San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Vicky Boyd

San Joaquin Farm Bureau Second Vice President Ken Vogel, who is a cherry and walnut grower (left), chats with County Supervisor Chuck Winn. Photo courtesy of Chuck Winn.

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau has endorsed four candidates for the June 5 primary election, all of whom are incumbents. In weighing the choices, Kenny Watkins, a Linden-area cattle rancher and walnut grower who chaired the Endorsement Committee, says committee members compared the candidates' platforms to the Farm Bureau's policy book. If the candidate was an incumbent, they also factored in their voting record.

"It's about finding the most qualified candidate who's going to uphold our values and policies the best he or she can," Watkins said.

The endorsees are U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, 10th Congressional District; San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn, District 4; Sheriff Steve Moore; and County Assessor Steve Bestolarides.

The Endorsement Committee spent countless hours interviewing this year's candidates, except for the congressional race, and researching their records on ag- and rural-related issues, said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. 

SJFB First Vice President David Strecker sat in on the interviews and said he would do so in the future. Despite the hours committee members spent, Strecker said it's a valuable investment.

"It's something we take very seriously," he said. "If you're going to put your name on someone, you have to be sure you're making the correct choice."

The committee then approved by majority vote a list of recommendations they forwarded to the SJFB Board of Directors. Only candidates who received at least a two-thirds majority vote from the board received the SJFB endorsement.

Jeff Denham for U.S. House of Representatives

Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. He is challenged by one other Republican and six Democrats. Among those is Michel Eggman, a Turlock beekeeper and Democrat who he faced in 2014 and 2016.  Under the format approved by voters in 2010, the top two vote recipients in the June primary, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the November general election. Congressional District 10 takes in Turlock, Modesto, Ceres, Tracy, Ripon, Escalon, Oakdale and Manteca.

Denham said receiving SJFB's endorsement was important, and he pointed out he was the only Farm Bureau member in the Congressional race.

"(Ag) is my industry," he said. "These are the issues I'm focused on -- agriculture, natural resources and transportation infrastructure."

Included among those are water and immigration. Denham said the time is ripe for immigration reform, and he plans to introduce a rule in the coming weeks to force the issue.

Additional water storage, whether building Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs or enlarging Los Vaqueros Reservoir, also remains top of mind for the veteran lawmaker.

Although the proposed 2018 Farm Bill appears weighted toward row-crop farmers, Denham said it contains several key provisions to help specialty crop producers within the county. They include specialty crop research, which was first included in the 2014 Farm Bill, and expanded crop insurance.

It is for these reasons the Endorsement Committee voted to back Denham, Watkins said.

"He's always been very open to listening to us and meeting with us and hearing our suggestions," he said. "He's been an advocate for us on a whole host of issues."

Ken Vogel, SJFB second vice president and a Linden cherry and walnut grower, agreed, adding that Denham has been a strong agricultural supporter throughout his congressional tenure.

Among the issues Denham has championed is building additional water storage in the state, which would benefit not only agriculture but all California residents, Vogel said. In addition, the congressman has opposed unimpaired flows proposed for many of the state's major rivers.

Another concern on which Farm Bureau will continue to partner closely with Denham is passing workable immigration reform that also includes a guest-worker program.

"If they're going to come into this country four, five or six months to work, then make it an orderly process," Vogel said. Although agriculture would be the direct beneficiary, having a consistent supply of ag labor would indirectly help the processors, marketers and transporters of the crops, he said.

In addition, Farm Bureau plans to work with Denham on the recently introduced 2018 Farm Bill, known formally as the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. 

"California has some unique crops that we farm," Vogel said. "We're not big corn producers or cotton producers or soybean producers, but we have specialty crops, and Denham understands that and he works with that on transportation and other issues, too. So he's advocated for us not just on ag but also in these other areas."

Strecker said Denham also has helped open doors within the Environmental Protection Agency so Farm Bureau members could discuss several pressing issues, including Waters of the United States.

"He's been really good getting us connected with the secretary of the EPA and helping to open up communication with the ag community," he said. "It's been a long time since the EPA has answered the phone."

Chuck Winn for District 4 Board of Supervisors

Chuck Winn, who is seeking his second term as District 4 supervisor, is opposed by veterinarian Julie Damron-Brown of Acampo. District 4 takes in northern and eastern parts of the county, including Lockeford, Lodi, Escalon and Ripon. Winn filled the seat formerly held by Ken Vogel, becoming involved in many of the water-related issues his predecessor used to advance. Winn is a member or alternate on several local and regional groups, including the Advisory Water Commission, Agricultural Advisory Board, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, Eastern San Joaquin County Groundwater Banking Authority and the Delta Protection Commission.

His involvement in water issues is one reason why the Endorsement Committee chose to support Winn in his re-election bid. "He's engaged," Watkins said. "He's out listening to constituents and talking to people. And we have access to him. He can't do everything, but he lends an ear to our issues."

Vogel agreed, noting Winn's outreach expands beyond just agriculture but includes urban and rural residents as well. "He's supporting the issues that affect agriculture and that affect rural areas, like cannabis, so that it's not impacting people who live in the country," he said. 

Strecker also noted Winn's involvement in water issues. "The way he's engaged in water issues in the county and throughout the state and his understanding of how the entire water system works has been very refreshing," Strecker said.

Winn said it was a "tremendous honor" to receive SJFB's endorsement. "The Farm Bureau is really like the gold standard of endorsements for the entire county," he said.  Water remains the top issue in the county, with the California WaterFix – also known as the Twin Tunnels – a priority. Should the project move forward as proposed with either one or two tunnels, Winn said it would impact not only agriculture but also urban water users and the environment.

"I've been involved with various water agencies and organizations to do everything we can to propose alternatives to the governor's WaterFix," he said. Those groups span the state borders from San Diego to north of Redding.

Another of Winn's priorities is illegal dumping, which can be costly and time-consuming for farmers to clean up. He said he has been talking to public works, county council and other departments to find ways to reduce the problem. The county already has a voucher program that allows residents to take a free load to the landfill.

But Winn said the county possibly should explore a program where it could pick up large items periodically like some of the municipalities do. The supervisors are expected to hear presentations on the subject in July.

"Most of our illegal dumping comes from city residents," he said. "It's not our residents in the county that are a problem." Illegal camping throughout the county ­— and particularly along the Mokelumne River near Lodi — and cannabis also are big concerns, Winn said.

Steve Moore for San Joaquin County Sheriff

With 35 years of law-enforcement experience, this will be Moore's fourth term as sheriff, should he win. He stepped into office in January 2007. Moore is again opposed by former Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pat Withrow, who lost to him in a hotly disputed contest in 2014.

Blodgett noted Moore's stance on rural crime and his open-door policy as a few of the reasons for SJFB's endorsement. "It's about integrity, and he's active in the community," Blodgett said. "If you have an issue, you can talk to him directly. That was unusual in our county until Steve first got elected. We obviously appreciate that relationship." Watkins agreed, pointing out that Moore attends nearly all of the SJFB board meetings.

"Steve has always stepped up to every need and request from our membership," he said. Moore, who said either he or one of his staff have attended all of our SJFB board meetings, was "greatly honored" by the endorsement. "It's a validation of the work I've been doing with the Farm Bureau and the recognition that agri-business in San Joaquin County is the largest business, and I want to be responsive to that business."

Vogel said he came into office about the same time Moore became sheriff. One of the programs that Moore has implemented is the Community Car service, where individual patrol cars are dedicated to small, rural communities such as Linden and Lockeford. The program addresses not only agricultural crimes but illegal activities throughout rural areas.

Much like community policing in urban areas, the Community Car program involves having the same officer patrol the same beat so he or she gets to know the residents. If they have a concern, they can call the officer directly.

"That way, it's more of a personalized service," Vogel said.

The sheriff's Ag Crime Task Force also has been responsive to issues Farm Bureau members face, he said.

Strecker praised Moore's efforts on rural crime and trying to engage farmers.

"It's good to know someone has your back," Strecker said.

Moore said the Ag Crime Task Force continues to battle metal theft, which tends to ebb and flow with the price of scrap metal. Both that effort and the sheriff's Auto Theft Task Force also have strived to reduce the number of equipment thefts. Buoying Moore's efforts is Smart Water, a new technology that allows owners to mark their equipment with identification numbers. The sheriff's office continues to promote owner-applied numbers, which are etched into equipment or machinery. But he said Smart Water identification isn't visible to the thieves so they're not appt to file it off like etched numbers. Cannabis continues to be a huge issue, said Moore, also president of the California State Sheriff's Association. Of the 12 legislative bills the group has gotten behind statewide, eight deal with cannabis.

"The big problem here is there still is no ordinance on growing it commercially," he said. County supervisors are considering a measure for the November ballot that would establish sales tax on cannabis. Depending on the measure's outcome, it could be the first step to commercial growing and distribution of the crop.

The county has an anti-camping ordinance, and Moore said his office works closely with farmers and landowners. Part of the law requires they fence off areas and post appropriate signage.

Should there be a complaint, sheriff deputies also try to find help for the homeless individuals, whether veteran services, mental health or other assistance.

One emerging issue is the use of drones, particularly over dairies, as groups try to snap aerial images of the cows, Moore said.

The county currently has no ordinance addressing the flying machines. But Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit their operation if they invade people's privacy. It is an emerging problem the sheriff's office is working with SJFB to address, Moore said.

He pointed to the success of the county's walnut ordinance, which his department worked closely with SJFB to draft. The measure, adopted by the supervisors in 2014, specifies who needs to provide proof of ownership when selling walnuts and when non-processing buyers may purchase them.

Steve Bestolarides for SJ County Assessor
A county supervisor representing District 3 at the time, Bestolarides was appointed county assessor in 2015 to serve out the remaining term of retiring assessor Kenneth Blakemore. Bestolarides, who previously served on the Stockton Planning Commission and Stockton City Council, was first elected supervisor in 2008.

He is opposed in the assessor's race by Tracy resident Reno Ursal, who works for the Alameda County assessor's office.  Although the assessor's race may not capture the headlines of some of the other county contests, Blodgett said the position is nonetheless important because of its potential impacts on agriculture, farmland values and property taxes.

"We finally have somebody in there with a business background and with whom we had a good relationship when he was a supervisor," he said of Bestolarides.

Watkins said the assessor's race in the past typically flew under the radar because it was never heavily contested. This year, he said both candidates are qualified. But the Endorsement Committee believed that Bestolarides was the better choice because of his efforts to streamline the assessor's office.

"Steve comes from a banking background, and we were impressed when we talked to him," he said. "This is a good fit for Steve, and the whole committee was really impressed by his passion and his drive to make the assessor's office more efficient."

Strecker agreed. "He just seems to have a handle on what makes that office run effectively, and he's not just being a manager."

Bestolarides said he was grateful for SJFB's endorsement and said he owed members a huge debt of gratitude. Drawing from his experience in private sector, he said he wants the assessor's office to focus on customer service. One of his goals is to reduce the amount of paperwork and forms that farmers have to fill out by sharing information among county and state agencies. 

"What we need to do is reduce or eliminate redundancy," Bestolarides said. "The other thing we're doing is enhancing our website. I believe all of our constituency should be able to access our information online."

He said he planned to include funding to improve the website in the proposed 2018-19 county budget.

Among the issues discussed during the assessor candidate interviews were farmland taxation, the Williamson Act and new environmental health fees unveiled recently by county agencies, Blodgett said. Even the Twin Tunnels were brought up during candidate interviews because of the impact the project could have on the county's farmland and tax base, he said.

When Vogel was a District 4 supervisor, he had a chance to work alongside then-supervisor Bestolarides on the board. Among the issues that have carried over to Bestolarides' role as assessor, although in a slightly different form, are land-use questions, Vogel said.

"We think he's done very well in being a fair person in the assessor's office," he said. "He listens to people and takes into account where things should be and where things should not be."

While on the board, the two grappled with whether event centers should be allowed in agricultural areas.

"They should be tied to the promotion and consumption of wine and not just be event centers out in the middle of an ag area," Vogel said. "We wanted to find a balance because neighbors out there need to have a buffer where they aren't going to be disturbed."