Vito Chiesa’s third term representing District 2 on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors will expire come January 2021, but the Hughson native is hoping to continue his decade-long tenure by seeking re-election on the fast-approaching ballot.
Chiesa took office in January 2009, and has since served in a variety of roles during his time on the Board, from past president of the California State Association of Counties to a previous two-and-a-half-year chairmanship of the Stanislaus Council of Governments — and plenty of other work on various committees in between.
In the upcoming 2020 election, Chiesa will seek a fourth term on the Board out of a desire to continue moving Stanislaus County forward, he said.
“I’ve seen the tough times and I’ve seen some good times,” Chiesa said. “I think the county is going in the right direction and I want to continue to help make it even better.”
Some of Chiesa’s most-defining moments as a county supervisor include his endorsement and promotion of a new road tax, Measure L, that was passed by voters in 2016, as well as helping the County get its finances in order. During Chiesa’s third term, the Board implemented its conservative cannabis allowance strategy, streamlining revenue from commercial cannabis into the County’s coffers and has also taken steps to ensure cities can address their unique homeless needs, from funding to programs like Laura’s Law.
The accomplishment Chiesa is most proud of during his service on the board, however, is his time as CSAC president, where he worked closely with state government to repay $535 million to counties in pre-2004 mandates, secure additional state funding for county fairs and ensure the first Payment in Lieu of Taxes in the budget in 12 years.
“There was a more than 30-year wrong that was corrected with the state of California through my work,” said Chiesa. “We benefitted locally to the tune of $6 million a year.”
As the city of Turlock currently deals with a financial crisis due to dwindling reserves, it’s something with which Chiesa is all too familiar. Stanislaus County was once in the same position following the recession and was forced to let go of employees and law enforcement officers in what Chiesa described as a government “downsizing.”
“Now, we’re seeing the fruits of those labors,” he said.
The county is in a good spot, he added, and well on its way to complete recovery. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department currently employs about 180 deputies, Chiesa said, compared to 140 in 2012. They’re not quite pre-recession numbers, but signs that the County’s budgetary woes are much improved.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’ve been delivering efficiently and effectively the services people need,” Chiesa said.
If re-elected, there are plenty of things Chiesa would like to focus on in 2021, he said, and will continue to address in 2020, such as the ongoing homelessness in the county, water and crime. The biggest challenge is reminding voters that he’s not responsible for their city — just the county’s unincorporated areas and funding for services that cities are in charge of.
No one has yet announced that they will be running against Chiesa in the 2020 election. His name will appear on the ballot in the March primary, with a possible runoff to take place in November should a significant challenger arise. Chiesa has run unopposed in the last two elections and in 2008 defeated Les Weidman by 17 points.
Chiesa credits his electability with his connection to the community; as a farmer and business owner he can relate to voters’ desires no matter what party they identify with and he makes sure to attend as many events as he can to better connect with constituents.
“Every four years, the people let me know what kind of a job I’m doing,” said Chiesa. “I may not be the smartest guy in the room, but no one can outwork me. I try to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the community.”
The terms of Supervisors Kristin Olsen (District 1) and Jim DeMartini (District 5) are also expiring in January 2021. Supervisor DeMartini will not seek re-election and there is no one currently in the running to replace him.
Olsen announced in July that she would not be seeking re-election, effectively ending her 15-year political career.
“This decision has not been an easy one for me to make, but it is the right decision,” Olsen posted on Facebook. “I believe public service is for a season, not a lifetime, and it is time for me to pass the torch of elected leadership onto somebody else.”
Modesto City Councilman Bill Zoslocki will run to replace Olsen in the 2020 election and Waterford Mayor Mike Van Winkle announced that he is running to represent District 1 as well.