By Jose Gaspar
The dust appears to have settled and the numbers are in from November's election. Locally this election produced some most interesting results for Kern County.
I'd like to examine a few of these and take a look at what the future may bring. In Arvin, the youngest person believed to be elected to the City Council is a sophomore at Bakersfield College who's not old enough to legally buy a beer. As we say on TV news, more on that story coming up.
But first, there's the story of Rudy Salas. Elected to the Bakersfield City Council only two years ago to represent Ward 1, Salas apparently already had enough of small town politics and ran a successful campaign to defeat Republican Pedro Rios for the 32nd district assembly seat. And his victory helped give Democrats a supermajority in the state assembly. But don't count on Salas blindly following the party line. He took a stand against two high-profile issues that have heavy Democratic Party support. Salas opposed Proposition 30, which had strong backing from school districts and unions. And unlike his Democratic colleague in the senate, Michael Rubio, Salas opposes high speed rail. He made that clear when he voted against HSR as a City Council member. Maybe he's changed his mind now?
"There hasn't been anything for me to change my position," Salas told me. Sworn into office last week, Salas said his top priority is to get the state budget in line and eliminate programs he thinks aren't working or can be done better. "You'll see me leading the charge and looking at program efficiencies," Salas said. Just how well his ideas will go over with fellow Democrats, though, isn't clear. Salas appears to be taking a more cautious play-it-safe conservative approach.
His departure from the Bakersfield City Council means either the city holds a special election or it appoints someone to fill the remaining two years on Salas' term.
Ward 1 community activist Marvin Dean was quick to take action on the matter by organizing a petition drive to force the city into having a special election rather than appointing someone for two years.
""We're educated people, we're intelligent and we want to pick and elect our own representative to speak for the people of the first ward," Dean said.
Hmmm ... he's got a point there. But if the petition drive fails, then the City Council must decide whether to appoint someone or hold a special election. And the City Council could balk at the idea, because a special election would cost taxpayers about $100,000. More on this will be discussed at a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Bakersfield Senior Center, 530 Fourth St. City officials will be on hand to answer questions about procedures for filling the vacant seat.
Another novel political experience is taking place in Arvin, where six candidates ran for one open seat on the City Council. The youngest of the lot, 19-year-old Jose Gurrola Jr. won with 34 percent of the vote with his closest challenger, Victor Garcia, garnering 29 percent. No one at Arvin city hall can recall such a young person being elected to its City Council. Gurrola is articulate, bilingual, energetic and takes pride in his community. In fact, that's one of the reasons he decided to run for City Council. "I want people to feel proud of Arvin," said Gurrola, who is the oldest of three children.
Sure he's young, but he's got an appetite for serving the city where he was born and raised. And he was well prepped for his leap into politics by participating in the "We The People" team, where students study the Constitution and how it applies to government, while he was a student at Arvin High. He also attended City Council meetings (and it wasn't just for extra credit) and said he was dismayed by the bickering among council members. He did not agree, he said, with the City Council firing Tommy Tunson as police chief. And he felt the City Council was "not following the rule of law." Then he learned there was a vacancy on the City Council.
"I decided to take a shot," said the college sophomore. Relying on a grassroots campaign, Gurrola walked and walked and walked around the city introducing himself to anyone who would stop and listen. By his estimate, he knocked on some 2,000 doors. "Some people were getting sick of seeing me over and over again," he said. Now he wants to focus on building a cohesive City Council, improving the quality of life for residents and "being a voice for the voiceless."
Give the young man a chance. Believe me, in 24 years of covering Arvin, I've seen older (ahem!), "mature" people who I often wondered, why and how did they ever get elected to the City Council?
Arvin also elected a new mayor, Jose Flores, who promises to shake things up with a slew of changes, including posting the city's financial status online, starting city beautification and anti-litter campaign and reinstalling contact between the police department and local schools by having an officer assigned to the schools.
And just like in Bakersfield, Arvin is also faced with having to fill a vacant seat on its council. Flores had two years left on his City Council term. But since he was elected mayor, that means his seat is now vacant. The City Council voted last week to appoint someone to fill the remaining two years, rather than spend an estimated $50,000 to hold a special election. Arvin isn't exactly overflowing with money.
Anyone interested in being considered for the position is asked to submit a letter of interest or resume to Office of the City Clerk, 200 Campus Drive, Arvin, CA 93203. They must be received by Friday, Dec. 21 to be considered for the position. And applicants are being asked to answer the following: "Why do you want to be a council member for the city of Arvin?" Good question.
-- Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.