Local Politics

Saturday, Apr 13 2013 11:59 AM

Some State Senate candidates struggling to be heard

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    By Louis Amestoy/ The Californian

    Mohammad Arif, a Peace and Freedom candidate for the 16th District Senate seat, appeared on "First Look with Scott Cox" on Monday.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Leticia Perez when she filed paperwork at the Kern County Elections Division office in Bakersfield with Carolyn Sandlin, elections specialist.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Andy Vidak is a Republican who is running for the 16th Senate District seat.

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BY SETH NIDEVER Hanford Sentinel snidever@hanfordsentinel.com

HANFORD -- Democrat Leticia Perez and Republican Andy Vidak are getting almost all the attention in the 16th state Senate District race.

They have money, they have the blessings of their party organizations and they are expected to duke it out in the special election on May 21.

But almost lost in the shuffle are three other candidates: Francisco Ramirez of Riverdale, Paulina Miranda of Fresno and Mohammad Arif of Bakersfield.

They don't have much money. They have boundless enthusiasm. And nobody gives them much of a chance.

Still, they're plunging ahead with faith in democracy, faith in the people and faith that ordinary citizens can win a modern election in a huge district covering Kings County and parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.

Take Francisco Ramirez, running as a Democrat. When this week began, the former Hanford City Council candidate had no officially designed campaign committee and no campaign contributions.

But the computer consultant remains convinced that fellow Democrat Perez isn't going to survive criticism that three months into her first term as a Kern County supervisor, she announced herself as a state Senate candidate.

"It's really going to hurt her," he said. "A lot of people are truly upset that she's trying to leave. People have a lot less respect for her."

Perez has said that if elected to the legislature, she'd still serve Arvin, Lamont and east Bakersfield, which are in the 16th District, and be able to seek and secure more money for those communities at the state level.

Ramirez said he's been knocking on doors in Bakersfield and hearing residents voice dissatisfaction with Perez and her decision to run for state Senate.

Tell that to the donors who, along with Democratic leaders, have put their stamp of approval on Perez.

As of Thursday, Perez had amassed $393,600, including $300,000 dropped into her coffers by the Democratic State Central Committee of California Wednesday.

Vidak had raised $223,651. As the only Republican on the ballot, he's got no competition from within his own party.

Ramirez was critical of the Democratic Party's decision to rally behind Perez early on. A few weeks ago, candidate Fran Florez bowed out to give Democrats a better shot at beating Vidak on May 21.

"I think the Democratic Party is rushing to conclusions too fast," he said. "I think it was a poor decision. It's such a quick election."

Speaking of his own campaign, Ramirez said, "This is a grassroots revolution, this is a grassroots mentality. All I can say is, I'm for the people. I want to bring both parties together."

Paulina Miranda is in the same financial position as Ramirez.

Miranda, a businesswoman and Democratic activist, as of Monday hadn't organized a campaign committee nor received any campaign contributions.

She downplayed her lack of money.

"There are a lot of things you can do without money," she said. "The community will know you, and they will vote for you."

Miranda refused to go negative on anybody. She respects Vidak. She has no issues with Perez.

But Miranda made it clear she thinks anybody should be able run and expect to have a shot at winning -- money or no money.

"I have the right to have people vote for me," she said. "The word 'impossible' is not in my vocabulary."

Another longshot is Mohammad Arif, an immigrant rights organizer from Bakersfield who is the Peace and Freedom Party candidate.

Arif says he's running in part because he wants to demonstrate that all Muslims are not terrorists like the 9/11 hijackers. He ran in the special election for California governor in 2003, finishing 46th with 1,709 votes. Arnold Schwarzenegger finished first with 4,206,284 votes.

Arif ran again for governor in 2010, but lost in the Peace and Freedom Party primary election.

"The USA is our country and we have to protect the USA," Arif said. "There has to be somebody who is a Muslim to come and fight for peace."

Arif thinks people who might have otherwise voted Democratic will rally behind him.

"I think people will like me because they are fed up with Democrats," he said. "They always talk about change, but there is no positive change."

Arif said that people who claim he has no chance of winning are Democrats and Republicans who are simply advocating for the continued dominance of their parties.

"People don't have information that there are third parties," he said. "I want to make people educated that there are many parties. They should see my manifesto, my agenda."

Arif could have been speaking for all three longshot candidates when he said, "If you are determined, one day you will win."

-- Californian City Editor Christine Bedell contributed to this report.

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