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Candidates prepare for March 2020 primary
Candidates set as earlier primary election approaches
Akinjo Heath Flora
Paul Akinjo (left) is taking on state Assemblyman Heath Flora in the March primary

The primary election will be three months earlier for residents of the Golden State this year, and there are plenty of local candidates for Ceres and Hughson voters to choose from. 

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2017 that moved California’s 2020 primary election from June to March — a move meant to increase the influence of the country’s most populous state in deciding presidential candidates. By the time California voters made their decisions at the ballot box in June 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were already the presumptive nominees for their respective parties. 

While voters throughout Stanislaus County now have more of a say in the presidential selection process, there are other races they’ll decide outright. 

Incumbent Congressman Josh Harder will fight to keep his seat for a second term as there are some who would like to take it. The freshman Democrat will face two from his own party – robotics engineer Ryan Blevins of Oakdale and U.S. Navy veteran Michael Barkley of Manteca; as well as three Republican challengers – veterinarian and former Turlock City Councilman Ted Howze, San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliot and California Strawberry Commission Regulatory Affairs Manager Marla Livengood. 

Harder has amassed a campaign war chest of over $2 million in cash on hand as of third quarter fundraising reports from the Federal Election Commission, while Howze leads Republicans with the most funds thanks to his $702,105 in cash on hand — nearly $600,000 of which the Turlock native has loaned himself. 

Behind Howze in fundraising is Elliot, who has $199,138 in cash on hand. Livengood has $80,979 on hand, and Barkley has raised just over $2,800 to date. Blevins has not yet reported any funds as he joined the race recently. 

Representing Hughson and a sliver of east Ceres, District 12 Assemblyman Heath Flora is seeking a third term and is running against Lathrop City Councilman, Alameda County support technician and Evangelical pastor Paul Akinjo. 

While Flora was a political newcomer when he was first elected in 2016, the Ripon resident now has some experience under his belt. Still, there’s always something to learn at the Capitol. 

“I think we’re always learning,” said Flora. “You can become more comfortable in your role as far as the processes and procedures in the building, but some of that stuff takes time and when people become stagnant is when they get themselves in trouble. When we started, we knew with my work ethic and the staff’s work ethic that if we could do our job and represent the district the way it deserves, we’d be there as long as voters want us to be.”

Akinjo migrated to the U.S. from Nigeria in the early 1980s and has since relocated from Oakland to Lathrop, where he’s lived since 2001. The Democrat was inspired to run thanks to his heart for advocacy, he said, which has seen him travel to the Capitol to speak for causes like homelessness, housing, natural disasters, water and transportation. 

“These are issues that affect our region, District 12 and beyond,” said Akinjo said. “I am on the boards for these situations. I want them to be addressed and action taken, not words. That is why I’m running for the state Assembly to represent our district and remove the impediments to job growth, quality of life and sustainability.”

Since his election, Flora considers some of his greatest accomplishments to be securing $12 million for Stanislaus County Fire radio improvements as well as $1 million for the local Boys and Girls Club. He also believes building relationships with Democrats in Sacramento is something vital to the job, and an effort he’s taken seriously since taking office.

“You can go to Sacramento and be a flamethrower and drop bombs all day but that will get nothing done,” he said.

If reelected, Flora will continue tackling ongoing issues surrounding the Valley’s water supply and strengthening the Valley’s voice in the Capitol. Air quality is another ongoing issue, he said. 

Akinjo said if elected he would focus on transportation funding, as he commutes to the Bay Area for work and is upset with current transit, mental healthcare and housing. He’s currently in his seventh year as a member of the Lathrop City Council, where city coffers have gone from no reserves to $10 million in savings and has experienced immense growth recently in terms of housing and business. 

“It takes planning, vision, collaboration and sound ideology to achieve what we have accomplished in our city,” he said. “I will take the same attitude to Sacramento.”

Jeff Mangar (right) and Colleen Van Egmond are candidates for Superior Court Office judge.

County voters will also have the chance to decide new Stanislaus County Superior Court Judges in March, as three are set to retire. There will be a three-way race for Superior Court Office No. 5 between Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne, retired prosecutor Jared Carillo and Superior Court Commissioner Kenneth Hara. Another race is between Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees, attorney Daniel Johnson and former Deputy District Attorney Samual Getrich for Office No. 6. 

In the race for Superior Court Office No. 2, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar and Modesto law firm managing partner Colleen Van Egmond are vying for a seat on the bench. 

The son of immigrant parents, Mangar has been with the DA’s office for over 21 years and has handled approximately 10,000 cases during his career, including thousands of felonies. He’s also a Certified Legal Specialist in Criminal Law, a licensed real estate broker and serves on countless boards throughout the county. 

Mangar lived in Turlock prior to moving to Modesto, though his wife Lina still works in the city. His extended family also live and work in Turlock, he said.

“I have been a prosecutor for my entire legal career and I felt a sense of fulfillment pursuing a career in public service and public safety…My obligation representing the community as a whole requires an absolute dedication to fairness and facts. Those are the qualities we need in our judges,” Mangar said. “Based on my experience, I know that I can make a difference to ensure that justice and fairness is equally applies to everyone.”

Though Van Egmond’s address is considered a Modesto residence, she’s close enough to Turlock that she’s constantly in the city and her children attend Turlock schools. She primarily handles civil litigation in her line of work — experience she believes is needed on the bench. 

“It’s important that some of us from the civil realm step up. We need to have diverse backgrounds on the court,” she said. “Primarily, there are people going onto the bench who have only experience in the criminal world.”

Mangar believes that his experience prosecuting in the courtroom every day will help him make split-second decisions thanks to his mastery over the rules of evidence and court. He also has the proper background to make decisions when signing warrants, he added, ensuring justice gets done and a person’s liberty is never jeopardized. 

“The deciding factor in this election is experience,” he said. 

Van Egmond believes it’s her own experience that makes her the better candidate, whether it be the wide range of cases she’s handled, sitting as a Pro Tem judge in traffic court or serving as an arbitrator for the California State Bar. 

“My wide, diverse background and experience is what will allow me to be as fair and equitable as possible because I’ve seen both sides of cases,” Van Egmond said. “They could place me in so many different areas on the bench and I’ll already have the experience that will help me to be fair and equitable”

In addition to these races, voters both Republican and Democrat will also decide their party’s local delegates. 

California’s primary election will take place on March 3, 2020. Voters must register by Feb. 18, and Vote-by-Mail ballot requests must arrive by Feb. 25. Personally-delivered ballots must be delivered by the close of polls at 8 p.m. March 3, and mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before March 3 and received no later than March 6. 

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