Mike Dunbar

What’s loud, heated and far from over in Turlock?

The candidates for Turlock mayor at an editorial board meeting of The Modesto Bee. From the left, Amy Bublak, Jaime Franco, Brad Bates and Gary Soiseth.
The candidates for Turlock mayor at an editorial board meeting of The Modesto Bee. From the left, Amy Bublak, Jaime Franco, Brad Bates and Gary Soiseth. jlee@modbee.com

All four candidates for Turlock mayor came to The Bee last week. Our ed board expected an interesting, lively debate. Even so, we got more than we bargained for.

In past interviews, we’ve found all four candidates amiable. You might not vote for all of them, but you’d certainly feel comfortable talking to them at a party over a glass of wine.

But at the end of our debate, after the camera was turned off, it became necessary to step in between two of the candidates. One question had gone into a loud overtime. What they needed was a time out.

It didn’t last long. One candidate reeled in his emotions and quickly left the room.

Some might say our ed board felt like a meeting of the Turlock City Council. The vast majority of this debate concerned valid issues about the future of Turlock. One of our questions concerned the level of “bickering” at council meetings over the past two years.

Bickering?” asked former Mayor Brad Bates, who is running for a third term 28 years later. “We left bickering behind a long, long time ago. This is a serious situation. … This is a meltdown of city governance at a level this city has never seen.”

Current Mayor Gary Soiseth is unfailingly polite in public, but he took some political shots at both Bates and Councilwoman Amy Bublak. Naturally, he claimed to be merely returning fire. That’s risky with a former police officer. Bublak didn’t hesitate to shoot back (rhetorically speaking).

“Sept. 26 will live infamy,” she began. Then she described a meeting that ended in a shouting match and a visit from the police chief, who had been waiting outside the council chambers. All this, and we’ve got five weeks to go. Good luck, Turlock.

OUR OTHER BIG debate, on Sept. 20, featured Rep. Jeff Denham and challenger Josh Harder. First, let it be said both of these men have big voices; each sounds like a Congressman. You could barely hear the mild-mannered moderator by comparison.

It was their first time going head-to-head, and each gave us much to think about – discussing real issues in real terms with real passion.

At times, it, too, got heated especially concerning what Denham considers a personal affront to his wife by an unidentified person outside a forum he attended.

We once considered such comments out-of-bounds, and we still condemn them as being ugly and rude. But the tenor of national politics has changed, thanks to our tweeter-in-chief. It’s almost to be expected now.

NOT SURE WHAT to make of these numbers, but as of last week, 6,042 new voters had registered in Stanislaus County. Of the new voters, 1,864 registered as Democrats compared to 1,220 who registered as Republicans.

At first blush, Democrats having 150 percent more new voters than Republicans bodes well for Harder. What about the 2,958 who declined to choose a party? That’s the most interesting number. Almost half of those registering to vote said no to both parties.

“The call to rally to the party isn’t working any longer,” said one astute political observer. And that means “candidates have to walk a fine line.”

Chalk it up to frustration with both sides. In Sacramento, we’re seeing that single-party rule has created what Assemblyman Adam Gray calls a “bubble culture” that believes it has all the answers and needs no input. In Washington, ruled by the other party, there is a culture of disdain – mainly for anything resembling bipartisanship. A little independence isn’t a bad thing.