Local Politics

Monday, Mar 18 2013 10:22 AM

Former mayor, county supervisor Shell talks Republican politics

BY CHRISTINE L. PETERSON Californian web editor cpeterson@bakersfield.com

Viewers and listeners of "First Look with Scott Cox" had a chance to hear from a "piece of living history" Monday morning when former Bakersfield Mayor and Kern County Supervisor Mary K. Shell joined in studio to talk about Republican politics.

Shell said that despite the challenges of unemployment, crime and traffic, Bakersfield is "still a great place to live" and she "can't help but be optimistic" about its future. She received a gentle ribbing that it sounded like she was running for mayor again.

She joined in a conversation with Editorial Page Editor Robert Price, who noted that "we have to have the best possible guests" during this first week of shows. He was referring to the simulcast that can be heard at NewsTalk KERN 1180 and viewed at bakersfield.com as it's brought to you from the Dignity Health Studios at The Bakersfield Californian.

Shell was elected to one term as the first woman mayor of Bakersfield in 1980, and then went on to serve as a Kern County supervisor from her election in 1984 to her retirement in 1996.

With questions from Price, Shell both reminisced about Kern politics, and talked about the present and future.

He noted that politics have evolved in Kern. Shell said in the early 1960s, a lot of young, energetic Republicans went out and scoured the county for new voter registrations. And it was cumbersome at the time, because while organizers found the people to register, a registrar from the county had to be there to sign people up, making it a slow process.

"You have to get out there and walk and knock on doors," Shell said.

Now, she said, Democrats are very aggressive about signing up new voters.

Shell also said the Republican party has strayed from what was its core -- including fiscal responsibility and job creation -- and moved more into social issues. She said she believes the Democrats have lost a lot of evangelical Christians who have now turned to the Republican party.

Price queried: What can the Republican party do to regain its footing?

Shell quipped, "If I had the answer to that, I'd be in Washington, D.C."

She said the Republican party needs to address high unemployment, noting, "How can people plan for the future when they can't even find a job?"

Price also took Shell down the road of traffic issues in Bakersfield.

She said that now most cities are going for beltways to preserve their cities, and she hopes that can be done to preserve Bakersfield's very nice neighborhoods.

"Why put freeways right through the middle of town?" asked Shell, a downtown Bakersfield resident. She said she wishes a tunnel could run through downtown to move traffic, but she knows it would be really expensive.

Shell tackled the much-watched 16th Senate District race, too. Her wisdom for Leticia Perez, who plans to announce her intentions for the seat today?

"My advice to her is to make a decision," Shell said, adding that Perez is very energetic and is obviously enjoying what she is doing in Kern County's Fifth District. Shell noted that the lure of higher office is difficult to resist.

Price lauded Shell's legacy in politics. For her part, Shell explained that it was her late husband, Joe Shell, who told her she should run for mayor of Bakersfield.

"What kind of husband would urge his wife to run for mayor?" Shell said, then answered her own question, saying women should have confidence in their abilities, no matter what the field, and they should try to excel and be the best.

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