EMILY HOEVEN • OCTOBER 21, 2022
Don’t underestimate Kern County.
This swath of land in the southern Central Valley produces 70% of California’s oil, and industry groups have already raised more than $8 million to gather signatures for a 2024 referendum to overturn a new law banning new or extensively retrofitted oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas such as homes, schools and hospitals.
- Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, which is spearheading the referendum effort, said in a statement: “Governor Gavin Newsom may say he is going after energy companies, but in reality, he is going after the high-paying careers of over 50,000 hardworking Californians on the heels of more than two years of COVID-19 related economic turmoil and a looming recession.”
- Newsom’s office tweeted Thursday: “Keeping harmful drilling near schools & homes will NOT lower gas prices. Oil companies are using record profits to fight a law that protects kids from the impacts of drilling in their communities — including increased risks of cancer, asthma, & more.”
Kern County also represents one of California and the country’s most competitive pieces of political turf, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Ariel Gans write in this deeply reported story examining three overlapping toss-up races in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election:
- There’s the congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. David Valadao and Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas, now the second-most expensive House contest in the country and one that could help determine which party controls the next Congress.
- There’s the contest between state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, widely considered to be the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the Legislature, and political newcomer David Shepard, the Republican scion of a Tulare County farming family.
- And there’s the face-off for the local Assembly seat between Democrat Leticia Perez and fellow Democrat Jasmeet Bains, who have attracted the financial backing of the oil industry and state doctor’s lobby, respectively.
As Ben and Ariel write, the outcome of all three races will largely hinge on voters in east Bakersfield — historically the city’s poorer, Latino and less politically powerful side — as well as voters in the ag towns of Shafter, Delano and McFarland.
There are a lot of unique dynamics at play in this part of the Central Valley, which has more conservative Democrats than any other part of the state. Kern County is the center of California’s agricultural and oil industries; it also has the state’s highest homicide rate. Its electorate is majority Latino, but voters here tend to be less liberal than Latinos in coastal parts of California.
- Ivy Cargile, a political science professor at California: There’s “the myth … that demographics is destiny. That’s not necessarily the case.”
And the population is growing — and changing — quickly: Bakersfield’s population grew faster than that of any of California’s most populous cities in 2020. Demographics are shifting, too: In addition to a growing Latino population, the city is home to sizable Sikh and Punjabi communities.
Perez, who’s running for the state Assembly seat, became the first Latina elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2013. And her opponent, Bains, would be the first Sikh and the first South Asian woman in the state Legislature if elected.
- Bob Alvarez, former chief of staff to Dean Florez, the first Latino to represent the Central Valley in the state Senate: “There’s a broader sense that things are more fair now, that we have a fair shot and it just comes down to electing people.”