Banker eyes seat on Modesto Irrigation District board

gstapley@modbee.comJune 17, 2013 

Johnson Les

HUDSON PHOTOGRAPHY Les Johnson, candidate for Modesto Irrigation District board.

HUDSON PHOTOGRAPHY — Hudson Photography

    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government

— All of this year's Modesto Irrigation District races now have candidates, with Les Johnson saying he'll run to succeed outgoing board member Tom Van Groningen in northeast Modesto.

Like other candidates, Johnson said he has been dismayed by the current board's dysfunction and has closely followed its politics since last year's doomed proposal to sell water to San Francisco.

Johnson, 80, was raised in Escalon and managed agricultural accounts from Kern County to Oregon for Central Bank in Modesto. His late wife worked in the MID's payroll division for 20 years, and he farmed in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, receiving irrigation water from the South San Joaquin, Oakdale and Modesto irrigation districts.

Managing a large utility "takes some keen thinking," Johnson said. "I don't have all the answers, but I think I might be able to add something to the board."

He spoke against selling water last year, remains critical of how the polarizing proposal was handled and has attended many board meetings for more than a year. He says a decision to supply Mountain House with power was a costly mistake.

"(The board) has not been functioning correctly, but I've seen a change since we got two new directors," Johnson said, referring to Nick Blom and Larry Byrd, both elected two years ago.

Van Groningen and board member Glen Wild, who represents central Modesto, have said they will not seek re-election. John Mensinger hopes to replace Wild.

Also stepping aside is Paul Warda, representing northwest Modesto and Salida. Jake Wenger and Jim Mortensen have said they will seek his seat, while new pension rules could keep MID retiree Ted Donham from joining that race.

The Nov. 5 election filing period opens July 5 and closes Aug. 9, extended five days for races with no incumbent.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or (209) 578-2390.

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