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First Candidate Forum held as election for 12th Assembly District approaches
Candidate Forum pic2
Candidates for California Assembly District 12 answer questions during a public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday at the Modesto Library. Pictured left to right are: Harinder Grewal, Virginia Madueno, Cindy Marks, Ken Vogel and Heath Flora. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

With the June 7 primary elections quickly approaching, the five candidates in the running to represent the 12th Assembly District answered questions from the community during the first scheduled Candidate Forum.


At the Wednesday forum – hosted by the Stanislaus County League of Women Voters and the League of California Cities – Harinder Grewal, Virginia Madueno, Cindy Marks, Ken Vogel and Heath Flora faced a packed crowd in the basement of the Stanislaus County Library, touching on the most pertinent issues facing California and why voters should choose them to represent District 12. The district, which includes portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, is currently represented by Kristin Olsen, who is terming out of the seat.

Grewal is a Turlock Unified School District Trustee and Senior Agriculture Inspector for the Stanislaus County. He also teaches part time at Stanislaus State in the Agricultural Studies department. Grewal ran to represent the 12th Assembly District as Kristin Olsen’s sole opponent in 2014. In his opening statement, Grewal emphasized the importance of creating jobs within the district.

Madueno, former council member and Mayor of Riverbank, currently serves on the Board of Directors for organizations such as the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, Gallo Center for the Arts and the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She is a Board Member for both the Stanislaus Family Justice Center and Communities for a New California and is also an Advisory Member to the President’s Council at Stanislaus State.

“If we have guts and opinions about the future of our state, I think it’s important for us to get involved,” said Madueno, speaking on why she decided to run.

Marks is the Modesto City Schools Board President and presently serves on Olsen’s Education Advisory Committee. As a business owner, she emphasized in her opening statement the importance to reduce regulations on small businesses within the district so that they are able to grow and prosper.

Farmer and independent businessman Vogel hails from Linden, and is a current member of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus County farm bureaus. Vogel made it clear that his number one priority is water.

“The water issue in California is critical,” said Vogel. “We need more storage, we need more salinization and we need more ground water recharge.”

Flora, a local firefighter, farmer and business owner, agreed that the number one issue facing District 12 is water. But, he also wants to focus on public safety if elected.

“Water is an incredibly important part of our state and we must take care of that,” said Flora. “However, we have to focus on our communities locally, also. We need to focus on public safety because to have a strong community, we have to have a strong work force, strong public safety and strong fire departments to protect and bring businesses into the community.”

Three-by-five cards were given to those in attendance to write questions for the candidates on, and the topics ranged from the legalization of marijuana to the construction of California’s high speed rail. 

On the issue of marijuana, Grewal was the only candidate in favor of legalizing the drug for recreational use in California.

“If you look at the statistics in different states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington; they’ve legalized this and now have a $50 million tax revenue,” said Grewal. “Whether we legalize or not, you know and I know that there are many people who are using this, so why not legalize this and have this revenue that we can use for other purposes, like education.”

Grewal was also the odd candidate out when questioned about the high speed rail, stating his support for the project and the job opportunities it could potentially bring to the area. Marks, Vogel and Flora all adamantly opposed both the legalization of marijuana and California’s high speed rail project, while Madueno was undecided on the marijuana issue and suggested that the district focus on local transportation before spending money on a high speed rail.

One topic that all five candidates agreed on was that of gun control. The consensus on the issue was that though each candidate agreed citizens of California should have the right to bear arms, those arms should not fall into the wrong hands.

“We need a situation where we balance it between the people’s right to carry a gun to defend themselves and the idea that criminals are not supposed to have guns,” said Vogel. “Private citizens need to have the right to defend themselves. Gun control needs to be very thought through so that you’re not penalizing the people who obey the law.”

Madueno added that while the gun laws in place now are sufficient, there needs to be a better job of enforcing them.


The forum, which was originally slated to last from 6 to 7 p.m., went well past the allotted time of one hour due to the sheer number of questions that those in attendance had for the candidates. The candidates also gave their positions on issues including the cost of higher education, road conditions and homelessness before their closing remarks.