2018 Primary Election: 12th State Senate District

Two Republicans and two Democrats vie California's 12th State Senate District seat in the June 5 primary. Two top performers will move on to the general election in November.

As California State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) terms out at the end of the year, four candidates have stepped up to compete for the 12th State Senate district for the primary election on June 5:  Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), Johnny Tacherra (R-Burrel), Rob Poythress (R-Madera,) and Daniel Parra (D-Fowler). The top two candidates will continue on to the general election in November.

Anna Caballero

Anna Caballero, 64, current assemblywoman for California’s 30th State Assembly district, said she learned at a young age that existing in a company town could be difficult because the company owned everything in the town, including the mine, so if someone wanted to work they “didn’t make waves.”

“That experience is what led me to go to law school to give working families the opportunity to make better choices for themselves,” Caballero said. “I wanted to work with blue collar workers and that’s what led me to Salinas.”

At the time, Cesar Chavez was organizing farm laborers and Caballero wanted to be a part of the movement. Her political career began on a small scale in her own neighborhood. A big step for her involvement in local politics came after the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLA), a nonprofit organization that provides help to low-income individuals and communities, hired her.

The political roadmap for the mother of three and grandmother of six began with five years on the Salinas Planning Commission, 15 years on the Salinas City Council, with eight of those as mayor, and four years as an assembly member. She served on Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet for five years. Having termed out in the State Assembly, she is now running for State Senate because she is still passionate about serving rural California, she said.

“There are very few of us [serving rural areas] in terms of the legislature, and because it’s done by population, cities have a lot more representatives to take care of their interests and I think it takes someone who’s passionate and has the perspective to take care of rural California,” Caballero said.

During her tenure in Sacramento, Caballero said one of her greatest accomplishments was being co-author on a 2009 water bond, which she described as the framework for all water districts in California. Her biggest challenge, she said, has been affordable housing. She said everyone agrees that affordable housing is important, but “nobody wants it near them.”

“We have a big battle on our hands whether we’re going to allow housing to be built that’s desperately necessary or whether we’re going to say ‘no, we can’t build anymore because the environmental costs are too high,’” Caballero said, and addressed San Benito County in particular. “People are upset because the housing that’s being built is not being built for the local workforce. Then people have to commute.”

Caballero said she has been trying to expedite construction on Highway 156 to begin work this year, and because monies are being funneled to it, Highway 25 remains unfunded. She said the county can partially help relieve the congestion by improving intersections by building “stacking lanes,” so trucks don’t back up and slow residents down.

The current state assemblywoman supports Jerry Brown’s sanctuary state policy because she does not believe the federal government when it says it only wants to arrest criminal aliens. She believes being a sanctuary state protects migrants who are working to maintain the state’s economy.

“To put them at risk of deportation is not good for the state,” Caballero said. “For the first time that I recall farmers have left produce in the fields because there weren’t enough people to harvest it. Our immigration policies are hurting rural California. The policy prohibits local government and state resources from being used for the purpose of detaining or deporting undocumented workers.”

Caballero also continues to support the high-speed rail, even though its cost has skyrocketed from an initial budget of $40 billion in 2008 to more than $77 billion, and continues to climb, teetering on $100 billion. Even though she said she is disappointed with the increased cost and how long it is taking to build, Caballero still believes people want to be able to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles faster. As for paying for the rail system, Caballero said it needs to be determined how far along the project it can be taken with the monies that have already been raised, and then try to attract more investors.

“That, I just don’t know,” Caballero said. “That’s what the legislature is working on to figure out the long-term strategy, [but] it’s going to take a real long time.”

Expediting construction of Highway 156 is important to Caballero, she said. She wants to secure funding to equip an emergency services office in San Benito County. She is also attempting to assist Hazel Hawkins Hospital in obtaining critical access status in order to obtain more funding and to prevent it from being adversely affected by the Healthcare Price Relief Act (AB 3087 to reduce healthcare costs).

For more information, go to Caballero’s website.

Rob Poythress

Rob Poythress, 62, is a third-generation almond and walnut grower. He also operates a Teco Hardware store with his brother that serves the agriculture community. Additionally, he has a 38-year career in small business lending.

In 2004, Poythress was elected to the Madera City Council, and served 12 years, including two terms as mayor. In 2016, he won a supervisor seat against the incumbent. He said he is running for State Senate because he sees it as an opportunity to serve his fellow rural citizens.

“It’s the right time,” Poythress said. “It’s the right timing because there is a need for sound decision-making and sound analysis in our state. The interesting thing about Senate District 12 is every county has their own nuances and issues, but it’s a very rural area that’s ag-oriented. It serves a lot of low- to moderate-income people who were left behind during the economic expansion.”

Poythress said as he has traveled around the district, he has become more familiar with the various needs throughout the district. His number one concern, he said, is the repressive regulatory environment. If regulations could be pulled back on labor and business it will give business owners more money to enable them to hire more people at higher wages, he said.

“The regulatory environment and taxes are closely related,” Poythress said. “We’re the highest taxed state in the nation. Not only state income tax, you also have high property taxes, sales taxes, local initiatives, pressure from Calpers and cities to raise taxes for pensions. It’s overwhelming.”

Because of the tax burden, Poythress stressed the wrong-headedness of rolling back Proposition 13 protections on commercial properties in an effort to raise taxes by an estimated $11 billion per year, allegedly to fund education, housing, and infrastructure throughout the state. He described the move as “incrementalism.”

“If you look at it from a progressive viewpoint, let’s tax those mean business people more,” Poythress said. “You get rid of that, what’s the next step? It could be housing. That’s why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association endorsed me. They know I’m going to fight higher taxes.”

Poythress said the first step Republicans need to do is eliminate the Democrats’ supermajority. He said this is why keeping the 12th State Senate district in Republican control, as it has been for 12 years, is important. He said if one more seat can be won in Southern California, there will no longer be a supermajority.

“That will give us a seat at the table and we can negotiate and have an influence over policy in Sacramento,” he said.

Poythress does not support SB 54, known as the sanctuary state bill, because he claimed it is being “hyped up as something it is not.” He said on a local level, law enforcement can cooperate with federal authorities when convicted felons are involved. What is more important, he said, is to work harder on long-term immigration policies.

“SB 54 has actually worsened the situation,” Poythress said. “It has inflamed folks and created fear among our undocumented farm workers who are just trying to make a living. It has done the opposite of what the proponents thought it would do. It does nothing to protect workers. These raids have increased since it was passed because prior to SB 54, [US Immigration Customs and Enforcement] worked with local law enforcement, so they focused on people who had committed crimes. ICE will enforce federal laws no matter what the state wants. Now ICE has to go out onto the streets like they did in the 90s to enforce the law.”

The candidate described Madera County as ground zero for the high-speed rail project and has had to deal with it for the past nine years. He said the project is not going well for the local community, or for anyone in the state.

“It’s turned into a $70-billion boondoggle,” Poythress said. “They can’t even figure out how to go through the mountains to link up with Los Angeles. It’s time to pull the plug.”

He commented that the money could be better used to repair the roads that serve 99 percent of the people in the state.

“If you call an ambulance to come to your house it’s not going to jump on the high-speed rail,” Poythress said. “It’s going to take roads to get there and then take roads to take you to the hospital. Roads carry produce. They allow commerce to take place. The priorities are mixed up.”

To learn more about Rob Poythress, go to his website.

Johnny Tacherra

Johnny Tacherra, 41, is a third-generation dairy farmer in Fresno County. He started a hay business on 5,000 acres after graduating from high school. He now runs his own fabrication business.

His interest in politics began in high school in 1994, when he supported several local campaigns. In 1995, he was asked to join the Fresno County Republican Central Committee. He participated on the committee for four years when he said life was just too busy and he had to help with the farm and his welding business. But as a board member for the California Dairy Campaign, Tacherra lobbied in Washington for the dairy industry for several years.

One year, Tacherra recalled, he was in Congressman Jim Costa’s office discussing dairy and water issues. According to Tacherra, Costa told him he barely won the previous election and because the dairy lobby had not helped him enough, he was not going to support them.

“That’s when I realized how corrupt the system was,” Tacherra said. “I always had his back and now he doesn’t want to have mine, so I threw my hat in the ring. He called me to get together for coffee because he was concerned about me running against him. I asked him why was he running because his voting record sucked in the valley. He told me he needed a fifth term to get a full retirement. I told him I wouldn’t drop out of the race because he was only doing it for selfish reasons.”

Tacherra ran in 2014 and won. Then he didn’t. On election night he was ahead by 746 votes. He was sent to orientation in Washington, hired his staff, voted on the House floor, and then found out he actually lost by 1,334 votes in Fresno. He had won the rural votes, but not the city. He suspected voter fraud, but said the party wouldn’t support him to conduct a recount.

He is more hopeful this time because the race only involves the county and not the City of Fresno. He is concerned about Monterey County because of Caballero’s home field advantage. However, after meeting with farmers throughout the 12th State Senate district in discussing water needs and immigration concerns, Tacherra said he believes he can work with people he has come to know in Washington to help with their needs.

Tacherra said his big concern is water infrastructure, particularly for agriculture, which he said is the lifeblood of the San Joaquin Valley and in Monterey. Being a farmer, he said he is concerned about taxation and regulations. Farmers are the stewards of the land, but government keeps imposing new regulations on them, he said.

Besides wanting to stop the high-speed rail project, Tacherra said he is pro-Second Amendment. He’s proud of having the NRA’s endorsement, and almost as proud at having been attacked for his stance on gun control by the Los Angeles Times and MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. He made national news when he had a fundraiser where he gave some donors a free handgun. Where other Republicans canceled their fundraisers, Tacherra told the Times, “The best defense against a terrorist is an armed American.”

For more information on Tacherra, go to his website, email [email protected], or call 559-647-3877.

Daniel Parra

Daniel Parra, 52, served in the United States Air Force for seven years as computer maintenance technician, and then worked 24 years at Northrop Grumman as a systems data analyst. For the last year and a half, he has been a consultant, mainly giving advice on land-use issues concerning environmental rules, whether it be for a home developer or cannabis operation.

Parra also represents a nonprofit that is building a training center for medical billing technicians and other medical personnel. He said he tries to only work with clients outside the city because he is a council member and does not want to recuse himself.

Parra came onto the political scene because of a subdivision being built behind his home, which he didn’t want, so he got mad and in 2004 volunteered for the planning commission. He said he kept pressuring the city manager to do something and when he was told it was up to the city council, he ran for a council seat in 2008.

“Making the changes I wanted wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” Parra admitted. “Everything is a process. In this case, it was five council members and it takes three votes to pass anything. And you need to accomplish funding. I ran on parks and it took seven years to get the park I wanted.”

Parra ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016. He’s running for State Senate for much the same reason as he ran for Congress.

“Our area has been neglected and we need more services, more funding,” Parra said. “When SB 1 was voted for, Anthony Cannella traded off his vote for $500 million. The bulk of that is going to Ceres for a connection to the rail system in the Bay Area. I’m thinking, ‘What about us down here or the folks in Monterey or Madera?’ He could have spread the wealth around and helped a lot of people or filled a lot of potholes.”

Parra said many counties throughout the 12th State Senate district share the same issues. He said economic development, public safety, health care, and water infrastructure are at the top of the list.

“We need to make sure everybody has health care,” Parra said. “It’s better for us if we cover [farm workers] where they can go to a routine appointment rather than the emergency room and paying thousands of dollars, when it should’ve cost $80.”

Parra said immigration in general and people who fall into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) category, in particular are important to him. As a board member with the League of California Cities, he pushed for the passage of a DACA resolution to “…tell the state and the president this is what 474 cities are behind, so if I push a bill [supporting DACA] I’m going to get their backing.”

Public safety is a district-wide issue because of a lack of funding, Parra said. He said if he were elected, one possible solution would be to pass a bill that would set aside a pool of money for the district. Then if a county wanted to apply for a grant, instead of going to the state to compete with every other county, they would apply for a grant to come from the district’s money.

Parra favors the high-speed rail despite the rising costs. He said more private sector money is needed to continue the funding.

“There’s companies that are going to be building these trains and they’re going to get these big contracts,” Parra said. “They need to kick in too so we can continue the work. A lot of companies will benefit. You’re going to have steel companies and I want it to be American steel and not Chinese. A lot of companies will benefit and we just need to get the private sector, in general, to pony up.”

To get more information on Parra, go to his website.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]