The ballot for the Statewide Direct Primary Election on Tuesday, June 5, is as complicated as ever and in no previous year was it more important to have a sample ballot to study to learn the players. It is, of course, not reasonable to expect even a majority of the 51 candidates on the state ballot to show up for a town meeting in Three Rivers.
But the Three Rivers Village Foundation recognized the importance of inviting candidates in the county races that affect Three Rivers directly. So counting two stand-ins, who along with the three actual candidates attended Monday night’s town meeting, five of nine local candidates on the June 5 ballot were represented.
The meeting was moderated by David Wood a member of the Three Rivers Village Foundation board of directors. The format allowed for all five participants to make statements followed by discussion of campaign issues prompted by questions from the audience.
Roland Hill: Assessor/Clerk Recorder— Hill began by telling the audience that as the incumbent he has the experience of serving as assessor/clerk recorder since 2008. He called his challenger, Bradley Stailey, a “phantom opponent.”
“I have yet to meet Stailey, nor has he attended any of these campaign events,” Hill said. “I have more than 39 years of experience in this field so I’m the best candidate for the job.”
Hill said there is more than $35 billion on the county tax rolls so it’s a big responsibility to keep track of the books. For the past eight years he has worked to improve the efficiency of the office and enhance the customer’s experience.
Craig Wheaton: Superintendent of Schools— For the past two years, Dr. Wheaton has served as deputy superintendent under Jim Vidak, who has held that office for nearly 30 years. Wheaton grew up on a chicken ranch near Placerville.
“From my mom, who was a teacher, I learned that education has the power to change lives, and from my dad, who worked in agriculture, I learned about hard work,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton said he has administrative experience in every kind of school district there is in Tulare County from 20 students to 20,000. His primary responsibility as deputy superintendent has been to oversee the budgets of all the county districts.
He worked for the Visalia Unified School District from 2004 to 2016 and is proud of his team’s accomplishments, especially improving the graduation rates and starting the Learning Academies program where students can prepare for college or jobs after they graduate.
Tim Hire: Superintendent of Schools— Standing in for Hire was longtime Three Rivers resident and Woodlake Unified board member Kent Owen. He said he recognized something special in Hire when he first applied for a staff position as an ag instructor at Woodlake High in 1997.
While at Woodlake over the next 10 years, Hire rose from teacher to high school principal and then district superintendent. Since 2012, Hire has served as the superintendent of the Exeter Unified School District, returning to his hometown district where his two children are currently students.
A graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Hire has a strong background in agriculture, and there is no better skill set to serve in a county that is predominately ag, Owen said.
Once Hire is elected, Owen said, he plans to visit all 43 school districts and 24 charter schools in the county at least once during his first year.
“I want to hear from staff and students about what they are most proud of and what challenges they are facing to achieve the highest levels of student success,” wrote Hire in a recent email. “Staff and student safety has to be on the mind of every educator and parent across the nation. The fact that I have been endorsed by the Tulare County Deputy Sheriff’s Association demonstrates my commitment to having safe schools.”
Tim Ward: District Attorney— Ward is the incumbent and has served as Tulare County District Attorney for the past five-and-a-half years. His number one priority, he said, is to hold criminals accountable.
“My focus is on the victims of crimes,” Ward said. “Crimes against children, law enforcement officers, domestic violence, and elder abuse whether it be physical or financial.”
Ward reported his department and its human-trafficking program has rescued dozens of young girls who were trapped in a downward spiral in Tulare County. In general, all crime and specifically ag-related crime (down 10 percent) has dropped to new lows while he has been the county’s DA, he said.
Matt Darby: District Attorney— Dr. Clayton Diltz, a National Guard chaplain, acted as stand-in on behalf of Matt Darby. Diltz read a prepared statement from candidate Darby. The son of migrant farmworkers, Darby was born and raised in Tulare County.
He has worked as a prosecutor in Kings and Tulare counties for the past 12 years. He knows first-hand how crime has changed in the last generation, including an escalation in gun violence..
Darby’s expertise in court has been methamphetamine sales and crimes against children. He also knows that crime in Tulare County is disproportionately gang-related.
“If I am elected DA, I want to stick it to the gangs and let them know this county does not belong to them,” Darby said in his statement. “The current case load involving gangs contains the largest amount of defendants in the history of the county.”
Darby also said that jail or prison time should not mean that someone’s life is over.
“I have the endorsements of multiple police officer associations,” Darby said. “The boots on the ground support me.”