The Central Valley Tea Party hosted a forum February 15 for the Republican candidates running for Assembly District 26.  Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler, Cattleman Jack Lavers, and Incumbent Devon Mathis laid out their arguments why constituents should vote for them.

Tulare City Councilmember Jose Sigala, a Democrat also running for the seat, was not invited to the forum.

The candidates agreed on all the traditional Republican talking points, so voters will be left with choosing their next assembly member based on experience and character. Each candidate voiced his opposition to new taxes, High-Speed Rail, Sanctuary Cities, Cap and Trade, and they supported the repeal of the new gas tax.

They also agreed that the state retirement system, CALPERS, was untenable and will bankrupt the smaller California communities.

As each candidate made a 10-minute presentation and answered audience questions, the other two were sequestered in separate room so they wouldn’t hear the other’s responses.

Lavers kicked off the forum by saying that politicians in Sacramento are going to do what they want, and vote how they want, and not listen to the constituents.

“But they need to represent us and that’s why I’m in this race,” he said.

Lavers’ family has a long history of cattle ranching in Glennville, Kern County. He is married with a young daughter, Reagan, who is named after President Ronald Reagan. He is an American of Mexican decent and said that his grandfather was a Reagan Democrat.

Lavers has done lobbying for the Cattleman’s Association on his own dime for 10 years in Sacramento and Washington DC.  He said he did it as a concerned tax payer, family man and to fight against taxes and over regulation.

Two years ago Lavers was approached by the Cattleman’s Association and Tulare County farmers to run against Mathis but said that he didn’t have time and he didn’t “want to be in that cesspool.” His supporters said afterwards that he really should have run “because Rudy was not the best candidate” and asked him to reconsider for 2018.

“I was very upset after the (Mathis’)Cap and Trade vote,” he said.

Then Lavers did a Google Search on Mathis’ opponent, Gubler, and did not like what he saw, “so I said yes.”

Gubler was second up and described how he has been successful professionally, personally and politically.

“Success begets success. It’s time to put someone in Sacramento who has been successful with their family, profession, and in governmental service.”

He has been married for 36 years and has five children, two grandchildren and one on the way. As a business owner he knows what it’s like to sign the front and back of a check.

Gubler pointed out that when he first ran for the Visalia City Council he roundly beat two other candidates and has been mayor since 2016.

Some of his accomplishments while on the city council include the construction of a $140 million waste water plant that will meet California’s highest cleanliness standards for recycled water. Gubler added that his council raised the rainy day fund to $14.6 million and that Visalia has become the safest city in the San Joaquin Valley.

An audience member from Visalia asked Gubler about homelessness and if he thinks the lack of affordable housing was the cause. Gubler said that the coast and cities have affordable housing problems, not the Valley. He does not think that housing is the cause but rather the difficulty of the homeless to find employment.

He said that he and the Visalia City Council have wrestled with the homeless problem for years.

In 2017 Gubler started a homeless jobs program that puts the homeless to work picking up trash around the city and cleaning up graffiti. Three groups of people have gone through the program and 16 people have found full-time employment. Gubler is hoping to increase those numbers.

Mathis’ vote on Cap and Trade and the Telecommunications Bill upset a lot of Tulare County representatives and prompted Gubler to jump into the race.

“I have the most endorsements here from Tulare County and Inyo and that shows what is going on with the incumbent,” said Gubler. Almost all of the Republican elected officials endorsed Mathis in 2016 but switched camp when Gubler announced his candidacy.

“You should ask them why,” he said.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis needed no introduction and started out with a homily of why Republicans have to work with Democrats if they expect to get anything done in Sacramento. Though it had the feeling of a public scolding, he had the rapt attention of his audience.

“In politics what do we hear all of the time? Those Democrats, it’s their fault. It’s us versus them, right? Is it their fault if we do not talk to them and get engaged? Or is it our fault for not having the guts to sit down and talk to them?

“So I think this campaign today is a campaign based on theology, based on what is the mindset of the elected. What do you want from us? My promise since 2014 has been to put people over politics not to do the bidding of the (Republican) Central Committee. It is to work with my locals and figure out what is the best thing to do.

“I made a promise to be part of the tough decisions that were being had whether I liked them or not. And there are a lot of conversations that I do not what to touch with a 10-foot pole, but it’s my job to. That’s what you elected me to do. You did not elect me to point my finger and say lets blame them. Because if we continue to blame the other side in hopes that life for us will get better, we will lose every day of the week.”

Mathis pointed out that Democrats make up approximately two-thirds of the legislature and hold the governorship.

Mathis, who received a Purple Heart in the Iraq War, said that he didn’t go to war to blame it on the other guy but to protect our freedoms. “I’m not a child,” he said. “I have kids at home and I deal with this every day. ‘It was him, no it was him’. Is that what we want out of the people who are elected? Is that what you guys want?”

“I guess we will find out in June.”

He finished his introduction with a nod to the criticism he has received about his performance in Sacramento.

“Life isn’t easy. Politics is even worse. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons, a lot of hard lessons, about being in office, about responsibilities, about talking with people–that I need to do better. I’m going to continue to learn because that’s life, you don’t ever stop learning.”

Mathis’ first question from the audience concerned Cap and Trade, a complicated piece of legislation that forces industry to pay for the pollution it produces and pay for alternative resources for power.

Mathis said that without renegotiating Cap and Trade the State Water Board would have become judge, jury, and executioner.

“I don’t like it, but there is that reality I was talking about blaming the other side.”

Mathis said he was asked to negotiate Cap and Trade by the major Central Valley agriculture interests such as Land o Lakes, Citrus Mutual, the dairy businesses and the Farm Bureau. He said there were multiple versions of the legislation, but that the Republicans were successful in killing the most progressive version.

In relation to Cap and Trade, Lavers elaborated on the problems farmers and dairies have had with the State Water Board. “The State Water Board is nuts. Plain and simple they do not give a damn. He related how Central Valley farmers got cease and desist letters from the board and were levied a $30-million-a- year water tax. The elevated level of nitrates and arsenic in well water prompted the letter.

He said that there is no evidence that the pollutants come from agriculture or dairies and that the water board should not be penalizing them. Cattlemen faced a similar bill that would have forced them to cut grazing by 50%. Lavers said he and other cattlemen stood up and fought back, making their case in Bishop, Chico and San Luis Obispo until the bill was pulled back.

Just like with the new gas tax, lLavers said that the legislators have to have a spine. He said that Republicans are too willing to compromise and get very little back in return.

“Pretty damn soon we will have nothing left to negotiate with,” he said.

If he is sent to Sacramento, Lavers said, he will go to their doors and scream and yell because that is what he was doing for free for the last 10 years. “If we stand up together and we fight we can have some victories.”

Mathis admitted that voting yes on Cap and Trade was political suicide but insisted that Republicans did not negotiate everything away.

“Knowing we would get attacked back home, it would have been very easy to vote no. I damn near guarantee that I would not have two opponents running against me. But it would have screwed the economy.”

Mathis said that he chose the local economy over the party line. “What is the party line? Is it what the (Central) Committee says it is? Is it what the people says it is?

“At the end of the day I represent the people,” said Mathis.

Gubler said that he understands why some organizations would have asked for Mathis’ help on Cap and Trade, but that the problem was that Mathis changed his vote.

“The important thing is that the incumbent said he would vote ‘no’ but then voted ‘yes.’”

Gubler pointed out that Mathis did the same thing with the Telecom bill that would have allowed companies such as Verizon to put its cell antennas wherever they wanted without city approval.

Mathis told his constituents that he would vote no. Then when it landed on the Assembly floor he voted yes.

Mathis’ motto since 2014 has been “people over politics” but Gubler said that he “would suggest it is really special interests over people.”

Gubler revealed that, unlike Mathis, who has received most of his campaign money from Sacramento, he has received most of his donations from the 26th District.

“When you go to bed at night you will know that I will have your back. I will listen to my constituents and I will keep my word.”

Originally published February 18, 2018, Valley Voice.