Delano Mayor Grace Vallejo will run against David Couch in the county supervisors’ new Fourth District.
And she will have the full backing of Latino leaders from Arvin to Delano, thanks to a pact hammered out on Thursday between elected officials, influential campaign financiers and Democratic party brass.
Potential candidates Joe Aguirre, Jose Gurrola, Donny Munoz and Emilio Huerta have dropped fledgling bids for District Four and thrown their support behind Vallejo.
“Grace is going to be our candidate,” Huerta said.
Her experience in office and political background and connections make her the strongest candidate, he said.
And he and his family — his mother is civil rights icon Dolores Huerta — and their supporters will throw their organizing expertise and efforts behind Vallejo, he said.
Vallejo said the new district is the most poverty-ridden district in the county and — with 23 years of government experience under her belt — she’s the one to provide solutions to the people of the district.
“I’m going to be sure that they have me to listen to them,” she said. “We’re doing this together because it’s going to need to be a strong candidate.”
Couch now faces a serious challenge in the new Fourth District.
The district was the most white and Republican one in Kern County until a lawsuit settlement last month created new district boundaries. Those boundaries transformed the Fourth District into the most Latino district in the county.
Around 68 percent of the voting age citizens in the district are now Latino.
Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Kent Price said for an earlier story that if a large number of Latino candidates jumped into the race, they could dilute the vote and give Couch the win.
The Latino leadership wasn’t in the mood to let that happen.
“A group of influential donors and Latino and Democratic leaders met (Thursday) to discuss District Four, to talk to all potential candidates and to discuss a process to put our best foot forward,” said Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, who was there.
CSUB political science Professor Mark Martinez was also at the meeting, as were top Latino fundraisers, every potential candidate for the seat, and current and past elected officials.
“We definitely didn’t want a repeat of these nominally Democratic districts that are represented by Republicans,” Martinez said. “And the group saw it as a chance to start moving the politics of this region in another direction.”
Those who were there credited former state Sen. Dean Florez with coordinating a path for the group to come together behind a single candidate.
There were old grudges and feuds between those in the room, Florez said, but people put that all aside.
“The Latino community has matured a lot,” Florez said. “This seat is more important than anyone’s ego.”
Martinez, too, said the process was historic.
“This is one of the realities that Couch has to deal with — he’s helping to unify Latinos and Democrats,” he said.
Florez suggested at the meeting that the group of about 20-25 people promise to throw their full political backing behind whichever person was chosen as a single candidate among them.
“I was very impressed that every person who wanted to run was there,” Florez said.
He asked those candidates to promise to drop out of the race and back the group’s candidate if they weren’t the one chosen to run.
“When all the candidates said they would abide by that, that’s what made the process work,” Florez said.
Candidates were then evaluated on their ability to raise money and run an effective, winning campaign.
And the group voted.
Huerta and Florez gave Delano City Councilman Joe Aguirre credit for immediately dropping out of the race when he came out behind in the vote and canceling his formal campaign announcement event which had been scheduled for 4 p.m. that day.
At the end of the day on Thursday the top two candidates were Huerta and Vallejo, Florez said.
“Those two need to sit in a room and figure it out,” Florez said Friday.
And that, said Vallejo and Huerta, is exactly what happened.
“I’ve known Grace my entire life. She and I were able to have a heart-to-heart talk. We felt she was probably the best candidate,” Huerta said.
Her 14 years on the Delano City Council and policy and political record made a difference, he said.
Florez supported Vallejo.
“They are both great people,” he said. But, “Grace is a woman and we need more women on the board. And she’s never lost an election and that makes a difference.”
Huerta ran for the 21st Congressional District in 2016 and lost.
“I thank Emilio for his leadership,” Vallejo said. “We’re doing this together because it’s going to need to be a strong candidate. I am very grateful for everyone’s support.”
And Huerta said the whole group is excited that prominent leaders like Perez and Florez are throwing their weight behind the campaign.
And both Florez and Perez said they will stand behind Vallejo.
Florez said it’s natural for people who were not at the meeting on Thursday to question why their candidate wasn’t selected by the group.
“Of the strongest and likely candidates, all agreed that if they all run, Latinos lose this seat. Thus they agreed to a process similar to a Central Committee process for picking nominees (remember we don’t have a primary here due to the court’s decision) where folks in the room pick,” Florez wrote in a text.
The candidates who didn’t like the outcome could have chosen to run anyway, he said, but they didn’t.
“The Latino community was rightfully being mature, smart, and politically calculating given what is at stake in this new seat. If some folks were not in room, at least their candidate was and those candidates agreed to this process,” Florez wrote.