Supervisor competition ramps up

Institutional politicians line up behind Ashburn in ’October Surprise’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

A lucrative campaign season and new high-profile endorsements have ramped up competition in the race for Kern County 1st District Supervisor. But as these dueling columns of support are added up, there is no definitive consensus about who is coming out ahead.

In the June Primary, Mick Gleason took an early lead in the eight-candidate field with more than 30 percent of the vote — nearly twice what Roy Ashburn took to come in second. At that time Gleason had also raised more money and earned the most prestigious endorsements, with backing from the likes of state legislators Jean Fuller and Shannon Grove.

Then Ashburn promised a game-changing announcement, which came last week in the form of a press conference where former Rep. Bill Thomas, former Bakersfield Mayor Mary K. Shell, former Supervisor Steve Perez, retiring 1st District Supervisor Jon McQuiston and other politicians professed their support for Ashburn.

Although Ashburn did not respond to the News Review’s requests for comment, he read a statement at the press conference stating his gratitude for the support and his concern for the 1st District.

Thomas, whose support for Ashburn was made more notable by the pair’s former rivalry and by Thomas’ prior alliance with those in the Gleason camp, said, “I think he wants, I think he deserves, an opportunity to be 1st District Supervisor.”

Thomas praised Ashburn for his knowledge of the district and his previous experience as supervisor. (Ashburn served from 1984-1996 before his 14-year stint in the state legislature.)

Although Thomas’ position has sparked contention among some, Thomas’ former protégé Kevin McCarthy’s response focused on his support of Gleason rather than on Thomas’ endorsement.

Though McCarthy began his political career as a staffer for Thomas, his own meteoric rise on the national political scene has taken him to his current position of House Republican Whip. McCarthy said that his eight years of working with Gleason have convinced him of the retired Navy captain’s ability to best represent the 1st District.

“We need Mick’s leadership. The differences between Mick Gleason and his opponent are significant and serious, so this election is extremely important.”

Chip Holloway, who came in sixth in the primary race for supervisor, is one of the four Ridgecrest City Councilmen who have also declared support for Ashburn.

“I think last week’s endorsements are a reflection of experienced elected officials understanding the level of difficulty we will be facing in providing county and city services in the coming years,” said Holloway. “Established relationships at all levels of government and an intimate understanding of the political process will be paramount to how effective any elected official will be going forward.”

But Councilman Jerry Taylor — Gleason’s lone supporter on the city council — pointed out that Ashburn’s primary political support comes from those no longer holding office.

“The fact that these politicians think their opinions hold so much weight really just shows a disdain for the interests and sentiment of the common citizen,” said Taylor.

“Roy has spent the last 16 years demonstrating that his agenda is doing what best serves his career. Then you have Mick Gleason, who has been working tirelessly for China Lake and our community since he moved here. That’s the kind of person I want to represent me. And I think that’s the kind of person most people want to represent them.”

Taylor said he is not concerned about the Bakersfield politicians falling in behind Ashburn, “But I am a little disappointed that our city’s elected officials are choosing not to support Gleason. He is not a career politician, he is a proven leader doing the correct things for the correct reasons. Ashburn’s endorsements are almost an argument against him.”

“Ashburn has been running for office for 30-plus years and has some longtime politicians who are old friends,” said Grove. “I remember him too — when he was our state senator, Roy Ashburn voted to raise my taxes higher than ever in California history. He betrayed his stated principles to do it.”

Grove said that in return for Ashburn’s critical support for the tax hike, he received a $125,000 annual salary to serve on a board that meets only once a month.

“That’s a selfish act as an outgoing elected official. Taxpayers should never forget what Ashburn did to us in Sacramento. Those who want to forget his drunken driving arrest at 2 a.m. in a taxpayer-paid vehicle are welcome to forget, but I remember that also. That’s why I’ve endorsed Mick Gleason.”

Political alliances seem further splintered by a statement of support for Gleason from Ken Mettler — who ran against Grove in the 2010 Assembly race.

He criticized Thomas for advising voters that, rather than the Teddy Roosevelt-style of leading the charge, “the best way to get things done is to get behind the troops and push the troops up San Juan Hill.” [Daily Independent, Oct. 11, 2012]

“‘Follow us! We are right behind you!’ is a real loser of a campaign slogan,” said Mettler. “We can no longer heed the advice of Bill Thomas. We need candidates who will lead from the front, like Mick Gleason.”

Gleason himself, when asked for comment, said he did not see last week’s press conference as particularly relevant.

“Roy has been doing this for 30 years, and no doubt he has relationships that go back a long way. But these endorsements don’t bother me. What does bother me is the new support he has been receiving from liberal factions.”

The Kern County Elections Division recently released each candidate’s statement of campaign contributions.

While Ashburn raised more money during the last filing period — more than $77,000 ($35,000 of which was in loans) compared to Gleason’s $55,000 — Gleason’s running total of $124,511.25 is still ahead of Ashburn’s $109,883.

Gleason pointed out that much of Ashburn’s support comes from union backing, with a significant percentage of his opponent’s contributions coming from outside of Kern County.

“I’m not worried about Roy’s friends, but I’m worried about what he might owe to people outside of the 1st District and outside of Kern County.”

Gleason said that he believes Ashburn’s politics have changed to the point where they no longer represent the values and the interests of the constituents he is campaigning to represent.

Gleason also answered the concern about his ability to network with politicians by saying, “Our congressman, our state senator and our assemblywoman have said they support me.

“To be honest, I’m proud that I have not spent a lot of time knocking on the doors of our former politicians and asking them to support me. Instead I am walking the streets and talking to residents and business owners. Those are the people I want to represent. I am not looking for people to stand up on stage and speak at a podium on my behalf.”

Story First Published: 2012-10-17