When San Joaquin Valley Republicans awoke on the morning after Election Day, things didn't look too bad. The dreaded blue wave of Democratic victories had appeared to have missed most of the valley's GOP candidates.

Then, as the counting continued, the tide began to change.

When it was all over, three-term Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, an incumbent who likely would have kept his seat for life in the political environment that existed throughout most of our lifetimes, was sideswiped and sidelined by Democrat TJ Cox of Fresno.

Valadao conceded earlier this month.

It was just one race among many that gave Democrats the House majority and restored California's Democratic bicameral supermajority.

And it was just one story among several others that landed on our list of the most important news stories of the past year. Other top stories included:

JANUARY

In the first year of legalized recreational marijuana use, Kern County voters rejected three ballot measures that would have allowed dispensaries in the city and county.

Before the year began, Kern County Supervisors and the City Council banned marijuana sales in the county, which kickstarted grassroots campaigns to get sales legalized.

Although Arvin has legalized pot shops that make deliveries to various parts of Kern County, it remains unknown how local leaders will resolve the sale of cannabis in a county with many medical marijuana users.

FEBRUARY

Superior Court Judge David Lampe's February ruling stating a local baker can continue to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples set off a flurry of debate at the national level.

The case began in August 2017 when Cathy Miller — owner of Tastries bakery and a conservative Christian — refused to make a wedding cake for Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio.

Miller said it went against her Christian beliefs to make a cake for a same-sex couple.

The Rodriguez-Del Rioses made a complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that Miller had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits public businesses from denying service to anyone on the basis of characteristics including race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Lawyers for DFEH filed suit against Tastries and Miller, who was defended pro-bono by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund.

Lampe, in essence, ruled that Miller's First Amendment rights trumped the state law she violated. His argument was also closely tied to Miller's role as an artist in producing cakes — which he found are protected artistic expression.

The ruling did not address the underlying case. Lampe simply denied a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have compelled Tastries to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples from the time the injunction was granted to the day the case was concluded.

In October, the state filed a lawsuit against Tastries and its owner Cathy Miller seeking damages under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

MARCH

The morning of March 13, federal immigration agents stopped a Ford Explorer Sport Trac in Delano occupied by Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Profecto Garcia. Santos Garcia matched the description of a man they were targeting.

As agents got out of their cars, the Ford fled the area, and the agents followed with lights activated. Shortly afterward, the Ford crashed on West Cecil Avenue, killing the couple. ICE officials later said Santos Garcia, although a Mexican national, was not the man the agents were after.

The incident inflamed tensions locally and became a talking point in the national immigration debate.

And while Delano police said the agents lied to them about pursuing the couple, the District Attorney's office declined to press charges after finding the agents were not the cause of the crash, and that, in a legal distinction, they were "following," not "pursuing" the couple.

The crash was caused by reckless driving and a sharp turn that led the vehicle to overturn, not the actions of the agents, prosecutors said.

APRIL

After first reporting her 2-year-old son had been kidnapped, Ayled Chavez came clean. She admitted her son had died after being left alone with her boyfriend, and the two of them buried his body in an area off the Kern River Canyon, according to court documents.

The morning of April 26, Chavez, 19, took investigators to where the corpse of Ramon Angel Reyes-Chavez was buried, documents said. Both she and her boyfriend, Kaleb Kessinger, were arrested and charged with murder.

Chavez told police she left Ramon in the care of the 21-year-old Kessinger — who is not the boy's father — while she went out to dinner with a friend. When she returned, she noticed injuries to Ramon's head and face, she told detectives.

The boy died that night, and she and Kessinger dumped his body in the canyon the next day, according to the documents. They later returned to bury him.

Chavez pleaded no contest in early December to willful cruelty to a child and is expected to testify against Kessinger. The murder charge filed against her was dismissed.

She faces two years in prison; Kessinger faces a life term if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin in January, but will likely be postponed.

MAY

A motorcycle wash fundraiser held May 5 by the Hells Angels turned deadly after several people affiliated with the rival Mongols gang showed up.

Ricardo Viera, 56, and several others connected to the Mongols arrived at the event in the 3200 block of Buck Owens Boulevard in what police said was a deliberate plan to provoke the Hells Angels into a fight.

A couple of the Mongols brandished metal objects as they approached and challenged the rival bikers, according to court documents. They drew several Hells Angels into a gas station parking lot where Viera fired into the crowd with a pump-action pistol grip shotgun, documents said.

Two people were injured.

Another person at the wash then armed himself with a handgun and fired several rounds at Viera, killing him. That man was detained but released after witness statements and video evidence backed up his statement that he fired in self-defense, police said.

Mongols affiliates Eliseo Ray Miranda, 46, and Arturo Desiderio Jr., 28, are each charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and scheduled to stand trial in February. A third man, Christopher Clay Wilson, pleaded no contest to being an accessory and has a sentencing hearing set for Jan. 18.

JUNE

An altercation following a race at Bakersfield Speedway June 9 left one man in the hospital with a skull fracture and another facing felony assault charges.

Kyle Flippo, 39, who court documents say is 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, is accused of punching the much smaller Zachary Diamond. Flippo is out on bail and is next due in court Jan. 30.

A witness told investigators Diamond, 20, fell "like a rag doll" and may already have been unconscious when he hit the ground. He suffered bleeding on the brain and, while not in a coma, was mostly unresponsive in the days after the incident, according to his mother.

She said a week later Diamond's condition had improved and he was undergoing speech and physical therapy.

Flippo's son and Diamond's brother were in the Mod Lites feature race at the track that evening, and the skirmish occurred shortly after the race finished.

JULY

The Kern County District Attorney’s Office charged 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez with two misdemeanors relating to her vote on a marijuana issue in 2017. One charge says she “used her official position to influence a government decision in which she knew she had a financial interest.”

Her husband, Fernando Jara, was a cannabis lobbyist at the time of the vote. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges, but The Californian obtained text messages that seem to indicate Jara received money explicitly to arrange access to Perez.

Perez’s trial is scheduled for Mach 25.

AUGUST

An officer-involved shooting shut down Highway 99 in both directions for hours the afternoon of Aug. 24, snarling traffic for miles, after a man armed with a knife advanced on a California Highway Patrol officer.

Authorities said 41-year-old Felipe Perez Casas was involved in a crash around noon in the northbound lanes of Highway 99 north of 7th Standard Road.

A CHP officer arrived at 12:06 p.m. and attempted to contact Casas, who ran across the northbound lanes of traffic armed with a knife and stopped in the center divider, according to reports.

When the officer tried contacting him again, Casas "quickly advanced" toward the officer while brandishing the knife, according to the CHP. The officer shot and killed him.

The CHP has not released the officer's name.

He lived there less than two years, but to his family, Merle Haggard's home on Brae Burn Drive, four houses down from the Bakersfield Country Club, was the first real tangible evidence that dad was something special. It also meant they could finally be a family again.

Merle, his second wife Bonnie Owens, children Dana, Marty, Kelli and Noel, and mother Flossie, lived under the same roof for the first time in that 3,600-square foot home. The Brae Burn house came with a pool, pool house, four-car garage, wide driveway and new schools for the kids.

In August, that spacious northeast Bakersfield house, at 4007 Brae Burn Drive, went on the market. Would its history help the sellers fetch a good price? Apparently not. Realtor Andy Lagasse treated its history like the home's most unique feature, but the man who bought it, informed of its musical past, responded with this: "Merle who?"

A few weeks later, the northeast Bakersfield house owned by Buck Owens in 1968-74 went on the market. Buck and Phyllis Owens' home at 309 Panorama Drive, overlooking the picturesque Kern River Oil Field, comes in at 5,106 square feet, and that doesn't even include all of the living and storage space. Include the west wing — separated by a breezeway, with a full mother-in-law apartment, a guest bedroom with bathroom, a shop and a converted recording studio — and it's more like 8,000 square feet.

The house, listed at $575,000, is about five miles from Haggard's old house on Brae Burn.

SEPTEMBER

When a man armed with a machete attacked a woman inside a Bakersfield Starbucks, Blaine Hodge came to her rescue.

Hodge threw the assailant, Robert Rivas, off the woman, according to court documents. He next meant to disarm Rivas, but slipped. Rivas slashed at him several times before he managed to run outside.

Arriving officers took Rivas into custody, and the 32-year-old is held on $1 million on charges including attempted murder in the Sept. 9 attack.

Hodge and the woman were admitted into Kern Medical Center in critical condition, but survived. The woman told investigators she and Rivas had previously dated, but she'd broken up with him a year ago.

She said she remained friends with him out of fear he would hurt her if she cut off contact, according to the documents.

Bakersfield's deadliest shooting on record occurred the evening of Sept. 12 when Javier Casarez brought his ex-wife to a trucking company and fatally shot her and two employees, Manuel Contreras, 50 and Antonio Valdez, 50.

Casarez, 54, then went to a house on Breckenridge Road and shot dead Laura Garcia, 31, and her father, Eliseo Garcia Cazares, 57, before carjacking a vehicle. He shot himself after being confronted by a deputy at a business he pulled into on Edison Highway.

In a court filing made 12 days before the shooting rampage, the ex-wife, Petra Maribel Bolanos de Casarez, 45, asked for child and spousal support and control of the family home they shared.

A resounding affirmation of Kern's potential as a regional logistics hub came when local officials disclosed plans by retail giant Amazon to open a four-story distribution center just north of Meadows Field Airport.

The project, whose secrecy extended even to county officials processing the company's permitting application, is expected to provide work for at least 1,000 workers. People familiar with the company's plans said the plant could open in late 2019.

In early November, the county's Board of Supervisors offered Amazon $3 million in tax refunds in exchange for Amazon's pledge to staff the plant with at least 1,000 Kern residents earning an average of $31,000 per year.

OCTOBER

One of Bakersfield's architectural novelties was leveled by its new owner despite pleas from local preservationists that it be spared.

The Dome, built in 1940 with a distinctive "arch-ribbed" roof, had hosted wrestling matches, boxing events and concerts. But with attendance in steep decline, owner Chencho Madera said he had little choice but to sell to the one entity that made him an acceptable purchase offer: Boca Raton, Fla.-based The Geo Group Inc., owner of the nearby Mesa Verde immigration detention center on Golden State Avenue.

Geo says it leveled the building to create a safe and secure buffer zone around the detention center. But Madera and his real estate agent say Geo told them its plan is to build a residential treatment center at the site.

NOVEMBER

The electoral blue wave that washed Republicans out of their House majority and denied Bakersfield's Kevin McCarthy the speakership rolled right up into the reddest county in California. Kern County, the last significant conservative stronghold in the state, and the San Joaquin Valley as a whole, went for Democrats in a big way.

The blue wave did not overtake McCarthy or Fresno's Devin Nunes, the Valley's two highest-profile Republican representatives, although both men experienced the closest races of their political lives. But it swallowed up Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, who was ousted by Fresno Democrat TJ Cox, and Rep. Jeff Denham of Modesto, who lost to Democrat Josh Harder of Turlock.

Melissa Hurtado, an unknown commodity who hails from a Fresno County burg 100 miles north of Bakersfield (Sanger, population 25,000), and is a mere 30 years old to boot, defeated incumbent Republican Andy Vidak to win the 14th District seat in the state senate. And she did so by a substantial margin — almost 11 percentage points.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Bakersfield Democrat, easily fended off Justin Mendes, a Hanford Republican who at one point appeared to be bringing a stiff challenge.

David Binder Research, a Northern California company that conducted research on behalf of SEIU California, found evidence that efforts to bring out the Latino vote — a fickle group that, comparatively speaking, often stays home on election day — were effective.

The Democratic Congressional Committee was seven-for-seven in its targeted California congressional races. Of California's 53 seats in Congress, Republicans control just seven — two in the Central Valley, two in the Inland Empire, two in the rural north and one in San Diego County.

Bakersfield city voters narrowly passed a 1-cent sales tax measure, but Kern County voters resoundingly defeated one. 

Nearly three weeks after Election Day, election results showed the city's tax measure had passed, raising the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent. Out of more than 91,000 votes cast, the issue was decided by a margin of just 97. The city expects to raise $50 million annually, enough to hire 100 additional police officers and address a recent rise in homelessness.

Three measures permitting limited sales of cannabis were on local ballots and all three were defeated.

The Kern High School District board saw a huge shakeup with the Nov. 6 election, in which two female newcomers — both retired educators — were elected to the board.

Cynthia Brakeman defeated incumbent Mike Williams in an upset to take the Trustee Area 1 seat while Janice Graves fended off two other newcomers — Jenifer Pitcher and Bryan Colebrook — to take the Area 4 seat vacated by Phillip Peters.

The wins marked the first time in 20 years that two women have served on the board at the same time. Before that, it had been more than a century.

The Bakersfield Californian completed its long-discussed move from 1707 Eye St., 93301, about 200 yards from the Padre Hotel bar, to 3700 Pegasus Drive, 93308, about 400 yards from the tip of the westernmost runway of the Meadows Field airport.

In so doing, TBC Media joined a long list of U.S. media companies that have moved from their historic downtown headquarters to smaller, suburban facilities.

The company's new home, the Harrell-Fritts Publishing Center, which opened in 1984, is just east of Highway 65, south of Merle Haggard Drive and west of the William Thomas Terminal at Meadows Field. Our printing operation, which produces The Californian, Tehachapi News, The Record, The Voice, and some smaller publications, occupies the east side of the building; our news, advertising, finance and administration departments fits cozily into the office space on the building's west side.

DECEMBER

Mario Thompson has pleaded no contest to impersonating an officer in connection with falsely reporting an active shooter at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in December and Mercy Hospital Southwest in August.

Six misdemeanor charges were dismissed after Thompson, 46, entered his plea to the felony impersonation charge, according to court records.

Both incidents led to hospital staff sheltering behind locked doors while police conducted hours-long searches of the premises and families of patients at the facilities anxiously waited for updates.

Thompson told police he made the false report at Memorial to "test" law enforcement readiness, according to court documents. He was found in possession of two cans of tear gas and a fake police badge, and later admitted to an addiction to narcotics pain medication.

Police said he inserted himself into the investigation at Memorial and tried to pass himself off as an actual police officer.

Thompson told The Californian he works as a "freelance loss prevention officer" in Santa Monica on the weekends and has been diagnosed with learning disabilities and a personality disorder.

The Californian's Steven Mayer, Jason Kotowski, Robert Price, Sam Morgen, Joseph Luiz and John Cox contributed to this report.

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