Stanislaus supervisor candidates downplay some endorsements

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 26, 2014 

In previous elections, getting a Republican Party endorsement and support from leaders in agriculture and the private sector was a good formula for winning a seat on Stanislaus County’s Board of Supervisors.

Leading up to next week’s election for supervisorial Districts 3 and 4, candidates are downplaying some of the typical endorsements and insisting that public contact is the path to victory.

Terry Withrow, the incumbent in District 3, and his opponent, Scott Calkins, wanted nothing to do with an endorsement from the Modesto Chamber of Commerce. The candidates need votes from Wood Colony residents who want their farming area removed from Modesto’s growth plans.

The chamber upset Wood Colony residents when it pitched a plan last year for Modesto to develop business parks on the productive farmland west of Highway 99.

Withrow, who is endorsed by the Republican Central Committee of Stanislaus County, said he ignored an invitation to a chamber endorsement interview and, after a second letter, told the group he wasn’t interested. Calkins did not participate, either.

“For Terry and Scott (a chamber endorsement) would be the kiss of death,” said Katherine Borges, an arch opponent of Modesto annexing Salida. The Salida Municipal Advisory Council chairwoman also helps Wood Colony residents fight the city.

Withrow listed Borges as one of his top endorsers on a recent campaign mailer, right under the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and Jake Wenger, Wood Colony farmer and Modesto Irrigation District director. And he widened his tent with an endorsement from the Latino Community Roundtable.

Chamber President Cecil Russell said it was the candidates’ choice to decline the group’s invitation. He said the public should understand that the chamber only asked the city to study the business parks and that job creation was the primary message.

The chamber endorsed incumbent Dick Monteith, who faces a challenge from Modesto Councilman Dave Lopez in District 4, which includes most of Modesto, territory north of the Stanislaus River, the airport neighborhood and a small part of Ceres. The chamber praised Monteith’s determination “to make beneficial, long-term decisions when it comes to economic development.”

Monteith has stressed that the chamber needs to drop its ideas for business parks west of Highway 99. He favors leaving Wood Colony alone and zoning areas for new industry on poor farmland elsewhere.

Lopez said he took part in a chamber interview but figured his stance against development in Wood Colony disqualified him for an endorsement.

Monteith, a state senator from 1994 to 2002, has won five state and local elections during his political career, losing only to Democrat Dennis Cardoza in a congressional race in November 2002. He was first elected to the county board in 2006.

Monteith built a foundation of support from conservatives, people in agribusiness and private industry, and irrigation districts in the Valley. His re-election is recommended by the Republican Central Committee.

Even so, the 82-year-old former collegiate athlete said his campaign has largely involved knocking on 4,300 doors in Modesto and other areas. He said the potential voters are not interested in his party credentials. “I have only had 10 people ask what party I belong to,” Monteith said. “It is an entirely different atmosphere. I am relying mostly on face-to-face contact with people in the district.”

Lopez, a Modesto councilman who terms out in late 2015, has tried to make the District 4 contest about addressing the concerns of constituents who need sidewalks or better law enforcement.

He is endorsed by unions that represent custodial and sworn deputies and sergeants in the Sheriff’s Department.

“People in Modesto know my work on the City Council. They know I work hard and show up for everything,” Lopez said. “When somebody calls City Hall, rather than just call back, I usually try to show up at their door.”

The vote count next week will determine whether the challengers can break the Republican stronghold on the Board of Supervisors. All five of the current supervisors are Republicans.

As of May 5, the GOP led the Democrats in voter registration in the county, with 86,625 registrants to the Democrats’ 79,232, according to the county election website. There were 34,236 registered voters with no party preference.

Lawrence Giventer, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus, said the deciding factors in local elections are usually “money, incumbency and lastly endorsements.” Some local office seekers with political ambitions seek a party endorsement because they see the office as a steppingstone, he said.

Giventer said he doubted a GOP plug was necessary for election to the Board of Supervisors, but “it might be crucial later for a candidate who has career aspirations.”

Withrow said voters in his district will consider the issues they care about, such as farmland protection, and support the candidate that agrees with them. “What it takes to get elected to the board is a person who is knowledgeable and willing to listen to constituents,” he said.

Although he downplays party affiliation, Withrow’s campaign recently sent out a postcard that touts his endorsement from the Republican Party of Stanislaus County. On the reverse side is a letter from fellow supervisor and county Republican Chairman Jim DeMartini, explaining that the party endorsed Withrow for his fiscally conservative values and his work to ensure a sustainable water supply for “business, communities and agriculture.”

Withrow said he is against Modesto annexing Salida and covering Wood Colony farmland with business parks, and is running on his record of working for solutions for groundwater problems. Calkins said he wants to protect farmland, stop a realignment of Highway 132 and work for alternative transportation programs to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Calkins, a high school teacher who’s endorsed by the Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee, said he’s aware turnout among Democrats is lower for primary elections.

“It is definitely an uphill challenge,” Calkins said. “You need to have some crossover appeal. I don’t think I can win without some percentage of Republicans supporting me, which I think I have.”

In 2010, Withrow and former Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons raised more than $420,000 combined in a District 3 contest that Withrow won by 83 votes. Withrow said he expects to spend $30,000 on his current re-election bid, less than a third of what he spent four years ago.

Calkins, who had raised $23,000 as of last week, also has support from individual farmers and the custodial deputies’ union. In this election, he said, an endorsement from the Chamber of Commerce would hurt more than help.

“I feel they are the champions of sprawl most of the time,” he said. “That’s not to say everyone at the chamber is in favor of that. But at the top, the people are interested in converting farmland to urban uses.”

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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