The 2016 election may be over a year out, but five candidates have already tossed their hat in the ring to represent the 12th Assembly District, a seat presently occupied by Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank).
The district skirts Ceres but includes the area east of Moore Road and Faith Home Road as well as all of Hughson and Keyes and eastern Stanislaus County.
After three terms, Olsen will term out of the Assembly in 2016 where she currently represents not only her district, but all of the Republicans in the state as the Assembly Minority Leader. Anchored by Modesto, the district includes several towns in both Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
In early May local firefighter, farmer and business owner Heath Flora announced his candidacy. A trained paramedic and volunteer firefighter of over 15 years, Flora is also well versed in business as the Director of International Sales at the Exact Corporation, a family owned business that manufactures products for both nut harvesting and firefighting. He also sells used agriculture equipment through his company Golden Valley Equipment.
"My extensive experience in agriculture and business would be an asset at a time when water and good paying jobs are two of the top concerns in the Valley," said Flora.
When he isn't working, Flora also serves as the regional director for Sons of the Flag where he works with physicians, military veterans, and community leaders to improve care and treatment for long-term burn victims.
Flora, who is endorsed by Senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, stated that he intends to continue Olsen's fight for water storage and is committed to job creation.
"After spending 15 years protecting families and their property, I am excited to take the next step in public service to build a better future for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties," said Flora. "I plan to lead the fight to take California's business climate from worst to first and remove regulatory obstacles to job creation."
Former San Joaquin County supervisor and lifelong farmer Ken Vogel is also vying for the District 12 seat.
Vogel grew up in Linden and graduated from Fresno State University where he earned his Bachelor's degree in History as well as his Master's degree in education, and Teaching and Administrative credentials. Vogel raises walnuts and cherries in the Linden and Farmington areas and he formerly served as the Director of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau. As a current member of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus County farm bureaus, Vogel can vouch for the importance of water legislation to District 12 constituents.
"My number one priority will be water. Finding long term solutions for this problem, which involves water storage, groundwater, desalination, etc. will be my major focus. More usable water is crucial for agriculture and the people of the Central Valley," said Vogel.
Vogel termed out of his position on the San Joaquin Board of Supervisors in 2014 and during his time he served on the Advisory Water Commission, the Agricultural Advisory Board, the Board Water Committee, the Groundwater Banking Authority, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency and the 5 Delta Counties Coalition. He also served as a Trustee and President of the Linden Unified School District Board of Education from 1992 to 2006.
"I have been blessed to represent one of the largest agriculture areas for the past eight years. I am hoping the voters of the 12th will give me the opportunity to represent them in the State Assembly where I will continue to fight on behalf of our ag community and Central Valley constituents," said Vogel.
Modesto City Council member Bill Zoslocki aims to represent California's 12th Assembly District come 2016, a position to which he plans to bring a pro-business approach. Zoslocki has owned a small business in Modesto for over 30 years and presently serves on the council's Economic Development Committee. Zoslocki also said his role on the Council's Audit Committee has also allowed him to keep a close eye on city spending to root out government waste.
"I am running to bring a conservative, pro-business voice to Sacramento and to serve as a watchdog for taxpayers. We need a strong and vibrant voice to replace Assemblywoman Olsen and I have the private sector experience and vigor to make a difference for Central Valley families, farmers and small businesses. This office should be held by someone who wants to make a difference, not another check from the government," said Zoslocki.
Zoslocki has been endorsed by various local elected officials including Stanislaus County Supervisors Dick Monteith, and Jim DeMartini.
Cutting taxes and regulations that impede farmers, families, and communities is also one of Zoslocki's priorities along with rebuilding water infrastructure, arguably the most significant theme in Sacramento at the moment. Zoslocki also said he will follow in Olsen's footsteps of promoting education as the key to unlocking the region's potential.
"I will follow Assemblywoman Olsen's lead in focusing resources in our area's higher education system, particularly CSU Stanislaus and UC Merced. We must strengthen our future generations that have been neglected for years by spending for bureaucracy in Sacramento instead of in the classroom to get results for our kids," said Zoslocki.
Modesto City Schools Board President Cindy Marks, who presently serves on Olsen's Education Advisory Committee, also hopes to fill the open seat. Marks has experience at the local and state level as a member of the Modesto City School Board of Education since 1997 as well as 2013 President of the California School Boards Association, which represents more than 1,000 educational agencies statewide. Promoting a collaborative approach, Marks said that she is running "to restore hope in our future and that of our children and grandchildren. I believe our families should thrive not just survive."
"I believe that my local, state and national leadership positions have prepared me with the knowledge and experience to be a collaborative leader. We are stronger when we work together."
Marks has a history of aiming to close the achievement gap for underprivileged students and volunteered for 11 years as a mentor at an inner city apartment complex in Modesto working with at-risk youth and gang members. Equipping youth with the necessary skills for a productive education or career is a priority for Marks.
"As an assemblywoman I will work on making sure students are prepared for college or work after they graduate from high school, safe communities, safeguarding the region's water supply and creating jobs in our area," said Marks.
Turlock Unified School District Trustee Harinder Grewal was Olsen's sole opposing candidate in 2014, but this election cycle he will have at least four candidates with whom he will contend to represent the 12th Assembly District.
Grewal is a Senior Agriculture Inspector for the Stanislaus County as well as teaches part time at California State University, Stanislaus in the Agricultural Studies department. His courses focus not only on farm management, but agricultural economics, pricing, and marketing. His leadership background includes serving three terms with the Keyes Municipal Advisory Committee, Chairman of the Modesto City Equal Opportunity Commission, and two term president of California Association of Standards and Agricultural Professionals.
Grewal's vision for California's 12th Assembly District can be boiled down to four pillars of focus: Economic developments, jobs, infrastructure, and water.
Grewal said not only developing the region's resources, but bringing jobs to the area will contribute to the Valley's success.
"We need to reinvest in our workforce and our Valley to make sure we can attract new business and jobs to our area. This means that we need to make sure that our workers have the opportunity to obtain the training and education to compete for good high-paying jobs," said Grewal.
Noting that agriculture is the backbone of the local economy, preserving and protecting this resource is also a priority for Grewal. One other resource at the top of his list? Water.
"Water is a serious, serious issue and we need to work together," said Grewal, noting that establishing the necessary infrastructure for storage and delivery is paramount. "We need a safe and reliable water supply for the Valley to prosper."