political operative Gene Tackett.
I asked Couch if he now regrets bringing up the immigration-related proposals? "I don't regret that," he said. "The people who have taken the time to read, to talk to me, those have a different feeling and opinion than those that have not."
Will his failed proposals rub voters the wrong way in November? "I leave that up to the voters. The voters have to take a look at my record and what I have done and I think they'll make an educated decision and what they think is best for them," said Couch.