A Surprising GOP Victory in California

by John Fund

California Republicans were flattened in last year’s elections, but this week they got off the ground and won a key special election for the state senate in a strongly Democratic area which is 60 percent Hispanic.

Andy Vidak, a 47-year-old cherry farmer, won 54 percent of the vote in a sprawling district that stretches from Fresno to Bakersfield and is home to some 1 million people. Democrats hold a 22-point voter-registration advantage in the district, and Barack Obama carried it by 59 percent to 39 percent in 2008 against John McCain. It’s the area of California where NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson has his ranch. 

Vidak’s major issue was ending environmental rules that have choked off water allocations to Central Valley farmers. This year farmers south of the delta will receive only 20 percent of their contracted allocations. Smelt apparently need protection from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water pumps. Rather than deal with the wastewater from urban areas which are smelt’s biggest enemy, state officials are closing the spigot on the farms. Vidak summarizes the issue as being “fish versus farmer,” and liberals are enamored with the fish.

Leticia Perez, a county supervisor from Bakersfield, was Vidak’s Democratic opponent. Her issues were raising California’s minimum wage by $1.25 an hour and backing a bullet train from the Bay Area to Los Angeles as a job-creation program. Vidak scoffed that the train was a boondoggle. ”We don’t have clean drinking water in some areas of our district,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “And they want to build an $80 billion bullet train!”

Jim Brulte, a former leader of California state senate Republicans and the party’s state chairman, is cheered by the news of Vidak’s victory. While the issues he won on were local, environmental extremism may become a statewide issue next year as a renewable-energy mandate, cap and trade, and a low-carbon fuel standard are fully implemented. “As the issues liberals push hardest start hurting Californians, we will have opportunities to win,” he told me earlier this year. Certainly, Vidak’s strong victory is a sign that that could already be happening.