Not a single vote has been cast in the closely watched race for 4th District Kern County supervisor, but Delano Mayor Grace Vallejo has a big lead in the second-most important measure of electoral success — money.
And if you count the contributions of an ostensibly unaffiliated but certainly helpful political action committee, it's a huge lead.
The most recent campaign finance disclosures show Vallejo with $70,950 in monetary contributions in the July 1-Sept. 22 reporting period, almost all of it individual contributions of exactly $1,000, the maximum allowable under the county's 2002 campaign finance law, Measure K.
The incumbent, David Couch, reported $12,249 in the same period. Both he and Vallejo have committed to a voluntary expenditure limit of $150,000. The third candidate, Lamont Chamber of Commerce president Jose Gonzalez, raised $2,235 in the most recent reporting period, not including a $5,000 loan to himself.
The 4th District race isn't just a local skirmish; it's a test case for the strength of the Central Valley's Latino vote. Couch, a white Republican, must defend his seat against two Latino Democrats, whose district demographics and registration numbers would seem to favor them.
Republicans David Valadao, the 21st Congressional District representative from Hanford, and Justin Mendes, the Hanford city councilman trying to unseat 32nd District Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Latino Democrat, are in similar situations: Trying to win in districts whose makeup would not seem to be optimal for their success. Valadao has succeeded twice previously, although he is running against T.J. Cox, not a Latino, this fall.
But the 4th District race puts a keener focus on the politics of Latino representation because the candidates are so distinctly different.
And the Latino leaders, if not the broader community, are on board.
Of the 82 separate contributions listed for Vallejo, at least 15 came from family members or close business associates of two people: former state Sen. Dean Florez and Bakersfield attorney Daniel Rodriguez.
Among Vallejo's other contributors: attorneys H.A. Sala, David Torres and Emilio Huerta, and Bakersfield native and former NFL linebacker Joey Porter, now an assistant coach with his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodriguez is clearly all in. He has also contributed $25,000 to the Council for Tri-Partisan Politics, an independent expenditure committee with a Sacramento mailing address. He and Florez were among the 21 Democratic leaders and partisans who drafted Vallejo at the now-legendary/infamous "upper room" meeting at Bill Lee's Bamboo Chopsticks restaurant last spring.
As an independent expenditure committee, or so-called IE, Tri-Partisan Politics cannot coordinate with the Vallejo campaign in any way, and its spending does not count toward the county's overall campaign limit established by Measure K, an already-toothless law that has been rendered utterly worthless with the prevalence of IEs.
Tri-Partisan Politics reported $55,000 in contributions — all from Rodriguez and two other individuals. More than half of that take, $31,300, has been paid to one campaign vendor, Blue Sky Media of Bakersfield, for "get out the vote online ads."
Blue Sky Media is owned by bail bonds company marketer and cannabis dispensary advocate T.J. Esposito, a one-time candidate for Bakersfield mayor.
Esposito was in the news most recently when he advocated for an investigation of Supervisor Mike Maggard, alleging that Maggard conspired to create a county ban on cannabis sales and then open a limited number of dispensaries for clients of his two political consultants. The District Attorney's office declined to pursue that charge.
The 4th District seat is up for grabs two years earlier than scheduled because of a civil rights lawsuit that eventually resulted a court-ordered reconfiguration of all five supervisorial districts.
The suit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, produced a second Latino-majority district in the county's northwest corner — the 4th District, which had been previously occupied the county's northwest corner. The 5th District is the other Latino-majority area.
So Couch must defend his seat in a restructured district that is now predominately two of the things he's not.
This story has been updated to clarify that the monetary contributions listed for each of the three candidates is for the July 1-Sept. 22 reporting period.