Candidates for the 4th District Supervisors race sparred in a debate held at Cal State Bakersfield Wednesday evening.
Incumbent David Couch sought to highlight his experience as a politician as he faced off against challengers Delano Mayor Grace Vallejo and Greater Lamont Chamber of Commerce President Jose Gonzalez in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Dezember Reading Room of the Walter W. Stiern Library.
“David Couch knows how to make government work for you, not against you” Couch said during the debate.
But political experience is not the only element in play in this race for supervisor.
Both Vallejo and Gonzalez hope to take advantage of newly redrawn district boundaries, which changed the 4th District from being predominately white and Republican to Latino and Democratic.
The new boundaries present an opportunity for a second Latino supervisor to take a seat on the Board of Supervisors if either Vallejo or Gonzalez can earn more votes than Couch.
To that end, both Vallejo and Gonzalez highlighted their connections to the Latino community, speaking Spanish for portions of the meeting.
Vallejo said she was the daughter of migrant workers and Gonzalez told the audience he was an immigrant whose mother prayed every time she came near a police officer.
Students at CSUB submitted questions to be asked by the moderator during the debate, many of which focused on issues central to the Latino population’s experience in Kern County.
“The population is exploding with Hispanics,” Vallejo said, after being asked if she would support dual immersion programs in schools. “You need to learn to speak the Spanish language instead of the reverse.”
At times, Couch and Gonzalez sparred over issues, with Couch attempting to use his six years of experience as a supervisor to overrule some of Gonzalez’s suggestions.
At one point, Couch told Gonzalez, “you can’t do that,” to a proposal that Gonzalez had put forward that the county provide more resources to water districts.
Gonzalez has the least amount of political experience among the candidates, but he claimed his work as a community leader had prepared him for office.
“I care about our community,” he said. “I want to serve everyone. I want to work with the community.”
Throughout the campaign season, the candidates have debated several times before, being asked similar questions at each event.
The candidates broadly agree that more sheriff’s deputies are needed, and most county departments could use more resources, but picking and choosing what to fund and what to cut on a slim budget is a topic that has been largely avoided at the debates.
Couch hopes that his reputation as somebody who knows how to get things done within government will aid him in the upcoming election, and Vallejo and Gonzalez hope that his insider status will weigh him down.