Government / Politics

Candidates speak and measures are discussed at forum

In a show of growing interest, residents came to hear from county and state candidates and about the measures. Political forum was almost closed down, but with some rearranging, most were permitted to hear the 27 candidates speak.

Small town politics played out on a grand scale May 3, in downtown Hollister during the Election Forum, hosted by BenitoLink and San Benito County Farm Bureau. Candidates willingly gave up their seats and provided more space in the chambers for the 200 or so attending. In response to expanding community interest, a larger venue has been reserved for the next BenitoLink and Farm Bureau Forums planned for October 10 and 11.

What drew the crowd were 27 candidates making their pitches for county and state seats, as well as an explanation of Tax Measures A, B and C.

Comments from seasoned and hopeful politicians alike ranged from the well-rehearsed to funny—in a cringe-worthy fashion.

The most highly applauded comment came from Republican Neil Kitchens, an Arkansas transplant of 32 years and State Assembly District 30 candidate. He got a big laugh during his closing comments saying, “California is a state where they release rapists and arrest people trying to give you a plastic straw.”

In an unusual twist, retired Judge Robert Foley announced that he had received information that would prevent him from fulfilling the entire six-year term, should he be elected, therefore, he was pulling out of the race. It was unclear why. There were four candidates for Superior Court Judge No. 2 Frances Henderson, Robert Foley, Gregory LaForge, and Omar Rodriguez {who did not attend the forum).

Probably the most awkward comments came from the County Supervisor District 4 race. Candidate Elia Salinas, made an off-the-cuff reference to opponent Sandy Swint’s interest in a tourism wine trail. Salinas said it would not be a good idea to have people driving around the county drunk after drinking wine, which drew several loud moans from the crowd. Salinas is the spokesperson for a cannabis extraction company.

Supervisor District 4 incumbent Muenzer, who has been in politics for over 20 years, appeared to be somewhat distracted. When asked about his position on a building moratorium, Muenzer said abruptly, “I was misquoted by the media,” which caused audience laughter. (See BenitoLink story: Mention of Moratorium Heats Up Supervisor Discussion

When County Supervisor District 3 candidates were asked about their 20 year vision for the county and how they would get there, Richard Perez said open dialogue about what growth means is needed and that it should be embraced because “it is coming”. He said he hopes a strategic plan is implemented before the 20 years have passed.

Candidate Peter Hernandez mentioned being a downtown small business owner and said that if elected he would view the public is a customer. Asked about his vision for the community, he said, “I love the idea that we have our own identity as a community and we’re not just an extension of Santa Clara County.”

Patricia Loe, who has been a County Supervisor, previously, described the county as a yet-to-be-discovered jewel and believes the issues of roads will one day be settled because as she put it, “…county residents demand it and will pay for it.”

Treasure-Tax Collector-Public Administrator candidates Melinda Casillas and Jaime De La Cruz both have extensive experience in finance. Casillas has worked for the county for over 20 years, with the last five as county budget officer. Four-term Supervisor De La Cruz works as a controller for a private company and has served in numerous volunteer and elected positions for more than 20 years.

Where Casillas struggled to answer a pointed question about the over $1 million Hollister School District funding shortfall the county has spent at least a year and a half trying to resolve, De La Cruz did not attempt to answer it.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho represented the county on Measures A, B, and C explaining that Measure A is a vehicle abatement tax that would be used to clear away abandoned vehicles in the county and would raise approximately $50,000 to $55,000 by adding $1 on car registration fees and $2 on commercial vehicles. It is a special tax that requires 66 percent approval.

If passed, Measure B will increase the current Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from 8 percent to 12 percent, which will be paid by visitors staying in area hotels.

Measure C will tax the cannabis industry- should the board of supervisors approve a cannabis ordinance. “This is clearly the most complicated and detailed tax measure that the county is putting forward this June,” Botelho said. He explained its purpose was to offset any costs to the county regarding law and code enforcement, health care and education.

Pro and con Measure C arguments were presented. Victor Gomez, who has served both as a city council member and as Hollister mayor, and is a cannabis lobbyist, spoke in favor of Measure C. Gomez claimed if it were to pass, a single operation of 25 acres could raise as much as $20 million, which he said could be used to repair roads and fund more sheriff deputies.

About opponents to the measure Gomez said, “They argue if this tax fails they will somehow halt cannabis businesses from operating in the county. That is far from the truth.”

Against the measure, resident Jack Kirk told the audience Measure C opponents are local residents and not paid advocates or lobbyists. He said the measure is a move to "trick voters" into overturning the county’s ban on commercial marijuana.

“Measure C is a sneaky con that aims to pull the wool over the eyes of county residents,” Kirk asserted. “When you thought you’re voting for a tax you’re actually voting to allow commercial marijuana farms next to your homes. It claims to provide funds for public safety, but instead it will create massive threats to public safety.”

Candidate Deputy Sheriff Bill Hutchison canceled several hours before the forum. Candidate Sheriff Darrin Thompson was asked for his opinion on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he said, “We like it the way it has been for the last 40 years, where our federal partners are doing that important work and our local partners are about encouraging people of all classes, documented or not, to come to our law enforcement centers to participate as victims and witnesses, testify in trials, and continue to see justice done.”

State Assembly District 30 candidates were Neil Kitchens, Robert Rivas, Bill Lipe, Peter Leroe-Munoz, and Trina Coffman Gomez. Kitchens clearly entertained the audience with his colorful oratory and spunk. Rivas repeated his status as a lifelong county resident, his interest in education and stressed his relationship with current Assemblywoman Caballero. Lipe, from Watsonville mentioned his sympathy for local farmers’ and ranchers’ frustration. Leroe-Munoz and Gomez referred to areas of commonality but were not specific to San Benito County issues.

The two final candidates for the 12th State Senate District were Assemblywoman Anna Caballero and Madera City Councilman Rob Poythress. Candidates Johnny Tacherra and Daniel Parra did not come. Farmer Poythress said he hopes to address today’s growing amount of bureaucracy and red tape for the small percentage of the population still in agriculture. Caballero spoke about her interest in new technology being used in ag and the environment.

To watch the forum in its entirety, without edits, go to Facebook, "What's Happening in Hollister and San Benito County." About 70 people attended the last BenitoLink- Farm Bureau Forum in 2016, which was shown live on Facebook as well. 

An edited version (partially funded by sponsors: Community Foundation for San Benito County, SBC Eyecare and Benito Valley Farms and with help from media partner CMAP-TV) of each individual race can be viewed will appear soon at BenitoLink.





John Chadwell

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