The Cellar Door and the Visalia Times Delta hosted a forum Thursday night, for Tulare County Supervisor District Three candidates. Incumbent Phil Cox and challenger Amy Shuklian each presented their cases as to why they should be chosen to hold the seat next year. Phil Cox has been on the Board for 12 years, and Amy Shuklian has been a Visalia City Council member for 8 1/2 years. Each has a long personal and family history in Tulare County.
Amy represented herself as a “new ideas, fresh perspective” candidate, echoing one of Phil’s own campaign themes when he first ran for Supervisor. “Twelve years is enough” was heard several times. Phil indicated he wanted to serve one more term, to finish up projects started during his tenure, and that the County should “stay the course”. Amy talked about enthusiasm and dedication, Phil about experience and judgement. Both candidates had good moments, and, shall we say, less than stellar ones.
One problem that haunted the forum for most of the night was the sound system. It appears nobody thought to setup and test the audio gear before the candidates sat down at their microphones. At first, there was the issue of the travelling connection, where one mic was live, but the other was not. When the dead one came online, the first was suddenly silent. Once connections were sorted out, and the candidates and the moderator each had a live microphone, feedback squeals almost deafened the crowd at unexpected moments. Someone left the reverb on one mic turned up for the first several minutes, leaving Amy sounding like she was at the bottom of a well. That was finally sorted, and the candidates were able to address the audience. Note to the Cellar Door: audio checks well before events! (also the lighting on stage was uneven, being brighter on Phil, and dimmer on Amy)
It’s not my intent to give a blow-by-blow account of the night, but rather to make a few observations. This is the first candidates forum I’ve been able to attend (I’m usually at work when they are conducted), so it was all rather new to me. I didn’t know whether to expect a calm discussion of the issues, or a verbal slug-fest. I suppose it came out somewhere in between.
Now, going into this forum, I had already decided that I was going to vote for Amy Shuklian. Nothing I heard Thursday would dissuade me from that intention. I will say I was more impressed with Phil Cox than I thought I would be, and I was a bit disappointed with Amy Shuklian.
The office of Board of Supervisor is non-partisan, but party affiliations were brought up. The Tulare County Republican party has made a big advertising push that Phil is the only Republican on the ballot. While they certainly have the right to promote their choice of candidate, it seems to reduce the race to party loyalties, rather than who is best suited to do the job. Phil made a point to mention Amy’s change of registration earlier this year (if I recall the time frame correctly) from Democratic to a minor party (whose name escapes me), then, a short time later after she realized the party she selected was not one she intended to be associated with, to ‘decline to state’. (a similar thing happened to me, back in the Reagan days. I didn’t realize then that “Independent” was an actual party) The impression I got was that he was implying that she changed her affiliation to hide her association with the Democratic party in what is a heavily Republican district.
Amy commented on past Board of Supervisor issues, including mileage reimbursements and pay raises. Phil seemed dismissive of the subject, and Amy wasn’t clear on what she was asking of him. Phil is fine with the way the Board gets it’s raises, while Amy said it was not acceptable for Board members to vote themselves pay increases. Neither candidate had a good answer to an audience question about the effects of California’s minimum wage increase on county wages. Phil responded with a dollar amount that the county was planning for to meet the wage requirements, but both candidates missed or ignored the intent of the question: whether wages for county employees would have to be adjusted to account for the higher base wage, and how they would deal with the issue. For example, if an employee is currently making $10 an hour above minimum wage, will that wage increase with the minimum so that by the time it hits $15 an hour that employee isn’t making only $5 above minimum wage? This has long term impact on employee recruitment and retention rates. Neither candidate addressed the issue.
Phil commented on the likelihood of hearing talking points from Amy, then had a few of his own that were repeated several times. Amy was unprepared for some questions, and struggled to find answers for them. Phil had some facts and figures, that sometimes didn’t really answer the question. I was not impressed with his comment that he would support Donald Trump if he became the GOP nominee. If I had been seriously considering voting for Phil before, that statement would have cemented my decision against him immediately. Anyone who will support Donald Trump will not have my vote. Amy insisted that she had not decided who she would support, the unspoken assumption (at least as far as I was concerned) being that her choice would be between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt, and not assume she didn’t want to go on record supporting either in this heavily Republican district. A cynic might look at me askew for that, but I remain hopeful about my candidates.
Amy stopped by theSOURCE LGBT+ Center for our grand opening, and her partner Mary had a painting on display there as part of the Art Consortium’s First Friday event. Phil did speak to me about the Center before the forum, and asked about our programs and activities, but as far as I know has not visited in person. He was especially interested in our efforts in suicide prevention, a major problem for LGBT youth. I was pleased with his comments and concern, even if he has not visited the Center. I’ll assume he just hasn’t had the time to catch us during our operating hours, and isn’t avoiding having his picture taken with the staff at the LGBT Center. (Is that cynic looking at me, again?)
My mail-in ballot is sitting on my coffee table, waiting. When I fill it out, I’ll be voting for Amy Shuklian for District 3. I do think Phil Cox has served the County well, even if I don’t care for the way some things have been handled, but I also agree with Amy that it’s time for a change. I think she’s the right choice for the next four years.
Disclosure: I am a Tulare County employee of 21 1/2 years, a Board Member for theSOURCE LGBT+ Center, and a Board Member of PFLAG Tulare-Kings Counties.
And with the exception of the above mentioned accidental registration as an Independent, I have never been a member of any political party.
Images: Visalia Times Delta