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Hanford City Councilman Justin Mendes.

Republican Hanford City Councilman Justin Mendes announced he will run against Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield in this year’s election.

Salas’ District 32 is staunchly Democratic and Latino.

But Mendes, the son of Portuguese dairy farmers, could represent a significant challenge to the Bakersfield Democrat.

Mendes works as district director for Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, a man who won and has held a Democrat-heavy district with seeming ease through three elections cycles.

Valadao’s district mirrors much of Salas'.

And Mendes is already on the attack.

He’s challenging Salas’ commitment to defend children from sexual predators with a personal story.

Mendes said he had waved off the idea of running for the California Assembly last summer after friends suggested he take a shot at Salas.

He was juggling his young family with two small children, the job for Valadao and the seat on the Hanford council.

Then he learned that there was a registered sex offender, with a history of child abuse, living next door to his children’s daycare provider.

He called Assemblyman Rudy Salas’ office, he said. He suggested a legislative change to state law to make it illegal for registered sex offenders to live adjacent to child care facilities.

Mendes said Salas’ staff dismissed his concerns and suggested his daycare provider — who works from her home — move away from the man renting the home next door.

“I turned into an angry dad pretty quick,” he said. “Obviously, if a Democrat is not going take a child-safety proposal from a Republican councilman in his district then he’s complacent.”

Salas, in an e-mail response, said Mendes is mischaracterizing his offices response to the situation "to date."

"As a father, Justin’s concern for his child is valid.  His day care provider approached my office 8 days ago.  In the five working days since then we have been fully engaged in exploring every legal avenue," Salas wrote. "If none exists, we will work to change the law."

This past weekend, Mendes decided to run, he said.

The response from Salas' office surprised Mendes. He has much the same job as the staffers he was talking to.

“I’m in the industry, if you call it that,” he said. “This is what I do for a living.”

He called his wife, a Democrat who had worked on Salas’ campaign before and who wanted him to stay closer to home for their young family. He told her about the response.

“She said, ‘I believe the filing deadline is Friday,’” Mendes said.

Salas is not without his resources.

He is in good financial shape according to California Secretary of State records with $655,317 in the bank as of the end of December. And he has been elected three times to represent the 32nd District — the most recent time with 65 percent of the vote.

Mendes said he has just started fundraising and building a campaign structure, he said, but he’s gotten a strong response from friends and fellow Republicans.

“The past 24 hours I’ve never seen the Republican party unite like this,” he said.

Mendes doesn’t plan to use the same consultants as his boss but expects to have help from the same supporters.

“You could almost say it’s the same family,” Mendes said. “Dave and I are both from Portuguese dairy families so we’re in the same circles.”

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

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