(KERO) BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — November may still be months away - but candidates in Kern County are busy ramping up their campaigns and speaking with voters. One of those races is for the 3rd District Board Of Supervisors seat. The area is diverse - ranging from the mouth of the canyon to Coffee Road in northwest Bakersfield, parts of Merle Haggard Drive in Oildale and spanning to the southwest side of White Lane.
Voters will decide in November who they want representing them - Jeff Flores, or Brian Smith. 23ABC spoke with both candidates on several key issues in that district and why each is the best person for the job.
The two candidates both garnered the most votes in June's primary election; Flores led with 40 percent of the votes and says he’s grateful for the support so far.
“There’s a lot of campaigning to do. I'm gonna work as hard to earn their vote to touch as many voters as I can,” said Flores.
Smith received 33% of the votes and tells 23ABC he’s determined to show voters he’s the best fit.
“You want somebody that’s actually going to do something to make changes to make things better to listen to the voters, the voters have an actual say in what they want,” he said.
Flores tells 23ABC he’s spent the last 12 years serving as Chief of Staff for current 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard, who announced his retirement in January. He says he’s the most qualified because of his experience in local government and his success running for positions, including on the Kern High School Board of Trustees.
“Propelling the district forward to advance the goals of our district - college and career readiness. And I have a record of serving all the constituents of my district effectively and I want to bring that to the Board of Supervisors in this new capacity, should the voters elect me,” he said.
Smith is a marine corps veteran and has 34 years of law enforcement experience, helping to author the five year strategic plan for the California Highway Patrol, and serving as a Commander of the Highway Patrol. He says his ability to create change and find solutions is why he’s running.
“We’ve always been able to work within our budgets and when the budget is tight, we tighten our belts, we make things happen, so when you say that, going into a county department I absolutely will be very successful,” he said.
Flores and Smith both recognize crime and homelessness as big issues in the district. But the two candidates have different approaches to how to address the problem.
Flores tells us he's pleased with the work already being done in the area like connecting the homeless with programs and services including substance abuse recovery and job training, but that he plans to do more if elected.
“Touching those lives that are impacted, offering them services trying to get them into housing, get them into homeless shelters where we can give them wrap-around services, job training, get them cleaned up if they have drug addiction issues, get them on a pathway to recovery so we have been investing in that intensely,” he said. “But moving forward we need to do more.”
Flores says he'd like to see more money from the state's budget surplus for homelessness prevention.
Opponent Brian Smith says enough funds have been poured into help for the homeless and instead would advocate for more money for law enforcement to remove those on the streets who possess illegal substances or pose a threat to others.
“If we wanna continue, then let's just keep things the way they are,” he said. “If we wanna fix it then we need to get tough, we need to have group, joining meetings with the sheriff, with probation, with the DA, put these people in custody let them get the rehab, get them off the streets, help the ones that are gonna pay attention to the rehab, get their life back.”
One issue both candidates could agree on was wanting less overreach from Sacramento on oil regulations in Kern County.
“We need to start giving the permits back to Kern County, let's start getting oil independent in this country again and it starts right here in Kern County,” said Smith.
“We are getting penalized. They are holding up our permits - 1000 permits in drilling,” Flores said. “Oil demand is not going down. That demand is still there so why would we go overseas and import that oil via the tanker with more emissions of CO2 in the environment, the travel, the docking, when we can do it here cleaner, safer, better to make up that demand, we can do it.”
When it comes to some of the good things about the 3rd District, Flores believes the area has great intellectual capital with Bakersfield College and its many programs, along with unique landscapes like the Panorama Bluffs, Hart Park and the Kern River, which could appeal to business who are looking to set up shop.
“With respect to nature in our parks, thriving communities have good parks and that’s what some companies look for when they’re relocating they want to see that quality of life- what are some of the amenities,” said Flores.
Smith also believes the district is unique in its potential for businesses - many of which struggled during the pandemic and are now fighting to get customers back.
“When I see the people that are just relentless, and they’re going out there and they’re bouncing back and they’re bouncing back and they’re working hard and they’ve been at great odds but they still come back and are successful - that’s one of the greatest things I’ve seen,” said Smith.
He says if elected – he’d like to make it easier for business owners to thrive by reducing bureaucratic processes that could hamper their success and advocating for more funding from the state’s surplus to help them re-start after COVID.
Voters will not only have to decide who will represent them but they’ll also be faced with ballot two measures. One of them is a vote for or against a one percent sales tax increase for rural areas of Kern which includes residents in the 3rd District. Smith and Flores both agreed that it’s not a good time to impose another expense on residents.
“The people are taxed to death right now; every time we turn around we’re getting hit with more money, people don’t need another tax,” said Smith. “We’re hitting these people - they don’t see a raise coming, they don’t see social security being raised, but now we’re gonna take more money from them to take this? How about we tighten our belts up for a while, how about we make sure we prioritize better. We may have to make some cuts on certain things, I wanna take a look at each department to see.”
Flores echoed his stance that he says he first mentioned in a debate before the June primary.
“Right now is not the time for a tax - with unprecedented inflation, with unprecedented high prices in gas in the heels of covid, quite frankly we’re not out of Covid I think there’s an uptick, businesses are suffering, families are suffering, incomes are suffering, now is not the time for a sales tax,” he said. “I feel the citizens of the 3rd District would be impacted by that.”
The second ballot measure before voters will look at term limits for the Board of Supervisors. Smith says he’s for the change - adding ‘a new broom sweeps the cleanest’.
“Let’s get in, let's do a great job while you're in there and then let’s get new people with fresh ideas who are motivated to move on,” he said.
Flores tells 23ABC he’s against the initiative and that there are already term limits with the current election process.
“The people have a chance to speak every election cycle and we shouldn’t have outside special interests trying to impose their term limits on the Board,” said Flores. “That’s the discretion of the voter.”’
The general election is on November 8th; both candidates encourage their constituents to make their voices heard and their votes count.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEWS BELOW:
3RD DISTRICT CANDIDATE BRIAN SMITH
3RD DISTRICT CANDIDATE JEFF FLORES