For the past decade, Stanislaus County has had three representatives in the state Assembly. Most recently, it's been Republicans Kristin Olsen and Bill Berryhill, whose districts cover the bulk of the county, and Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, whose area stretches down the West Side.
Under the new maps that become effective with this election, Stanislaus County will have just two Assembly members, both shared with one adjoining county.
Based on our meetings with the candidates and other information gathering, here are our recommendations:
Assembly District 12
Former Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen is considered the incumbent in this race because it includes some of the same territory as her current 25th Assembly District. Olsen, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Christopher Mateo, a Lathrop city councilman.
They were the only two candidates in the June primary as well and Olsen was the easy winner, claiming 65 percent of the vote. We won't be surprised if that's the result in November, as well, in part because Mateo is not running an active campaign.
He declined our invitation to meet with the editorial board and also declined the opportunity for a phone interview, instead referring us to his Web site, which has not been updated for months.
Olsen, in contrast, is actively campaigning, showing the same conscientious approach she demonstrated as a council member and her first term in the Assembly. While we don't agree with Olsen on a number of social subjects she even opposes domestic partnerships, for instance we respect the fact that she can disagree civilly and still work cooperatively with her legislative colleagues on other subjects.
The best example of that is the bill, just signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, that slightly altered the California Environmental Quality Act to allow cities and counties to make small roadway safety improvements without an expensive or time-consuming environmental studies. Shepherding that bill through the Democratically controlled Legislature required compromise and perseverance that paid off.
Earlier, Olsen worked with her Democratic peers to restore funding for home-to-school transportation, something that was cut from the state budget last year.
While she opposes Proposition 30, Brown's tax proposal, Olsen has indicated she is willing to challenge the Grover Norquist no-new-taxes pledge that she previously signed. Olsen refused to endorse in last winter's Modesto mayoral race. Two of her family members supported Garrad Marsh, a Democrat, who ultimately won the nonpartisan seat. Some members of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee punished her by refusing to endorse her in June. As it turned out, it was meaningless to the final outcome. We like the display of independence.
We have no hesitation in recommending Kristin Olsen in Assembly District 12.
Assembly District 21
This new district includes all of Merced County and the western half of Stanislaus County, but both the candidates are Merced residents.
Businessman Jack Mobley was the only Republican in the June primary and won 45 percent of the votes in the top-two format; Adam Gray was by far the strongest among the three Democrats in the field, claiming 32 percent of the votes.
Gray grew up in Merced but spent much of his young working life as a legislative staffer at the state Capitol. He returned to Merced in large part to run for this seat, which is open because Galgiani is termed out (and now running for state Senate).
Gray has helped teach two political science classes at the University of California at Merced in the past year and a half, and that part-time position paved the way for him to have a ballot designation as a "University lecturer/ advisor." That has erupted as an issue, getting a disproportionate amount of attention. Critics say he should have been listed as a tutor or assistant.
This is Mobley's third try at the Assembly. He was unsuccessful in 2008 and 2010 contests against Galgiani. He hasn't gotten a lot of support from his party, perhaps because he would appear to be the underdog in a district with 45 percent Democratic registration, compared with just under 35 percent Republican.
Gray has gotten big financial support from the public employee unions which is a red flag but also is being supported by a number of business political action committees. He pledges to be a moderate, in the footsteps of his former boss, Dennis Cardoza, and his father-in-law, Gary Condit.
We've seen Galgiani and other former staffers move effectively into legislative seats. We have reason to think Gray could do the same and would use his understanding of state government to quickly go to work for this district. Mobley is sincere but follows the party line almost the tea party line on most subjects. He would fit in with his party caucus, but it takes more independence and assertiveness for a Republican to be successful and effective in Sacramento.
While we have some reservations about Gray's ties to the unions, we think he is overall the stronger candidate for Assembly District 21.