Our View: Vince Fong for 34th Assembly District

The Bakersfield Californian | May 10, 2016 –

Candidates in two Kern County Assembly districts will appear on the June 7 primary ballot. Incumbent 32nd District Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield will appear on the ballot, but he is running unopposed for reelection. In the 34th Assembly District, where the current Republican Assemblywoman, Shannon Grove, is termed out, the open seat has attracted a Democrat and three Republican candidates.

The 34th District race is a top-two competition. That means the two candidates who receive the most votes will go on to face each other in the November general election.

By his education and public service experience, Republican Vince Fong is clearly the man Kern County voters should send to Sacramento to represent the 34th District.

The tough question is who should receive the second-most votes and face Fong in a runoff that Fong, 36, is almost certain to win. We will leave that to the voters to decide. The three remaining candidates are political novices, with no elected public track records to examine and no demonstrated abilities to work in the interest of people who elect them.

This is not meant to discourage newcomers from stepping into the political arena. Rather, it is to encourage them to seek local appointed or elected political offices – such as planning commission, school board, or city council – and to establish records of community involvement before running for a higher state office.

Some note that the current assemblywoman had no elected experience when she sought and won the 34th District seat. We would note that this lack of experience did not always serve her constituents well. In fact, it produced several cringe-worthy missteps. Just two recent examples are her proposal to create a religious exemption to the state’s fair housing anti-discrimination law, and her seeming to blame California’s historic drought on God’s wrath over the state’s permissive abortion laws. These and other failed initiatives by Grove were embarrassing, to say the least. (In the face of a loud outcry, Grove dropped her religious exemption proposal; and she later claimed she was misquoted about God’s wrath.) The gist of all this: elected experience does indeed matter.

Republican Michael “Garcia” Biglay, 61, of Tehachapi, is also seeking the seat. A retired teamster and Los Angeles native, Biglay now works as an equipment operator for the state parks system. A self-identified conservative, Biglay ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate in 2014 against a fellow Republican, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, because “I just can’t see a guy not having anybody running against him.”

Another Republican candidate is Ernie Gollehon, 50, a Bakersfield native and 27-year employee of the state prison system. He started his career at Tehachapi and now is assigned to North Kern State Prison in Delano.

Perhaps the most unique candidate in the race is Democrat Perrin Swanlund, an 18-year-old West High School student. Swanlund has never held an elected office – not even a student body office. But despite his lack of political or employment experience, he is pounding the pavement trying to round up supporters.

Swanlund told a Californian reporter that he decided to run when he concluded Assemblywoman Grove “didn’t represent me. … Her views were the exact opposite of mine in almost any circumstance.”

Fong comes well-prepared for the job of assemblyman. A Bakersfield native, Fong has worked in politics since 1999 when, as a UCLA freshman, he interned with former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield. Since 2006, Fong has worked for Thomas’ successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, as his district director. Fong earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA in political science and a master’s degree from Princeton University in public affairs.

Fong has never held prominent elective office but his wealth of experience as a top aide more than makes up for it. Endorsed by McCarthy, Grove and state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, Fong has a deep understanding of the issues facing the 34th District and the state. There is no doubt he will hit the floor running when he arrives in Sacramento as a Kern County legislator.

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