Though social media posts from Republican Congressional candidate Ted Howze’s accounts deemed racist by local groups were published years ago, the polarizing topic has dominated public comment at Turlock City Council meetings for over a month.
The calls from Turlock residents began flooding in during public comment at the June 9 Council meeting, spurred by local activism, vigils and protests following the death of George Floyd. The callers urged Mayor Amy Bublak to rescind her endorsement of Howze, who came under scrutiny in May after now-deleted posts and retweets from as recently as 2018 were made public by Politico.
In the posts, Howze’s accounts demeaned Muslims, said “#DeportThemAll” in reference to Dreamers and belittled the Black Lives Matter movement with stereotypes about the black community. Howze told Politico that “unnamed individuals gained access to his Facebook and Twitter accounts,” and also said in a story by California Globe that the screenshots published by Politico were not only photoshopped, but had Democrats’ fingerprints all over them.
“The maliciously false attacks on our campaign based on old social media posts being attributed to me are #FakeNews,” Howze tweeted in May. “They do not resemble anything close to my personal words or actions exhibited during my decades-long record of service in the Central Valley.”
Still, the controversy resulted in Howze being pulled from the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program for young recruits. Both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the California Republican Party rescinded their endorsements of Howze, and locally, Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow, Hughson Mayor Jeramy Young and Patterson Mayor Deborah Novelli have pulled endorsements as well.
Now, constituents are asking the same of Bublak. Many of the callers urging Bublak to rescind her endorsement of Howze are part of the political grassroots group called Be the Change Turlock. While the public comment calls began in early June, they’ve continued through July. After an onslaught of calls came in during the June 23 City Council meeting, City Attorney Doug White reminded residents that public comment is for addressing matters relevant to the Council and items they would be able to take action on — not for anything to do with politics.
Councilmember Gil Esquer accused the callers of bullying Bublak.
“I think that one of the things that our community keeps asking us up here is to stand against racism, hate and bullying, and I believe some of these calls are on the verge of bullying. I’m not quite sure that that is really acceptable…,” Esquer said. “You want us to act one way, have a little respect for the people that are up here as well and let’s try to cut out the bullying. If you have a question, ask it, that’s fine. But I think shaming anybody into anything is out of order and I don’t think there’s a need for it.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, residents have the right to speak during public comment about any matter not on the agenda, so long as it relates to an issue in which the governing body has some authority to act.
During the July 14 Council meeting, Be the Change Turlock member Donna Endsley addressed Bublak for the third time publicly. Be the Change Turlock worked jointly with the City of Turlock and the Stanislaus State Police Department in 2017 to draft an anti-hate resolution after stickers promoting a white supremacy group were found posted in and around campus. The 2017 Turlock City Council, which included Bublak and Esquer, unanimously adopted the resolution.
“Since Ms. Bublak signed this resolution and developed the anti-race goals it set for our community, the 300-plus members of Be the Change Turlock are asking her as our elected representative, not a personal situation, to publicly withdraw endorsement of Mr. Howze…,” Endsley said. “His documented history of racist comments are in direct opposition to the resolution Ms. Bublak endorsed. Her comments during the resolution’s public feedback assured us all that she supported equality and acceptance in Turlock as a City Councilmember and Mayor. We hope to see her words put into action soon.”
According to Howze’s campaign, Be the Change Turlock’s effort to see Bublak rescind her endorsement was orchestrated by incumbent Josh Harder, who finished ahead of Howze in the March primary. Howze’s campaign manager Tim Rosales said Harder’s “fingerprints are all over this,” and the campaign provided screenshots of Harder’s personal profile as part of the private Be the Change Turlock Facebook group.
“It goes back to stoking instability…chaos is Josh Harder’s friend,” Rosales said. “If they can do that, then they don’t have to talk about issues that matter to local voters. At the end of the day, this election is going to come down to two candidates and who people can support. Do they support the incumbent, or are they looking for change? That is the decision people are going to make, and I don’t think it’s going to have a lot to do with who endorses who.”
Harder’s campaign spokesman Ian Lee refuted the accusations that Harder has influenced the public comment calls in any way.
“Ted Howze is at it again with his weird conspiracy theories. If people in Turlock want to voice their concerns about his extremism to their local officials that’s absolutely within their right,” he said. “Last time I checked, that’s what democracy is all about. This is just Ted trying to silence people he disagrees with.”
Bublak has kept silent on the matter. During the June 9 Council meeting, she denounced the murder of George Floyd and said she appreciated the activism in the wake of his death. She added that she does “abhor racism in any form” and supports Turlock’s commitment to inclusion. She has not rescinded her endorsement of Howze, and said during the July 14 meeting that she “will not speak to anything about election, about endorsements, ever.”
The Journal was unable to obtain a comment from Bublak about her endorsement of Howze for this story.