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Since 2008, Republican Brian Nestande has represented much of the Coachella Valley in California’s Assembly.

However, that will be changing this year: Nestande—the former chief of staff for the late Congressman Sonny Bono, as well as Bono's wife, Congresswoman Mary Bono—is running for the U.S. House of Representatives against one-term incumbent Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, who upset Mary Bono Mack in 2012.

So the field was wide open during June’s primary election for Nestande’s District 42 seat. The contenders included two well-funded and politically established Republican candidates—Chad Mayes and Gary Jeandron—and one Democratic candidate, Karalee Hargrove.

Jeandron, a former Palm Springs Police chief, and Mayes, the current chief of staff for San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, each raised six figures plus for the race in the predominantly Republican district. Meanwhile, Hargrove, a member of the board of the Morongo Unified School District, barely raised five figures. So it was a surprise to many that, in a district (including the high desert and much of the western Coachella Valley) where registered Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by a little more than 8 percent (41.7 percent vs. 33.8 percent, as of May), Hargrove was the top vote-getter in the open primary, getting 37.8 percent of the vote. Chad Mayes, with 34.4 percent, finished second and is now facing Hargrove in the general election; Jeandron was eliminated, with 27.8 percent of the vote.

“I chose to run way back before the primaries because there was no Democrat and surely no woman running for this (office), so why not give it a shot?” explained Hargrove during a recent interview with the Independent. “I think we’ve been lacking leadership in this Assembly district, and that’s something that I can bring.”

Make no mistake, though: Hargrove remains a big underdog in the general election, and Mayes is acting very much like an elusive front-runner: The Independent reached out to Mayes via both telephone and email for this story. In response, we received an email from Joe Justin, a Sacramento-based political consultant with a history of working for Republican candidates. He stated that Mayes would be unavailable to talk to the Independent due to scheduling conflicts.

On Mayes’ campaign website, we found this third-person analysis of what motivates Mayes to seek the District 42 office: “One overarching goal has defined public service for Chad Mayes: to bring a spirit of responsive servant leadership to every position he’s held.” Mayes was elected to the Yucca Valley Town Council in 2002, and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. Mayes was twice chosen by colleagues to serve as mayor during those years.  

The candidates do share some mutual concerns. When asked what are the most important issues, Hargrove stated: “No. 1 is education. Second would have to be water, and third would be bringing jobs through renewable energy.”

The Mayes website lists campaign objectives as: “Deliver high performance government; fix failing schools; build a new jobs climate; step up the fight for local control.”

We asked Hargrove what specific actions she’d back to positively impact those issues. “With education, I’d like to see more money going to career technical programs,” Hargrove said. “I give out diplomas and wonder, ‘Well, this student isn’t enrolling in college, so what are they going to do?’ Also, we could get back some adult high school education funding, and for those adults who may not have their diploma, include them in the high-school courses and trade occupations we would offer.”

As for educational reform, Mayes’ site tells us, “California schools can regain their position as No. 1 again by giving parents a greater role and responsibility in their child’s education, returning local control to school boards, ensuring our schools are safe, and extending collegiate level choice to college bound students and a quality career technology courses that prepare graduates to compete for the best jobs.”

Returning to Hargrove’s platform, she told the Independent, “With the water issue, I’d really like to dig deep into how much water we’re using for agriculture. If 70 percent of water usage is going to agriculture, we need to focus on that first. Of course, conserving is huge, and I think the state of California is making good strides in that regard.”

Regarding job creation, Hargrove said, “I’d like to look at getting renewable-energy sources into the 42nd District while creating union, high prevailing-wage positions. Also, improving educational opportunities will help build the local economy.”

Regarding the same issue, Mayes’ website said: “We need to reform California’s job-killing regulations and reduce the tax burden to not only keep the jobs we have, but to expand and strengthen our economy.”

We asked Hargrove why she’s the best candidate for office. “I know I’m the best candidate because I have not been bought by special interests or corporations,” Hargrove said. “I have worked a minimum-wage job. I’ve been a single mother. I am still a double full-time college student, so I get these real-life issues that people in the 42nd District deal with, and I feel I’m very comparable to them.

“I’m not doing this for any glory. I’m doing this to see that things get done. Once I accomplish my goals I don’t intend to be in politics for 30-plus years.”

We don’t have Chad Mayes’ answer to this question. After all, he was not available for comment.

Published in Politics

I feel privileged all year long, not just on Thanksgiving. Last night, hubby Dave bought a bottle of 2011 Tobin James Ballistic zinfandel, an old fave. The wine’s about $18, not terribly expensive.

For our budget.

It’s a jammy zin, without apology. As I enjoyed it, I thought back to a recent conversation with a fellow drinker about my age named Lea, 46.

Lea is homeless, or at least “in transition,” a less-permanent-sounding term. In September, Lea returned to California from Colorado, where she predicted there’d be five inches of snow by Thanksgiving Day. Lea camps out most nights. I spotted Lea sitting under a tree, drinking a 40-ounce Miller and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. She had a worn paperback book open across her chest.

For Lea, the holidays are like any other day—although she has a slightly higher chance of getting a tasty meal. She was expecting a care package from a friend in Colorado. The package had been mailed to general delivery and had not yet arrived. She wanted to use my phone to call her friend.

I have a newish phone. I bought it because it has twice the battery life of other phones on the market. Choosing a cell phone and plan from the oodles of choices was rough. First World problems are the only kind I have.

A friend handed Lea a paper carton with what looked like mac-and-cheese. Lea drank beer with her dinner, noting that she was drinking in public.

“But I’m not breaking any glass or anything, and I'm not being loud or picking fights,” she said. Public is the only place she has to drink.

“I drink wine with my dinner most nights,” I said, in a lame attempt to connect.

“I like wine,” she replied, “but it’s too expensive.”

I thought of my embarrassing collection of wine, which lines a wall of our kitchen pantry.

This is how I justify my wine-spending habits. I don’t have a big-screen TV. My car is dented, high-mileage and paid for. Instead of paying for a gym membership, I go for daily hikes. I buy clothes at thrift shops. I pack lunches and cook in rather than dine out. That’s how I buy good wine.

Niggled by liberal guilt, I wonder how others reconcile privileged lifestyles in a world where so many starve, lack health care, lack housing, lack everything. Sometimes I think I could quit my college-prof gig and head to a developing nation to help. But I’m not the Mother Teresa type. I don’t like bugs or uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. I do like flush toilets and hot showers.

So to do my part, for now, I plan to devote some time, money and political attention to the needs of others. (You couldn’t call this noblesse oblige, because I have no noblesse. Maybe middle-class oblige?) I give a tiny bit of dough to an international agency that helps kids in Nepal obtain food, school and health care. But a person doesn’t have to look to distant nations to find poverty. Plenty of need is apparent right here at home.

I’ve been considering volunteer work in literacy education. I teach, so that makes sense. But recently I learned of a California street newspaper that could use some pro bono assistance. That’s how I ended up interviewing people in transition last week.

People I met:

• Mike, a middle-age man confused about why he wasn’t getting disability checks, who panhandled to get grocery money.

• Star, a 21-year-old who drove across the country from Pennsylvania with her husband, five other people, three dogs and no jobs lined up.

• Martha, born in California, who’d been recently assaulted in a homeless camp. No phone—so no call to the police. She had to wait until the next day to get to the emergency room. A gash on her face that needed stitches didn’t get them.

Overwhelming, right? (Who needs a drink?)

A bill has been working its way through the California Assembly that would create a Homeless Bill of Rights. AB 5 was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee earlier this year, but in May, the bill was put on hold, probably until early next year. The Appropriations Committee needed time to figure out how the state might pay around $300 million to build and operate an estimated 540 public-hygiene centers with showers and bathrooms—one in each city and county. That’s just one of the bill’s stipulations: the State Department of Public Health must “fund the provision of health and hygiene centers, as specified, for use by homeless persons in designated areas.”

(Follow the bill's progress here.)

The bill’s sponsor is Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, who told The Sacramento Bee the bill would end laws that “infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws.”

I’m no expert on solutions to help people in transition, but I think a bill like Ammiano’s is needed. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about building showers, aka treating the symptoms and not attacking the problem at its roots. It seems more logical for California to spend $300 million getting individuals into apartments with their own bathrooms and showers.

It’s an issue that I’ll be following. Turns out nothing pairs better with a trek through the California Legislature’s website better than a viscous Paso Robles zin.

If you’re looking to assuage some liberal guilt, you could write a check to Roy’s Desert Resource Center in Palm Springs. About 90 people in transition receive shelter there nightly. And showers: www.desertsos.org/RoysDesertResourceCenter.aspx.

Published in Wine