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Officials talk bipartisanship, fentanyl & housing crisis
John Duarte in Turlock
Rep. John Duarte speaks to Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak at Turlock Government Night last week. - photo by Joe Cortez

Although it was held in Turlock, elected officials representing Ceres addressed issues that ran the gamut from drug overdoses to water storage to housing plans at a political forum held Wednesday night.

Stanislaus County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa of Hughson has hosted the annual Turlock Government Night that gathers representatives together before the public.

On the panel were state Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson; state Assemblyman Juan Alanis, R-Modesto; and Congressman John Duarte, R-Hughson. Also on hand was Bob Phelan, field representative for Rep. Tom McClintock, the eight-term congressman who now represents part of Ceres and Hughson. Chiesa served as moderator.

The common theme of Wednesday’s event was “bipartisanship.” Ceres’ local, state and federal representatives seemed to sense that now, more than ever, elected officials of all stripes need to come together to craft meaningful legislation.

“It hasn’t always been that way in my time on the board, but the relationship that we have now between our local elected officials at the state and federal level is the best it’s ever been, in my opinion,” said Chiesa, whose term expires in January 2025. “We’ve always gotten along at our level, but that’s not where the work is done. We never give enough credit to the folks that are actually doing it — our staffers. We need them to communicate continually. I’m very proud of the way this turned out tonight.”

A crowd of about 100 gathered in the Carnegie Arts Center’s Loft Room — with more attending virtually — to hear the elected officials deliver prepared remarks before taking questions from the audience.

Duarte, a fourth-generation farmer and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, was asked about water storage in the Central Valley.

“Let me give a big shout-out for water storage,” said Duarte. “We look back in history … no great society has ever been built without water and no great society can ever continue to grow without growing water resources. So, the fact we haven’t built water infrastructure in 40 years is just a blemish on our whole history here in this area. This is an area that has a wonderful heritage in water infrastructure and investment.”

Alanis and Alvarado-Gil spoke frequently about solving state problems by being willing to listen to those on the other side of the aisle. 

“This really is the crux of public service: serving the people and not the party,” said Alvarado-Gil. “Assemblyman Alanis and I, from the get-go, aligned on public safety issues and took on some very bold Assembly and Senate bills in the Capitol.”

Addressing public safety, Chiesa pointed out that in 2018, 10 people died in Stanislaus County from fentanyl overdose, while that number climbed to 127 in 2022.

“It’s very frustrating for those in law enforcement,” said Alanis, still officially a sergeant with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department but soon to leave. “We used to have what we called ‘felony hooks,’ where it used to be a felony to be in possession of some of these drugs that are now misdemeanors.

“Some think that by lowering these crimes, decriminalizing, that they’re helping low-income areas, areas that are underserved, but they’re actually hurting them the most.”

Also in attendance Wednesday were Stanislaus County District 5 Supervisor Channce Condit, Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes, and Turlock Irrigation District board president Michael Frantz, among others.

Gil at Government night
State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil talks with Manuel Jimenez of La Familia behavioral health services at Turlock Government Night.