In almost any other year, in almost any other circumstance, The Californian would urge voters to re-elect Kern County Supervisor David Couch to the 4th District he has capably served for six years.
But this is not any other year and the 4th District he again aspires to represent is not the 4th District that chose him two times previously.
Court-ordered redistricting has moved the district from the southwestern corner of Kern County to the northwestern corner, and the constituents are not predominantly white and Republican as before but Latino and Democratic.
Those are the consequences — one very deliberate, the other a political byproduct — of a federal judge’s order: all five districts were redrawn last spring, most dramatically the 4th, in order to create a second Latino-majority district that better reflects the county’s changing demographics. (Leticia Perez’s 5th District is the other.) The 4th District’s population center is now Delano and Wasco where before it was Taft and southwest Bakersfield.
Couch was compelled by the court to seek reelection two years earlier than scheduled.
To have supported the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s ultimately successful civil rights suit against the county, as The Californian did back in February, but not the opportunity for better Latino representation that it sought to achieve would be hypocritical.
The race has an eminently qualified challenger, Delano Mayor Grace Vallejo, and she is the candidate that The Californian recommends 4th District voters select out of the three options.
Vallejo has been deeply involved in the community of Delano, Kern’s second-largest city, her entire adult life — working in education and telecommunications and serving four terms as a Delano City Council member. This is her fourth go-around as mayor, and she previously served as a member of the Delano Planning Commission.
As mayor, she has worked to bring business and employment to the Delano area, efforts that led to her selection as Delano Area Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 2007 and a Kern Council of Governments Lifetime Achievement of an Elected Official Award in 2016.
On the county level, she was commissioner and president of the Kern County Human Relations Commission.
She will ease in to the 4th District supervisor’s seat with no trouble.
The third name on the 4th District ballot is Jose Gonzalez, president of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce and manager of the Self-Help Federal Credit Union’s Lamont branch. He is an advocate for infrastructure improvements throughout the 4th District, particularly Lamont, and for financial literacy among the area's residents, and he has been critical of the Kern County oil industry. He has not previously held elective office, however, and his knowledge of the functions of government are dwarfed by that of his two opponents.
The choice is really between the incumbent, Couch, who is in the midst the most challenging political race of his 20-year career in government, and Vallejo.
Were the circumstances reversed, Couch might be the more appropriate choice. But these are the cards he has been dealt and Vallejo is the right person to scoop up the winnings.
The Californian endorses Grace Vallejo for 4th District supervisor.