Longtime leader, underdog vying for seat in California’s 8th Senate District

kvaline@modbee.comApril 28, 2014 

  • Tom Berryhill

    • Occupation: Farmer

    •  Education: Attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

    •  Public Office: Elected to state Assembly in 2006, state Senate in 2010

    •  Online: www.tomberryhill.com

  • Paulina Miranda

    •  Occupation: Businesswoman

    •  Education: Bachelor’s degree from National Autonomous University of Mexico

    •  Public Office: Candidate for trustee for the State Central Community College District in November 2012 and a candidate in the special election for state Senate District 16 in May. Lost both races.

    •  Online: www.paulinamiranda2014.org

Republican state Sen. Tom Berryhill has the advantages of name recognition, experience and money as he faces a Democratic underdog in his re-election bid to represent a GOP-leaning district that includes parts of the San Joaquin Valley, foothills and Sierra Nevada.

But he has one thing a candidate does not want. The California Fair Political Practices Commission ruled last week that Berryhill had engaged in a “serious and deliberate” violation of campaign finance rules when he funneled $40,000 from his campaign to his brother’s campaign for state Assembly in 2008.

It is not clear how the FPPC ruling will affect the race between Berryhill and his opponent, Fresno Democrat Paulina Miranda. Neither responded to requests for interviews.

The two will face each other in California’s June 3 primary. Because they are the only candidates on the ballot, they will face each other again in the Nov. 4 general election.

Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, represents all of Tuolumne and Mariposa counties and parts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Madera and Fresno counties in the 14th Senate District. But because of redistricting – the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries based on the results of the federal census – the district will be renamed the 8th and its boundaries will include Amador, Calaveras and Mono counties as well as part of Sacramento County.

The district is a Republican stronghold. As of Dec. 31, Republicans made up 43.8 percent of its registered voters compared with the Democrats’ 33.9 percent, according to the Around The Capitol website. The website reported that in the 2012 presidential race, Republican Mitt Romney garnered 54.6 percent of the district’s vote compared with 43 percent for President Barack Obama.

Berryhill comes from a political family. He and his brother, Bill, have served in the Assembly. Tom Berryhill was elected to the state Senate in 2010. Their late father, Clare, served in the state Assembly and Senate and as California secretary of food and agriculture. Berryhill had $133,422 on hand for his campaign as of the mid-March reporting deadline, according to the secretary of state’s website. Miranda had not reported any campaign contributions, according to the website.

Focus on private sector

According to his campaign website, Berryhill said his priorities include “creating an atmosphere that encourages the private sector to invest in our people and our state. It is all about jobs, jobs and more jobs.” He says he stands with former President Ronald Reagan in the belief that families benefit from less taxes and government bureaucracy.

Berryhill states on his website that as a fourth generation farmer he supports protecting prime farmland, private property rights and the environment, and supports the state having enough water storage. “I will stand tall against continued attempts by San Francisco and Southern California to export the Valley’s water resources that provide good-paying jobs and a good-hearted way of life,” Berryhill says on his campaign website.

He also pledges his support for the Second Amendment: “I believe that law-abiding citizens have a right to own a gun and that is their business ... not the government’s. Protecting the Constitution from those who would confiscate both our weapons and our rights will be my promise to you.”

The FPPC last week approved a $40,000 penalty against Berryhill and the Republican central committees in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Authorities say Tom Berryhill circumvented the $3,600 limit on donations to legislative candidates by giving $20,000 to each of the central committees, which then each gave $20,000 to Bill Berryhill’s Assembly campaign.

“This was cheating on the election, plain and simple,” said FPPC enforcement chief Gary Winuk in a Los Angeles Times story last week. “The state has campaign-contribution limits, and the Berryhills intentionally violated those limits and gave themselves an unfair advantage in an election.”

Tom Berryhill’s attorney criticized the decision and said his client will decide whether to appeal to the Superior Court in the coming weeks, according to the Times story. “We believe the FPPC applied the wrong legal standard to this, and we are evaluating our legal options,” attorney Charles H. Bell Jr. told the Times. “We continue to deny that there was any earmarking of the funds.”

Berryhill has received financial help in his fight with the FPPC. He received 10 contributions of at least $2,000 each to his legal defense fund from Aug. 1 through Feb. 11, according to the secretary of state’s website. The contributions totaled $58,600 and included $25,000 from Sierra Pacific Industries, $7,500 from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and $2,000 from the campaign of state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.

Miranda is a Fresno businesswoman and was a candidate for trustee for the State Center Community College District in November 2012 and a candidate in the special election for state Senate District 16 in May 2013, according to her campaign website. She did not win either race. She is active in the Democratic Party and served as co-chairwoman of the Kerry for President Campaign in Fresno County, according to her website.

She was born in Mexico and earned a bachelor’s degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, according to her website. In a questionnaire submitted to The Bee’s editorial board, Miranda said her priorities include supporting the high-speed rail project, which would link the Bay Area with Southern California via the San Joaquin Valley, and modernizing the state’s water infrastructure, which is crucial for the Valley because of its agricultural economy.

Miranda wrote that she supports more help for single mothers raising children in poverty. She said 22 percent of California’s children live in poverty.

“The women in California are not receiving the same salaries as the men in the same positions,” she wrote. “We need to have pay equity. To decrease the poverty of the children in California we need to invest in protect(ing) pregnant women, paid leave, help with good child care, (and) have scholarships for low-income women.”

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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