Democrat Robert Rivas believes his message in support of public education and fighting back against big oil companies resonated with voters.
Republican Neil Kitchens was surprised at the level of support he received and hopes to reach more district voters over the next four to five months to compete in the race.
Rivas is the clear front runner in the race for the District 30 State Assembly seat. The two-term county supervisor in San Benito County had 44.1 percent of the vote as of Wednesday’s results, with Kitchens at 31.4 percent. Three other Democrats, Peter Leroe-Munoz, Bill Lipe and Trina Coffman-Gomez, split the remainder of the vote.
Rivas and Kitchens will face off in the November primary. Rivas was happy with “strong” results in his home county and proud of his campaign throughout the district, which also includes Monterey and Santa Cruz counties along with Gilroy and Morgan Hill.
“This was obviously a different race,” Rivas said, comparing it to his campaigns for supervisor. “Really emphasizing our message in all parts of the district is something I’m really proud we accomplished.”
Rivas said part of campaigning in a larger area was sharing his background.
“Over the last few months, I really just shared my story, my family history, where I came from, the kind of person I am, the values I have,” Rivas said.
It helped to share his experiences working as an aide for former Assemblyman Simon Salinas and current Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, along with his professional experience as a paid-call firefighter, as a county supervisor, and working in education at San Benito High School.
He said prioritizing public education was important for his campaign.
“It’s kind of bizarre how you often hear our leaders talking about California being the fifth-largest economy in the world, but looking at our school rankings, we’re always toward the bottom.”
He said he plans to support teachers and continue talking about issues like affordability with housing, healthcare and college tuition.
“Being a rural county and being a rural district, we face challenges a lot of the people in the district don’t even realize,” Rivas said.
Kitchens, a rancher and businessman, doesn’t see the district’s demographics as an insurmountable challenge.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re a Republican or Democrat or independent, a lot of people are fed up with a lot of things going wrong in the state,” Kitchens said.
Kitchens noted that he’s the only candidate among five in the primary wanting to repeal the state’s gas tax.
“I’m the only one of the five that understands they’re not going to use it to fix the roads,” he said.
Rivas, on the other hand, said he got a “nudge” when big oil companies funded negative campaigning against him in the Assembly race. He said those foes spent upward of $350,000 two years after Rivas led the Measure J campaign to ban fracking in San Benito County.
“Just because of the nature of politics in California and just in general, the oil industry certainly didn’t appreciate my position and my advocacy for the very first fracking ban passed in this state right here.”
He said those oil companies misled the public.
“They tried to deceive a lot of the voters,” he said. “They really misinterpreted my record and my positions. We certainly fought back.”
Kitchens talked about other issues he thinks voters will relate to come November. For one thing, he made his view clear on California’s sanctuary state policy with immigration.
“I really, really understand the constitution, and this sanctuary state thing is really illegal,” Kitchens said, mentioning how he graduated from law school. “People get emotional. If you want to follow the constitution, you can’t arrest people or threaten to throw people in jail for following federal law.”
Kitchens said he will need to reach the Latino population in order to win come November.
“Well, I don’t see it as difficult as maybe you do or other people,” he said about his chances. “I think I need to reach people. Once people meet me and they see me and they talk to me, they will vote for me.”
-By Kollin Kosmicki