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California Drought May Sway Election in Senate District 14

by Jane Susskind, published
One of the most pressing issues facing California today is the severity of the statewide drought. This year has been the

hottest year on record in California, with the drought costing the state $2.2 billion and 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs.

Taking the hardest hit is the Central Valley, a region that is economically dependent on the agricultural industry. What happens in the Valley, however, does not stay in the Valley -- it affects all of California, making water a central issue in the 2014 elections.

“We know 80 percent of the state’s growth is going to be in the Valley,” Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern Economic Development Corp states.

In Senate District 14, which incorporates parts of the Central Valley, Fresno, and Bakersfield, these effects have been amplified, with Fresno County alone experiencing a 2.2 percent dip in overall production.

Amidst the ground breaking temperatures and economic woes, California lawmakers have come together and put Californians ahead of partisan labels to produce a “historic” compromise on a water package.

"The $7.5 billion water package brokered by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders signals a rare bipartisan agreement on a thorny, politically divisive issue that has bedeviled California governors and lawmakers for decades,” AP's Juliet Williams reports. [Emphasis added]

At the forefront of this compromise is State Senator Andy Vidak (R), whose roots run deep in the Central Valley. Born in Visalia, California, Vidak attended school in Fresno, worked in numerous farming and packing industries in the Central Valley, and owns a cherry farm in Hanford.

When it comes to politics, however, Vidak has had a relatively short tenure, narrowly beating Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez (D) in a 2013 special election. Serving for just over a year, he will face an uphill battle to maintain his seat in the predominantly Democratic district.

In 2010, the majority of voters in the district cast a ballot for Jerry Brown (D) and in 2012, the majority of voters cast a ballot for Barack Obama (D). Following this trend, 47.1 percent of voters are Democratic and 18.6 percent are not affiliated with any political party. [All statistics from]

Vidak will need to garner a significant amount of support outside his party in order to remain competitive against his opponent, Luis Chavez (D). Reversely, Chavez will have to prove that he is capable of representing the interests of all voters in the Central Valley, not just ones who share his party label.

And while temperatures are expected to drop in the coming months, finding lasting solutions to California's water woes will continue to be a key campaign issue for Democrats, Republicans, declines-to-state, and third party voters.

Photo Credit: Climate Central

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