Agriculture · Hanford · Political Fundraising · Politics

Seat for sale? Kings Co. Supervisor emerges as pricey proxy fight over water

Has a seat on the sleepy Kings County Board of Supervisors become a proxy fight for control of water flows in the southern San Joaquin Valley?

It sure looks that way as political youngster Martín Chavez, a member of the Stratford Public Utilities District, has received unprecedented financial backing from Bay Area native and controversial water giant John Vidovich and affiliates.

Vidovich, through his company Sandridge Partners, is currently locked in a fight with the Tulare Lake Canal Company over a water pipeline that he is trying to construct in Kings County to connect to a larger interconnected conveyance system. 

Chavez’s position on the Stratford Public Utilities District (SPUD) has become a critical element of Sandridge’s defense for the pipeline. Sandridge has alleged that an element of the massive, sprawling project is to convey wastewater away from the unincorporated farm town.

Legal counsel for SPUD claimed that officials with the district had cursory conversations with Sandridge Partners about the pipeline but never reached an agreement for any water conveyance. 

The district’s lawyer later attested to those facts in a court filing on behalf of Tulare Lake Canal Company.

Multiple sources within the Kings County farming community told The Sun that Chavez led an effort on the district’s board to formally order SPUD’s chief lawyer to withdraw a declaration in support of Tulare Lake Canal Company in its litigation against Sandridge.

Friday, additional sources told The Sun that Chavez has led subsequent efforts to fire the district’s chief counsel and his firm amid the row over the declaration in opposition to Sandridge.

Earlier in April, Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen thrust Chavez’s connections to Vidovich into the spotlight on Twitter, calling him a “puppet.” 

Campaign finance documents reported by Chavez show he has received $44,294 so far in 2022, far outpacing the $4,827.29 that Neves reported. 

A significant part of Chavez’s donations came from Vidovich. 

Sandridge Partners contributed $20,000 to Chavez – or roughly 45 percent of his total fundraising haul, while Vidovich himself gave $4,500. 

Documents also show that two of Vidovich’s relatives, named Mary Vidovich and Michael Vidovich each gave Chavez $3,000 apiece, totaling $30,500 from Vidovich’s sphere of influence.

That total sum accounts for 69 percent of Chavez’s fundraising. 

On the other hand, Neves’ only reported financial contribution heading into the primary was from his wife, Kathy Neves, for $1,000.

She also contributed the rest of his funds in non-monetary contributions in the form of pens, campaign signs and the filing fee. 

Neves was first elected to the board of supervisors in 1994. 

DA challenger boasts superior war chest

Similar to the Chavez-Neves race, the contest for Kings County District Attorney sees challenger Sarah Hacker with a substantial edge over DA Keith Fagundes. 

Campaign finance documents reveal that Hacker received $77,828.45 so far this year, despite the fact she entered the race in March. 

After spending $25,812.14, she has $52,016.31 on hand. 

Her contributions include $1,000 from Kings County Sheriff David Robinson. 

Fagundes, who has faced allegations of sexual harassment from his top investigator Robert Waggle, reported $15,000 in contributions so far this year. 

However, with money already packed away in the bank, Fagundes was able to spend $29,353.53 in 2022 to have an ending cash balance of $21,176.71. 

The race to replace Pedersen

With Pedersen announcing his retirement from the board at the end of his term, he endorsed local business owner Rusty Robinson to replace him. 

That endorsement appears to have given Robinson a good jump start, since he has reported $29,343 in contributions after announcing his candidacy earlier this year. 

Robinson currently has $12,851 on hand after spending over $16,000. 

His largest donation was a $5,000 contribution from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association Local PAC.

He faces off against Alicia Ramirez, a field representative for Asm. Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield).

She reported no financial contributions as of close-of-business Friday.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.