Jeff Jardine

Mud flying in 12th Assembly District race campaign fliers

They all seemed so cordial when they came seeking The Bee’s endorsement a couple of weeks ago.

The five candidates for the 12th District Assembly seat being vacated by terming-out Kristin Olsen were on their best behavior that afternoon. No barbs, no insults, no cheap shots. But the mudslinging, some of it already on its way in the U.S. mail, already had begun. They are punching and counterpunching as they try to survive the June 7 primary to be among to top two for the Nov. 8 general election.

Democrats Harinder Grewal and Virginia Madueño are at war. It’s getting, as they say in the National Basketball Association, a bit “chippy” on the Republican side as well, where Heath Flora is attacking Linden’s Ken Vogel, who attacked him first and in the courtroom.

The only one staying out of the fray thus far is Cindy Marks, also a Republican. Like Olsen before her, she’s refused to attack her competitors, which is why the rest of what is happening is standing out. Olsen’s campaigns traditionally are pretty much smear-free, contrary to what the Sacramento campaign consultants seem to salivate over.

This race, though, turned personal months ago, when Vogel went to court to stop Flora from listing himself as a farmer on the campaign statement sent to voters. Flora can do so on his posters and other campaign material, but not on the ballot or sample ballot. Flora sells farm equipment to farmers, and also is a volunteer firefighter.

“Outside of the election, you can call yourself anything you want,” Vogel said. “But the state ballot designation, you have to list your principal occupation. That is the determining factor.”

Just politics, nothing personal, right?

“We kind of took that personally,” Flora said. “My family’s been farming for four generations in the Wood Colony. I’ve been in the fields practically every day of my life, educating people on new farm procedures.”

Robo calls from Vogel’s camp are sticking in Flora’s craw as well, claiming Flora is misrepresenting himself during the campaign. Flora supporters are responding – OK, retaliating – with a mailer that pits Vogel’s campaign claims against his voting record as a San Joaquin County supervisor.

“Ken Vogel’s BIG Taxpayer Funded Triple Dip” that shows a three-flavor ice cream cone, each scoop showing his school district pension of $95,724 (chocolate), $22,082 for his county supervisor’s pension (vanilla) and the $100,113 he would make if elected to the state Assembly (strawberry). The flip side accuses him of raising taxes by $1.3 billion, which one person clearly cannot do alone at the local levels.

The mailers came from the “California Alliance for Progress and Education, An Alliance of Small Business Organizations” and specifically state they were not authorized by a candidate or committee for the opposition. The organization is funded by, among others, the Los Angeles-based California Real Estate Political Action Committee and the Driving California’s Economy PAC. These so-called independent expenditures are the hard money of politics.

Not that Flora is telling them to stand down. Since May 4, they’ve spent $128,520 in support of Flora and $46,286 to bash Vogel.

“We’re not above pointing these things out,” Flora said. “It’s not personal.”

No, it never is. ...

Except between Grewal and Madueño, too. Grewal struck first with a hit piece criticizing Madueño’s leadership history. His “Report Card” cited four issues from Madueño’s time on the Riverbank City Council, both as a council member and as mayor. It claims she filed a lawsuit against a former mayor, that she resigned her council seat before the end of her term when she lost a campaign for mayor in 2008, that she made three unsuccessful attempts to recall then-Councilman Jesse James White and that she demanded a recount when she lost her mayor’s seat to Richard O’Brien in 2012.

The facts: In 2008, she sought and received a temporary restraining order against former Mayor Charlie Neal, whom she accused of harassing and stalking her, but her subsequent request for a permanent keep-away order was denied by a Stanislaus Superior Court judge.

That same year, she vacated her council seat to oppose Chris Crifasi for mayor. Crifasi won, but resigned and moved out of the area shortly thereafter. The vice mayor became the mayor and she was appointed to the vacant council seat.

There were two unsuccessful recall attempts against White during her term as mayor (2009-2012). White’s turbulent time in office included convictions on felony DUI and child endangerment charges. Madueño and the council also spent $53,000 in legal fees in a failed attempt to bounce him from the council.

And as mayor in 2012, after Madueño lost by 53 votes to Richard O’Brien in 2012, a friend demanded a recount that she suspended when the totals weren’t changing. She received a bill totaling $10,217, less the $2,400 paid up front. She disputed the charges and the county waived the remainder.

Madueño responded with a flier titled “A History of Violence” that cited a domestic violence charge Grewal faced in 1996 and said that he incited a brawl at the Sikh temple last year.

“It’s right for the people to know what they’re getting in the Assembly,” said Andrew Acosta, Madueño’s campaign manager.

The facts: Grewal was acquitted by a jury in 1997 on the domestic violence charge. And a Stanislaus Superior Court judge ruled in his favor in the Sikh temple dispute with an opposition group that had seized control of the temple. The case is ongoing.

So are the campaigns, with more money to be spent and more hit pieces to be sent.

They aren’t finished with one another just yet.