Victory Within Reach for Esmeralda Soria in 27th Assembly District Race Against Mark Pazin

Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria continues to hold a slim, but increasingly safe-looking, lead over Mark Pazin in their contentious contest to represent the 27th Assembly District in the California Legislature. The latest results also bring clarity to many Fresno County races, but a seat in Congress remains too close to call. After updated election returns Friday afternoon from Fresno and Madera counties, Democrat Soria has 44,784 votes, or 51.2%, while Republican Mark Pazin, the former sheriff of Merced County, has 42,734, or 48.8%. The margin of about 2,050 votes is only a slight change from midweek totals. The 27th District includes portions of Fresno, Merced and Madera counties. Across all three counties, regardless of district, there remain a total of about 3,300 ballots left for election officials to process and count. For Pazin to make up the difference on Soria, not only would the lion’s share of those unprocessed ballots need to come from voters in the 27th District, but Pazin would have to garner the vast majority of them.

One North Valley race that remains very much in doubt is in the 13th Congressional District. That hotly-contested election pitted longtime state Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, against Republican businessman and farmer John Duarte of Hughson. Since Election Night on Nov. 8, the lead has see-sawed back and forth between the two men, and at no time has the margin even reached one percentage point.

That didn’t change after Friday’s updates from Fresno and Madera counties, which make up part of the district along with Merced County and portions of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Duarte now has 63,539 votes, or 50.3% of votes counted to date, compared to 62,674 for Gray – a margin of 865 votes or six-tenths of a percentage point. The California Secretary of State’s office reported Friday that Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties still have more than 60,000 ballots yet to process and count. But it is unclear how many of those ballots are from voters in the 13th District. The 13th remains closely watched nationwide because a Duarte victory would add to the narrow margin that the Republican Party has now secured in the U.S. House of Representatives, while a win for Gray would strengthen the Democrats’ position as the minority party. In addition to the multi-county races for the Assembly and House of Representatives, the newest update from Fresno County helped to solidify the results in a slew of local contests from the Nov. 8 midterm general election.

FRESNO UNIFIED In one of the most closely-watched Fresno Unified School District board races, incumbent Veva Islas widened her lead over challenger Karen Steed, a retired FUSD teacher, for the district’s McLane High School area seat. The margin between the two candidates, which was as narrow as 25 votes election night, has grown to 325 votes. That gives Islas almost 45% of the vote, to Steed’s 39.7%. Chemist Michelle Scire, a second challenger, trails with 15.2%. There have been talks of a possible recount in this race, according to Islas, although Steed neither confirmed nor denied her intentions to request one in an interview Tuesday. As for the other three Fresno Unified seats that were up for election, two incumbents and one challenger have maintained commanding leads with every updated tally since election night. In the Bullard High School area, challenger Susan Wittrup, a retired FUSD school psychologist, leads incumbent Terry Slatic, a retired United States Marine Corps major, by almost 6,000 votes. She’s taken 58% of the vote to Slatic’s 26%. FUSD teacher James Barr and retired FUSD campus safety assistant Michael Haynes are in third and fourth with 11.7% and 4.3% of the vote, respectively. Incumbents in the two remaining races ran out to early leads election night and have held onto them ever since. Keshia Thomas, the incumbent in the district’s Edison High area, maintains a commanding lead of over 2,000 votes over her sole challenger Wayne Horton. Thomas has 76% to Horton’s 23.8%. Valerie F. Davis, the incumbent in Fresno Unified’s Sunnyside High area, is in first place in a pool of four by a little under 2,000 votes. She leads with 47.4% to alternative educator Karl C. Diaz’s second place with about 23.3% of the vote. Educator Tammy McMahon-Gorans follows with 20.7% of the vote, and marketer Michael Osmer is in last place with 8.5%. CLOVIS UNIFIED Little has changed in Clovis Unified’s two races on the ballot as well. Nonprofit executive and former Fresno City Councilmember Clint Olivier still leads in the competition for the district’s Area 1 seat by over 4,000 votes. He carried 39.3% to communications consultant Samantha Bauer’s 32.4%. Businessman Chuck Der Manouel and Realtor Joanne Burton lag behind with about 23.5% and 4.6% of the vote, respectively. In the race for the Area 6 seat, parent and teacher Deena Combs-Flores handily leads by over 14,000 votes. She’s taken 62% to retired business owner Bill Whitmore’s 37.9%.

Click to here read the full story at Fresno Bee

Anonymous Letter to Assembly Lawmakers Alleges Abuse, Harassment of Sergeants-at-Arms by Chief

Letter says violations have been reported to Assembly leaders but nothing was done

The California Globe is in receipt of a letter stating it is from an Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, recently sent to all members of the California State Assembly, as well as Assembly staffers, revealing alleged abuse and horrible work conditions in the legislature by the Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms.

The complaint alleges that Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda are abusive to the point of pushing Sergeants to retire early, leave for another job, or suffer demotion and schedule changes with little or no notice. 

The writer says the policy violations were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert, but nothing changed.

“At the State Capitol, those who create the laws that the governed are required to follow, do not follow such practices themselves,” the letter writer says.

In December 2019, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Alisa Buckley, a member of the Sacramento Police Department for 22 years, as the Assembly’s new Acting Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. The election for the new Chief Sergeant was held the first week of session in January 2020, and she was approved for the job.

With the complaint now being public, it appears the Assembly Speaker needs to initiate a thorough investigation into the allegations, which includes interviewing all staff Sergeants-at-Arms.

The California Capitol has been plagued with hostile working conditions in recent years. In 2018 the Joint Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response announced policy changes in response to widespread accusations of sexual harassment/assault and gross sexual misconduct by elected legislators and senior staff, I reported. Yet female employees still report harassment, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

The Globe contacted Assembly Speaker Rendon’s press secretary Saturday for a statement but we have not heard back. We will update the article when we do.

Here is the letter:

August 26, 2022

All Assemblymembers

1315 10th St.

Sacramento, CA 95834

RE: Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms Hostile Work Environment

Dear Assemblymembers,

Over the course of the last year, the Assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms Department has become a hostile and demoralizing place of employment.  In 2021, the department had around 50 total employees.  Since then, the department has diminished to less than half that number due to the leadership of Chief Sergeant Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda.  Diminishing staff is due to those who have chosen to retire early, leave for another job opportunity, or were demoted.   Those who left includes five of the eight in management.  Several Assembly policies have been violated and were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert had been informed of such matters and made the decision to protect the institution instead of protecting staff vital to the functioning of the Capitol.

Assembly policy states that training in Workplace Violence Prevention, Ethics, and Sexual Harassment be conducted each legislative term and that staff compliance is mandatory.  The Ethics training course describes retaliation and purposeful misconduct by superiors.  This has been occurring in the Sergeant’s Department for two years.

-Demoting the employees

-Encouraging staff to ostracize individual employees without cause or evidence

-Giving poor reviews or nit-picking

-Sudden changes in work schedules and/or work locations

-Poor references without cause or evidence

-Poor performance feedback without cause or evidence

Assembly staff communicated such occurrences to individual members in the hopes that help would come. Staff has been repeatedly reminded that they are at-will employees and could be let go at any time for any reason.  The constant reminding has considered is a warning to any employees that discuss department matters to members will experience consequences.  This is a violation of the ethic protocols in the Capitol.  What is occurring in the department has reached the level of being discussed in a Democratic Caucus meeting.  

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe