The League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County believes that democracy is not a spectator sport. To promote voter involvement in the upcoming June primary elections, the organization is hosting a series of candidate forums this month that will give community members the chance to both meet and question candidates running for office.
“The League of Women Voters knows how important it is for every citizen who can to vote, and that is the bedrock of our democracy,” LWVSC public relations director Arlene Ison said. “We want as many people to become knowledgeable about the candidates so they can vote intelligently.”
There will be a total of five forums throughout April that will feature candidates for District Attorney and County Sheriff-Coroner, Country Supervisors for Districts 3 and 4, County Superintendent of Schools and U.S. Congressional Representative for District 10. The forums allow voters the opportunity to hear candidate statements and responses to questions from the audience about issues in the community.
Ison said that so far, every candidate for each race has confirmed that they will attend their forum, save for one. Congressman Jeff Denham has neither accepted nor declined his invitation to the LWVSC’s two Congressional candidate forums.
The forums will kick off with candidates for District Attorney and County Sheriff-Coroner taking the stage from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 10 at the Modesto Junior College East Campus, Forum 110.
Three candidates are taking on incumbent District Attorney Birgit Fladager are: Criminal defense attorneys Patrick Kolasinski and Steven O'Connor and prosecutor John R. Mayne. O'Connor most recently served as the defense attorney for Ceres murderer Mark Mesiti, and Kolasinski was trounced in his election bid for Yosemite Community College District board in 2016.
The race for County Sheriff-Coroner is down to two after Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Letras opted to end his candidacy in early March. Jeff Dirkse, a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department, and Sgt. Juan Alanis, a 23-year veteran of the department.
Dirkse has earned the endorsement of departing Sheriff Adam Christianson, and in addition to serving as Patterson’s police chief has been a STING detective, a rural crimes detective, a patrol sergeant and an internal affairs sergeant. He also supervised the Explorers for several years and developed an intern program to bring high school graduates into the department at age 18.
Alanis has spent 23 years with the Sheriff's Department and served as Patrol Watch Commander, acting Police Chief in Waterford and Hughson, a patrol sergeant, Hughson Contract City Supervisor and the Supervisor of the Special Vehicle Operations Unit. He worked in the patrol division, as a courthouse bailiff, member of SWAT and SWAT support, a Crimes Against Children detective assigned to the Family Justice Center, a School Resource Officer and was the Deputy Sheriff's Association Vice President.
Candidates for the County Superintendent of Schools will face off from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 17 at the County Schools Building, 110 H Street in Modesto.
Three candidates have tossed their hats into the ring to replace current Superintendent Tom Changnon, who is not seeking reelection. Gratton School District Superintendent Shannon Sanford, Waterford Unified School District Superintendent Don Davis and Stanislaus County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Scott Kuykendall are running.
Kuykendall began his 23-year career in education as a Spanish and English teacher at Gustine High School, and after teaching for five years moved into administration. Since then, he has served as principal at Johansen High School and as the director of secondary education for Modesto City Schools. He also oversaw career technical education programs in the district, including FFA.
Davis, who has served as WUSD Superintendent since 2009, also hopes to focus on STEM education in addition to promoting early literacy and developing model instructional programs, if elected. He has spoken at a number of education conferences internationally and across the county on his experience with these initiatives, and this year, Waterford High School was awarded the prestigious California Gold Ribbon Award by the California Department of Education as a result of those efforts.
A resident of Turlock, Sanford is a 28-year education veteran and spent 16 years as a teacher in the classroom and the past 12 years as GSD Superintendent.
The final two forums are due to be the most contentious, taking place between the candidates running to represent the state’s 10th Congressional District in what’s sure to be a tight race. On April 18, a forum will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the City County Chambers in Modesto, and another is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at the Bianchi Center in Oakdale, 110 South 2nd Ave.
Though the competition has already seen five candidates withdraw from the race, there are still eight hoping to become the district’s U.S. Representative – six Democrats and two Republicans. Incumbent Denham is being challenged by fellow Republican Ted Howze as well as Democrats Mike Barkley, Michael Eggman, Josh Harder, Virginia Madueno, Dotty Nygard and Sue Zwahlen.
While Denham has neither confirmed nor denied his invitation to both candidate forums this year, according to Ison, the Congressman did not attend any forums during his 2016 campaign.
While Turlockers can’t vote for either race, on April 11, candidates hoping to become County Supervisors for Districts 3 and 4 will answer voter questions from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the City/County Chambers, 1010 Tenth Street in Modesto.
District 3 Supervisor Terry Withrow is being challenged by businesswoman Katherine Borges and Modesto Vice Mayor Tony Madrigal. Four candidates have emerged in a quest to fill the District 4 seat being vacated by Dick Monteith. Candidates are State Senator and Ceres native Tom Berryhill, who is being forced out of office because of term limits; Modesto attorney Frank Damrell; Royal Summit packing company owner Bret De St. Jeor; and businesswoman and former Modesto City Councilwoman Janice E. Keating.
Midterm elections typically have a lower voter turnout than elections during a Presidential campaign, Ison added, so it’s the LWVSC’s hope that the community makes it out to both this month’s candidate forums as well as the polls in June.
“We want people to come to these events and make smart votes, not emotional votes,” she said.