"Three McClatchy newspapers jointly endorse this candidate in Congress’ 13th District"
BY THE MODESTO BEE, FRESNO BEE AND MERCED SUN-STAR EDITORIAL BOARDS
MAY 08, 2022
The redistricting fiasco hurting Stanislaus and Fresno counties with poorly drawn legislative boundaries did manage to accomplish one thing, whether by design or accident: Nearly all congressional races in California clearly favor candidates from one party or the other. Except one.
The 13th Congressional District, whose heart is Merced County and the west third of Stanislaus County — and which also runs through parts of Fresno, Madera and San Joaquin counties — may be the only House seat without a clear party favorite. That makes us the most purple district in the state — both blue and red, without a distinct advantage for either heading to the June 7 primary.
Without an incumbent, the 13th District features a like number of candidates from both major parties: three Republicans and two Democrats, all earnest and energetic. All participated in a debate with three sister McClatchy newspapers — The Modesto and Fresno Bees and The Merced Sun-Star — sharing views that left little doubt where each stands.
Fortunately, one candidate easily rises above the others in experience, knowledge and record of effective representation. He also is the only one among the five hopefuls who actually lives in the 13th District. Adam Gray is one of us, and we deserve his representation in Washington, D.C.
The other Democrat, Phil Arballo, has impressive financial backing thanks to his willingness in 2020 to run against Devin Nunes, the divisive Republican who thankfully left Congress to run former President Donald Trump’s social media company. Arballo is to be commended for his past courage, and he handles himself well in a discussion of tough issues. But he doesn’t have anywhere near the experience of Gray, who has ably represented Merced and Stanislaus counties for nearly 10 years in the California Assembly.
13TH GOP HOPEFULS
Diego Martinez, a Merced Republican, provided debate answers from the far-right playbook. Twice he used “America first” language, a not-so-subtle dog-whistle to those on the extreme fringe. He doesn’t seem at all interested in representing the middle — in a district that is all about the middle.
It’s curious that John Duarte, the owner of a successful Hughson tree nursery and also a staunch conservative, chose not to run in the district in which he lives. The neighboring Fifth Congressional District takes in Stanislaus areas east of Highway 99, except for Ceres, but also runs through the conservative Mother Lode, including Tuolumne County, across a total of eight counties. With 42% Republican registration to Democrats’ 32%, the Fifth is about as red as you can get in California — seemingly perfect for someone like Duarte.
A few years ago, Duarte became a celebrity among property rights activists, farmers and other conservatives for fighting a federal government fine after plowing wetlands on property he bought in Tehama County. Duarte agreed to pay a $1 million settlement just before trial; his attorneys considered that a triumph, because the government had sought tens of millions of dollars in expenses and a $2.8 million fine. Duarte is not afraid to fight and could be an effective voice for conservative constituents, although he lacks previous office-holding experience.
It was troubling, however, that Duarte cited a discredited conspiracy theory in the debate before McClatchy editors, claiming twice that several leftist activists were arrested for setting forest fires in the Sierra Nevada. It just isn’t true, and Duarte will need to steer clear of misinformation sources if he hopes to win voters’ trust.
David Giglio of Madera County presents a more moderate Republican position. But he is hampered by the same drawback as Duarte, Martinez, and Arballo — inexperience.
AVOIDING BOTH EXTREMES
Gray’s command of the issues should be apparent to anyone watching the McClatchy debate, from inflation and wildfire prevention to water policy and COVID-19 relief. Asked if the 2020 presidential election was legitimate, others stumbled with discomfort while Gray gave a no-nonsense, clear answer of one word: “Yes.”
No one up and down the northern San Joaquin Valley has been a stronger leader against the state water grab. He helped organize and spoke at a 2018 rally that took hundreds of Valley farmers to the steps of the State Capitol in fervent protest. Gray walks the walk.
Gray calls himself a “radical centrist,” backed by the congressional Blue Dog Democrats known for pragmatic, moderate views that enrage both extremes. It’s a badge of honor that he twice has been punished by progressive leadership of his own party for not being Democratic enough, losing committee assignments in both 2015 and 2020. In their eyes, he was too dang independent; in the eyes of our people, that’s perfect.
“The choice is clear,” said Gray in the McClatchy forum. “If you want a member of Congress who has no record, no experience and doesn’t even live in the district, then vote for any of my opponents, because they all fit that description. But if you want a member of Congress who actually lives here and has a proven track record of delivering for our community, I’d be honored to have your support.”
The Modesto Bee, Fresno Bee and Merced Sun-Star recommend Adam Gray for the 13th Congressional District.