Jeff Jardine

Assembly candidates Vogel, Flora gear up for final campaign wars

Five candidates vying for Kristin Olsen’s 12th Assembly seat participated in a debate on March 30 at the Stanislaus County Library in downtown Modesto.
Five candidates vying for Kristin Olsen’s 12th Assembly seat participated in a debate on March 30 at the Stanislaus County Library in downtown Modesto.

They’ve been awfully quiet since June, at least in public.

That is when Ken Vogel, 71, of Linden and political neophyte Heath Flora, 33, of Ripon emerged as the finalists for the 12th District Assembly seat being vacated by terming-out Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

Both Republicans, Vogel and Flora focused on attacking each other in the primary even though there were three other opponents in the race at the time. Vogel fixated his hit-piece mailers on Flora after the first-time candidate began getting boatloads of financial support through so-called independent expenditures, which is the hard money of politics. Meanwhile, the organizations supporting Flora used their money to target Vogel with hit pieces on Flora’s behalf and certainly with his blessing.

Vogel, a former San Joaquin County supervisor and experienced campaigner, earned 25.6 percent of the vote, with Flora close behind at 23.2 percent.

They will face off in the Nov. 8 general election. But since the June primary, the campaigns have literally gone underground. Five months is a long time between elections. They’ve used it to regroup, recharge their war chests, educate themselves on what the voters want in a candidate, re-strategize, network, recruit volunteers and gear up for the final push that will begin in a week or so. The first of the next wave of mailers, Vogel said, will arrive in mailboxes the first week of October and just ahead of the absentee ballots.

Flora took nearly all of his campaign signs down soon after the primary in part because some cities require that political signs disappear within 10 days after an election. He also wants his signs to catch eyes, to stand out. Leave them up the entire time and residents will quit paying attention to them.

Vogel’s signs also came down where mandated, but his remained in place in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Now, with the general election looming in November, they’re back.

“We have more signs up now than before the primary,” Flora said.

So what did these candidates learn from their first go-round?

“I learned that in politics, it is far better to listen to people’s concerns than to talk like you have all of the answers,” Flora said. “There’s no way you can be an expert on all of the things that are important to them.”

The 12th District is diverse in race and socio-economic levels, he said, and the problems reach across party lines and to those with no political affiliation.

“Broke is broke,” he said, pledging to work with other area representatives including Sen. Anthony Cannella – whose connections steered so much independent expenditure money Flora’s way – along with Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Manteca.

He’s used the time between campaigns to become more versed on the politics of Sacramento, whether it be for water or education or transportation and other topics.

Vogel, meanwhile, as a county supervisor worked with the local state legislators he now wants to join.

“I’ve learned a little more about the political process and how all the organizations are connected,” Vogel said. “It’s more about Sacramento’s involvement in politics.”

The more experienced of the two candidates when it comes to dealing with water issues, Vogel said the state legislators have handed too much power to the regulatory agencies and in essence cut themselves out of the process, as evidenced a week ago when the state water board recommended 40 percent unimpaired flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers in an attempt to restore fish populations while possibly devastating the Valley’s agriculture economy.

“We’ve handed off the power to an agency that is a shadow government,” Vogel said.

He learned this about his opponent: Flora is well-financed and formidable.

“Eighty to 90 percent of what I raise is coming from within the 12th District,” Vogel said. “His money comes from Sacramento.”

Flora learned that he’s up against an opponent who’s been through this before, albeit at a lower political rung, and has been on both ends of the hit-piece war.

The break is over. The campaign signs are back up. The mailers are about ready to go out.

Game on, again.