Elections

Confident Berryhill, Galgiani will win?

Assemblyman Tom Berryhill speaks to the lunch crowd about a $13B bond for surface water storage.
Assemblyman Tom Berryhill speaks to the lunch crowd about a $13B bond for surface water storage. Modesto Bee

California's Republican and Democratic parties apparently don't think the three Assembly seats up for grabs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley will change hands on Election Day.

Neither party is putting much effort into unseating Modesto Republican Tom Berryhill or Livingston Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, whose first run attracted $3 million in spending.

An open seat held by termed-out Republican Greg Aghazarian is drawing a little more attention from the parties.

Republican Bill Berryhill, Tom's younger brother, is running against Democrat John Eisenhut. They're facing off in a district that stretches from Turlock to northern San Joaquin County.

Even that race didn't pick up steam until this month, when the state Democratic Party began steering tens of thousands of dollars to Eisenhut's campaign.

Tame races reflect wide margins in voter registration that separate the parties in Tom Berryhill's 25th Assembly District and Galgiani's 17th Assembly District.

Republicans have a 6-percentage-point registration edge in Tom Berryhill's district, and Democrats dominate Galgiani's district by 13 percentage points.

The 26th Assembly District is a tossup for the parties in the race between Bill Berryhill and Eisenhut. Forty-two percent of voters in that district are registered as Democrats; 41 percent signed up as Republicans.

Incumbents Tom Berryhill and Galgiani have a number of first-term, bipartisan accomplishments to tout during their re-election bids.

Tom Berryhill led the way on a bill that cracked down on metal theft. He also carried a bill that reformed junior college nursing programs, enabling them to admit the most qualified applicants instead of using a lottery.

Galgiani was the only lawmaker who persuaded Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign a bill during the state's budget stalemate this fall. It ramped up financial checks and balances on a ballot measure voters will see Election Day, Proposition 1A, that would earmark bonds for a high-speed rail project.

Bill Berryhill, a Ceres wine-grape grower, is running in a similar vein as a centrist who would cross the aisle. Eisenhut said he'd bring a pragmatic view to the Legislature built on his experience as a Turlock almond rancher and Vietnam veteran.

Tom Berryhill's opponent is Taylor White, an ambitious, 19-year-old Modesto Junior College student government leader.

Galgiani is facing Jack Mobley, a Merced businessman and county planning commissioner who wants to cut state regulation on commerce.

Here's a closer look at the races:

  • 26th Assembly District
  • Bill Berryhill and Eisenhut share a number of similar experiences that shape their platforms.

    Each led school boards. Bill Berryhill served on the Ceres Unified School District during a period in which it built six campuses. Eisenhut was a member of the Turlock Unified School District Board of Education while it built schools and reduced the size of classes.

    The candidates also share a background in agriculture. Each touts that experience on the campaign trail, saying it forms their views of business regulation and land use.

    Berryhill describes himself as someone who can work well with people who hold differing viewpoints. Like most Republicans, he favors lower taxes and less regulation.

    He also said he can work with both parties on big issues, like the state budget.

    "You've got to get out in front of the issue," he said about this year's budget. "This time all we did was say no new taxes, and we didn't present an alternative."

    Eisenhut ranks education, jobs, improvements to public infrastructure and veterans affairs as his top priorities.

    He favors a two-year budget cycle to keep the state from getting in the kind of fiscal mess it encountered this year with both parties reluctant to compromise.

    "It's unconscionable that it took 78 days to get a budget. We need to lock ourselves in there and stay there until it's done," he said.

  • 17th Assembly District
  • Galgiani's run two years ago triggered $3 million in campaign spending on her part. Her opponent, Tracy Republican Gerry Machado, spent $1.5 million.

    Galgiani's seat remains one the Democratic Party wants to keep. She has raised about $500,000 this year. Mobley has brought in about $37,000.

    Mobley is taking on Galgiani with a Republican platform attacking regulation and taxes, saying California is less appealing for business than it was when he moved to Atwater as an Air Force pilot in the 1980s.

    "People are closing their doors and people in Sacramento don't understand that people are leaving and taking their jobs with them," Mobley said.

    He disagrees with Galgiani on the urgency of supporting high-speed rail, noting California's budget straits. Gal- giani favors the project as a less expensive alternative to building roads and airports that could benefit valley commuters.

    She's difficult to paint in a partisan corner. Business and law enforcement groups throughout the state back her candidacy.

    She used her first term to push for her district, such as a move to give Merced an improved railroad crossing. She's also working to help the University of California at Merced launch a medical school.

    Galgiani is next in line to lead the Assembly's Agriculture Committee, a post she said she would use to reach compromises that would ease the impacts of regulation on farmers.

    "I want to put together groups of people to work with me to solve local problems," she said.

  • 25th Assembly DistrictTom Berryhill said he tried to make friends with lawmakers in unexpected places when he took office two years ago. That took him to Democratic Party fund- raisers, unusual territory for a Republican.
  • He voted with his party on big issues, like the state budget. But his bipartisan approach gave him a few victories, too.

    He persuaded Kevin DeLeon, an influential Southern California Democrat, to modify a parks spending bill to open funding for Modesto's Tuolumne River Regional Park.

    Berryhill's partnerships helped him stick to his goals on an anti-metal theft bill when other lawmakers started submitting competing legislation.

    Schwarzenegger signed Berryhill's bill at the end of September, requiring metal recyclers to hold payments for three days, check identification and pay restitution to metal theft victims.

    "When you can get significant bills through that are going to make a difference to someone's life, this is the greatest job on Earth," he said.

    His opponent, Taylor White, expects tough odds on Election Day. But White felt it was important to run.

    He distinguishes himself from Berryhill on the environment and education. White wants to pass legislation requiring college textbook makers to disclose more information about updates to their products, which would help students decide whether they need new editions.

    White also wants to carry bills to encourage investments in renewable fuels.

    "I want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to succeed," he said.

    Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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