As an assemblyman in the 34th District, Vince Fong has plenty of tasks to accomplish this year.
But getting reelected will likely not be one of the tougher ones.
In 2018, the incumbent Bakersfield Republican faced an inexperienced Democrat with little political background, and won big. Two years earlier, Fong's only challenger was an 18-year-old high school senior.
In this year's March 3 primary — in which the two top vote-getters will advance to the general election — Fong is facing a divided challenge from local Democrats. Julie Solis, a candidate who has been the subject of some consternation among local members of her own party, is on the primary ballot opposite Fong. And more recently, another Democrat, Regina Velasquez, has thrown her hat in the ring as a qualified write-in candidate.
All this in a district that is clearly a GOP stronghold, with 42 percent of registered voters checking the box for Republican, 28 percent registered as Democrats and 23 percent with no party preference, according the Kern County Elections Division's statistics on registered voters in the district.
The 34th encompasses the southern ends of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada, along with the Tehachapi Mountains and a section of the northern Mojave Desert. The district is anchored by Bakersfield, but includes Bear Valley Springs, Maricopa, Oildale, Ridgecrest, Taft and Tehachapi.
The last Democratic member of the Assembly to represent the area was unseated in 1966.
Despite the long odds, Solis says it's imperative that Fong not run unopposed.
"I never intended on running. I never imagined becoming a quote-unquote politician," Solis told The Californian.
But Solis' life was turned upside down after her husband contracted a serious case of valley fever several years ago. She was compelled to become a health care activist and advocate for valley fever awareness and research. She later became a California State Democratic Delegate.
When she learned that no Democrat had stepped up to run against Fong this year, she decided she had to try.
"When you receive a ballot and there's only one candidate, this is not what democracy looks like," she said. "I stood up and said I would challenge Fong, and I'm glad I did."
In her written bio, Solis said as a woman and as someone with experience in grassroots organizing, she will bring a unique perspective and approach to Sacramento.
"I believe the biggest issues facing us today are affordable housing, immigration, homelessness, lack of veteran services, the school-to-prison pipeline, the climate crisis, rising healthcare prices, and valley fever awareness," she said. "I strive to include marginalized communities to be part of the conversation."
Fong began establishing himself in politics early in life as an intern to retired Rep. Bill Thomas. He later served as district director for Thomas' successor, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
"We're trying to rein in Sacramento," Fong said.
Fong is critical of Gov. Gavin Newsom's approach to oil production in Kern County. In addition, the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, he says, is pushing a liberal agenda of high taxes and onerous regulation, making California less affordable for families and business owners.
In a news release, Fong said important professions are facing tremendous uncertainty and are losing work because of the passage of AB 5, California's gig economy law.
"I helped introduce the Right To Earn A Living Act. This bill would repeal AB 5 and let hardworking Californians make a living however they choose," Fong said.
Other issues of concern include government waste connected to high-speed rail, California's water future, and highways and transportation.
"We successfully restored funding to improve Highway 46 and Highway 99," he said. "We had to fight for it to come back."
Velasquez did not respond to multiple attempts to schedule an interview, but on her Facebook page the qualified write-in candidate announced her decision to run last month.
"I have much experience with several County sector positions from Human Services, Elections (training), and Housing Authority working with families with Section 8, Farm labor and other programs," she wrote. "I have personally worked with residents of Delano through one of the housing programs.
"I’m currently a Latina Leader with Latina Leaders of Kern County," she continued.
"I also volunteer my time with GBLA-Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, for a Fair housing Project, making sure every single person gets fair housing!"
The political newcomer acknowledged the difficulties inherent in the effort.
"It’s an uphill battle and lots of work," Velasquez wrote. "But we can get there."