FRESNO (AP) — A physician whose father left the California Legislature six years ago is competing with a Fresno city councilman for a vacant seat in the state Assembly that’s critical to Democrats’ goal for a two-thirds majority.
Democrat Joaquin Arambula, an emergency room doctor, and Republican Clint Olivier, a former reporter and Marine Corps Reserve radioman, are sparring to fill the remaining eight months of former Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea’s term.
Perea endorsed Arambula to succeed him before he left office in December to take a job in the pharmaceutical industry. In the Legislature, Perea led a group of business-friendly Democrats who blocked a provision in 2015 climate change legislation that called for cutting petroleum use by half within 15 years.
A deep-pocketed coalition of special interest groups that backs moderate Democrats has spent more than $140,000 this year supporting Arambula and opposing Olivier.
“I tend to find people want to be binary, they want to be able to place you in a box and define you and your positions, but I’ll push back a little,” Arambula said.
He added, “The business community, they see (me as) someone who understands the value of a dollar, who understands unintended consequences.”
Nearly 50 percent of the district’s 170,000 voters are registered Democrats and 28 percent of voters identify as Republicans. The voters have supported Democratic candidates for the state and nation’s highest offices since 2008, but Republicans hold two of the three congressional districts overlapping the Assembly district.
“The people who live here appreciate the contributions of common-sense, Republican elected officials,” Olivier, 40, said. “That’s what I am.”
Although the bulk of the district’s geographical area is farmland and the region is dominated by agriculture and oil interests, the majority of voters live in the suburban south-Fresno area.
The California Medical Association backs Arambula and contributes to the political action committee that, along with other health groups around the state, are the main reason Olivier has been heavily out-raised and out-spent during the campaign.
“People who are not just locked into an ideological set, but who are pragmatic, that’s who the group looks for and that’s who Joaquin Arambula is,” Janus Norman, CMA’s senior vice president for government relations, said. “By definition of his profession, he’s someone who knows how to work together in a team environment to produce good outcomes.”
Arambula’s campaign and outside groups supporting him have raised more than $1.5 million this year. As of the March 19 campaign filing deadline, Arambula had about $116,000 in his special election account.
Olivier’s supporters have raised about $470,000. He had $73,000 on hand for the special election on March 19.
The two candidates toe their parties’ lines on most high-profile issues, including the plan Democratic lawmakers passed and Republicans opposed this week to gradually raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.
Despite reservations, Arambula supports the raise, which he called an economic and social justice issue.
“My concerns over the impact to small business remains, but I think the modest year-by-year increases will lessen the impact,” Arambula said this week.
At a March 15 debate in Fresno, Olivier said a $15 minimum wage is an insane policy that would kill jobs and decimate small businesses.
“I’m a city council member. I can tell you quite confidently that if we had to up the minimum wage to $15 it would decimate the city of Fresno, too, and result in layoffs, as it would to Fresno State, as it would to the hospitals in our area,” Olivier said.
Another Democratic candidate, retired project engineer Ted Miller, is seen as less viable, but could draw enough votes to cause no candidate to receive more than half of votes cast and trigger a special runoff election. The winner of the special election is only guaranteed the seat through November, the end of Perea’s term.
Democrats currently hold 51 of the 80 Assembly seats; 54 votes are needed for the ability to raise taxes.