Fingers pointed to 4th District supervisor candidate Jose Gonzalez in the day after an election that saw incumbent David Couch beat two Latino candidates in a 68 percent Latino-majority district.
Gonzalez earned 18 percent of the vote in the race, almost certainly taking a significant portion of votes away from Delano Mayor Grace Vallejo, who received 34 percent of votes compared to Couch’s 48 percent.
Although it’s not possible to know how the race would have turned out if Gonzalez had not run, if every person who voted for Gonzalez instead cast their vote for Vallejo, Vallejo would have won the election with 52.35 percent of the vote.
“Gonzalez was able to peel enough votes away to give Couch the win unfortunately,” Vallejo said in a statement on Facebook. “I’m optimistic that with a traditional election process of a primary election, followed by a general election, that the outcome would have been different.”
Gonzalez, president for the Lamont Chamber of Commerce, entered into the race after Vallejo had already announced her candidacy.
His entrance immediately sparked concerns that he would dilute the Latino vote in the 4th District, allowing Couch to win. Those concerns appear to have played out Tuesday night.
“He spoiled it, absolutely,” Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Mark Martinez said of Gonzalez.
Martinez participated in a nominating process with the explicit intention of ensuring only one Latino candidate made it on the ballot in November.
At an April meeting, 21 Democratic and Latino leaders met to whittle down a handful of candidates who had expressed interest in running for 4th District supervisor to one.
Vallejo emerged as the committee’s choice, and the other potential candidates, which included activist Jose Aguirre, Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola, Donny Munoz and Dolores Huerta's son Emilio Huerta, agreed to drop out.
Gonzalez entered the race several months after the meeting, saying he hoped the community would decide who to elect for supervisor, not the nominating committee.
“Unfortunately Jose Gonzalez didn’t understand the math or was politically naïve,” Martinez said. “I think a lot of people are frustrated and disappointed, especially among progressives and other Democrats.”
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Gonzalez expressed no regret about his decision to run, and pushed back against the idea that he had cost Vallejo the election.
“This is a democracy. Anybody has the opportunity to run whenever they feel like it,” he said. “We had a lot of community members that were disappointed with the meeting back in April. That was actually what divided the vote and divided the community.”
He has not ruled out running for the seat again when it is up for reelection in two years.
But until then, the Latino-majority district will be led by Couch, and Latinos will continue to be vastly outnumbered on the Board of Supervisors, a disparity a successful lawsuit against the county by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sought to address.
The lawsuit forced supervisors to redraw the district's lines earlier this year to better reflect the demographics of Kern County. As a result, the 4th District switched from being mostly white and Republican to mostly Latino and Democrat.
But until 2020, Couch will have the district seat. That may not be so bad, according to Martinez, who noted that Couch had committed himself to closely serving the residents of the 4th District.
“If Couch is genuine, more power to him,” he said. “(The 4th District supervisor doesn’t) have to be Latino. You could be Punjabi, you could be African-American. It’s about whether you’re going to do the work to improve the lives of the people in the 4th District.”