Lindsay’s community theatre was the site earlier this month of a Kuyler Crocker-Dennis Smith debate.
Crocker and Smith are candidates for the Tulare County District 1 supervisorial seat. Allen Ishida, the incumbent, isn’t running for re-election.
District 1 includes the citrus belt running from Exeter, through Lindsay, down to Strathmore. Smith, 64, is a business-owner with long-time ties to Visalia and Exeter. Crocker, 29, works for PG&E and farms in the Strathmore area.
The debate was hosted by the Lindsay Kiwanis Club. It was my honor to be moderator. I gave the debate a theme in my introductory remarks: “Democracy isn’t that fragile.”
The words come from the great Walter Lippmann, whose journalism sometimes graced The Lindsay Gazette back in the mid-20th century when Lindsay was my home.
Crocker and Smith took the theme to heart. They stood on the stage for nearly two hours, answering one tough question after another with skill and passion. They were frank and they were gentlemen – a combination sometimes missing in the public life of rough-and-tumble eastern Tulare County.
I give to you each candidate’s opening remarks as well as their answers to debate’s first and last questions.
I conclude with my brief analysis of the memorable evening.
CROCKER: “I’m Kuyler Crocker, and I first want to thank the Lindsay Kiwanis as well as all of you in attendance, and Mr. George Hostetter from Central Valley Observer, for hosting this debate.
“I was born in the Lindsay hospital, delivered by Dr. Norman, and I’m a fifth generation farmer from the Lindsay-Strathmore area. My family – we have deep roots in the Lindsay community, and I’m very proud and honored to consider Lindsay a second home for me.
“Some of those roots have included my grandmother Tillie Borbon Vidrio’s family’s store in Tonyville; my grandfather Joe Vidrio’s restaurant and tortilla factory – El Charrito – on Sweetbriar (Avenue); as well as my other grandfather Lowell Crocker’s business that he owned with his partner, Bob Searcy – Lindsay TV. Some of you may have had him restore and fix your television; he sold quality Zeniths throughout the community.
“My parents, they have continued the tradition of working in Lindsay. My father Rick is a partner in Badger Parking, formerly Yokol Valley Packing, and my mother is a dental hygienist with Dr. Guadalupe Quezada here in town. I’m very proud of the rich tradition.
“And I’ve had a great tradition of service to our community that my family had modeled for decades to me. (Here is) some of my community service that I have been involved with: I am a member of the Tulare County Association of Governments as Allen Ishida’s alternate; I’m the president of the Strathmore High Alumni Association; I’m the secretary of the San Joaquin Power Employees Credit Union; I’m a member of the Strathmore Boys and Girls Club local committee as well as I’ve recently been appointed to the Friends of SCICON board of directors.
“I believe in giving back to our community. I believe in giving back to a community that has given us all so much. I’m passionate about having great communities in which to live and work. And to have great communities, I believe we need to focus on three areas, those being public safety, jobs and water.
“I’m proud to have the endorsements of the Deputy Sheriffs Association and Firefighters through Tulare County. They know public safety is my top priority. The No. 1 function of local government is to protect its citizens. We need to encourage businesses in growth, retention and attraction.
“And, as a farmer, I know the need for additional water storage.”
SMITH: “I was born in Fresno. My parents moved to Visalia when I was two years old. They still live on the same property that they bought back in 1954. I grew up on the east side of Visalia, which was then out in the country. I went to Mineral King School, Redwood High School and College of Sequoias. I’ve lived in Tulare County continuously – never left – and have worked at my own business.
“Hi, Art. (Smith spoke directly to a member of the audience.)
“Art Cerna and I once talked about starting a business together when both of us were a whole lot younger. We got to a point where it was time to do it, and he was going a different direction than I was. He ended up in cabinets, and I ended up in doors and locks and molding.
“I started National Building Supply as a co-founder in Visalia in 1978. I was 27 years old, and we’ve been running that business, my business partner and I, ever since. That’s 39 years we’ve been running our own business. Obviously, in running a business, you get all kinds of experience in that. You do the stuff that gets your hands dirty. This morning, at 6 o’clock, I was delivering two loads of doors. My business partner and one of our other employees were down south with a big load that was being delivered. At 64 years old, I still have enough energy to keep me going for 10 or 12 hours a day at the job sites.
“And I think I can serve the citizens of Tulare County. I have prepared for this for many years. I am a constitutionalist at heart. I believe that the county government at this point in time has been fairly conservative and is in good shape financially. I say that because there are a great many counties in California that are not in good shape financially.
“This past year it became required that government entities report on their CAFR – comprehensive annual financial report – each year the liabilities that they have for unfunded pensions and unfunded healthcare for their retired employees. And that immediately dropped a lot of counties into a big, big red zone. The state is in debt at over a trillion dollars, and that debt is going to have a big impact on all of us that are property owners. I believe, in order to cover that debt, they’re going to move against our property and taxes. They’re going to raise sales taxes, and I believe they’ll eventually move against our profit-sharing plans and our 401(k)s, and that’s evidenced by the fact that they’re now passing a law to force everyone in the state to pay into a state-controlled retirement system.
“These things I am against. I am for local control and for self-determination at the county level.”
Question: Why do you want to represent District 1?
CROCKER: “As a fifth-generation farmer in Tulare County, I believe that I have the knowledge and skill sets needed to tackle the tough issues that are facing Tulare County – as far as public safety and having safe communities, as far as ensuring that we have adequate water supplies, as well as job creation.
“My knowledge of business and energy efficiency that I’ve gained through working at PG&E gives me an advantage to understanding what businesses need to be competitive in a world market that requires goods and services throughout our world.
“Additionally, I think it’s very important that we establish great relationships with our surrounding counties to tackle these tough issues. It’s vitally important for us to build coalitions and to work together. When we look at public safety, when we look at job creation and when we look at water – all of these issues are bigger than Tulare County. They’re bigger than District 1 or the city of Lindsay.
“We’ve got to build coalitions and work together to make sure we’re all on the same page when tackling these issues.”
SMITH: “After 39 years of owning your own business, you have not only the knowledge but the experience of running that business. You’ve also, during that period of time, enjoyed the experience of dealing with bureaucrats and new regulations being applied to your business yearly, and the additional cost that incurs.
“We in Tulare County – and it isn’t just in Tulare County—we are at a crossroads. All of rural California is at a crossroads because, with the water mandates that Sacramento is trying to impose upon us, they are trying to strip the water rights that we have from our private property.
“You probably are aware that there were letters mailed to 27 of the farmers in the eastern side of the basin of the Kings, Tule and Kaweah (rivers), and those letters are from the California water quality board. And they’re basically telling those farmers that they need to come in and talk to the board because if they don’t come in and agree to providing water to everybody – because, of course, they’re guilty of polluting the underground aquifer – they will be suffering an abatement and cleanup order. If you weren’t aware of that, you need to come on board with what’s going on with water.
“I believe I’ve got enough grit in my gut to be able to take on some of the battles that we’ve got. Specifically, right now, it’s the water.”
Question: Is District 1 the most beautiful supervisorial district in all of California? (This question came from me, not audience or Kiwanis Club members. I prefaced the question by noting that I had taken a walk before the debate through downtown Lindsay; the Sierra Nevada to the east serves as both backdrop and inspiration to my hometown. This no doubt is true in many of District 1’s small communities.)
SMITH: “No. And it’s not just District 1. It’s our small areas, our small towns, whether it be Lindsay or Strathmore, and you walk downtown and you see the vacant buildings. And it’s just pure evidence of the kind of economic warfare that we are suffering at the hands of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
“District 1 has been a real blessing in my life. Barbara and I have lived out in rural Exeter since 2000 – we moved out of Visalia finally and bought some property. I’ve lived in that Visalia area or that Exeter area my entire life. We’ve been blessed to live in Tulare County.
“But there are things worth fighting for. And I don’t choose to die by a thousand cuts. I’d rather take this fight to Sacramento, and holler and scream if I have to in Washington, D.C. There are things worth fighting for. Devin Nunes, at the end of his water program a week ago, one of the very last things that he said was: ‘I hate to tell you, folks, but they think they’ve won. They’re packing up their bags and their lawyers and they’re heading for the Merced and the Stanislaus rivers. They think they’ve beat us.’ I’d like to turn that around.
“They are now requiring that Don Pedro (Reservoir) release 25% of its water down into the streams that flush out the Delta. Isn’t that hypocritical – that you’ve got over a dozen cities up there putting semi-treated sewage into the Delta and they want to talk to us about nitrates in our water and demand that our water be pure and clean and require our surface water to go to flush out the Delta because of their sewage?
“Chaps my hide. It’s not right.”
CROCKER: “I’m glad you did one of your famous walk-abouts here in Lindsay. I do believe that District 1 is one of the most beautiful places to be.
“That’s why I’m here – I think that whether (I’m) walking in my orange grove or going around (town) seeing the beautiful murals that we have. And we’ve got a great asset in Mineral King and the largest living organism in the world in the General Sherman Tree up in Sequoia National Park. And that’s really something to behold. There is no other place in the entire world that has a living thing that’s that large.
“God’s beauty is all over. And that’s something. And the people – they’re generally beautiful. And I don’t say that as a single man (laughter). We’ve got great people that work hard, that are trying to do a better job.
“If we can just turn around some things. It was a perfect storm that turned around Lindsay, with Lindsay Ripe shutting down and the freeze, as well. It was awful. That could be flipped around just like that. I think that there are opportunities, that we can work together to help make sure that we have those vibrant communities again. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
“I’m the next generation, I want to live in the communities that have the great amenities that we know we’ve had in the past. And so, even though there are flaws – I’m not blind – I do think that it is the most beautiful district.
“And I thoroughly enjoy living here.”
Now to my thoughts.
I live in Fresno. I don’t have a vote in the District 1 race. I didn’t ask my Lindsay friends in the audience how they’re voting.
But the debate made clear to me that Smith is an angry man. And it was just as clear that Crocker is more attuned to collaboration.
Which mindset is more likely to stroke an ego and which is more likely to serve a diverse array of constituents in a complex world?
I’ve seen my share of angry candidates in Fresno. Few were successful at the polls. Those few, once in office, learned to control their temper or sulked in isolation. Martyrdom did nothing for their constituents.
Smith said he was a “constitutionalist.” I learned 50 years ago at Lindsay High School that the constitution is about federalism – a dispersion and balancing of power in a land of free people with ever-shifting interests.
That formula in real life is never pretty. One person or one town or one alliance is never happy all the time. But 227 years under our constitution shows that teamwork – call it strategic compromise, if you will – is the only smart way to govern.
James Madison also found his way into The Lindsay Gazette of publisher Ford Chatters.
I swear that’s where I first read about how “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
The prevailing ambition usually is the one with allies.