Political Notebook: In Central Valley, gay Wasco mayor Garcia seeks supervisor seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 14, 2024
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Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia is running for a seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia is running for a seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Back in 2013 Alex Garcia moved to San Francisco to work on placing a statewide hospital reform measure on the ballot. He crashed on the couch in a shared rental near the city's Golden Gate Park.

"I remember all the hills," recalled Garcia, 34, who grew up in the flat confines of Wasco, California, an agricultural community north of Bakersfield.

When a legislative deal made the proposition moot, Garcia joined the campaign of a friend running for a congressional seat in Fresno. After she lost her 2014 bid, he landed a job working for then-assemblymember Rudy Salas, who represented the part of the Central Valley where Garcia grew up.

"He helped me come back to Kern County," said Garcia, who had initially moved away after high school to attend Fresno State University, where he earned a B.A. in political science and government in 2012.

A year after returning to Wasco he won a City Council seat in 2016, making Garcia the first known out elected official in Kern County. He had come out as gay in college and to his family during Pride Month in 2013, when a court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in California.

"I think it is great I was the first and the youngest ever elected. But it is more important I am not the last," Garcia told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview to discuss his now running for a seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Garcia, elected to a second four-year council term in 2020, is now vying on the March 5 primary ballot against Supervisor David Couch, who aims to be reelected to his 4th District seat, along with Delano City Councilmembers Salvador Solorio-Ruiz and Veronica Cruz Vasquez, a social worker. If no candidate wins more than 50% percent of the vote then the top two vote-getters will faceoff on the November 5 ballot.

"I was the underdog then and the underdog now," Garcia acknowledged about his past and current candidacies.

He expressed confidence in securing one of the top spots and forcing the contest into a fall runoff race. He secured the Kern County Democratic Party endorsement late last year and recently was endorsed by the United Farm Workers.

"I am just the Democrat that is needed to win. I am a moderate Democrat. In Kern County, you have to be middle of the road, it is just how it is," said Garcia.

His political career looked precarious after he was pulled over for drunken driving in June 2021. He said most people assumed he would "run away and go into the shadows."

Instead, after the Kern County Superior Court found his blood-alcohol level hadn't exceeded the .08 % legal limit, Garcia pleaded no contest that August to a charge of reckless driving in connection with some consumption of alcohol, paid a $1,220 fine, and was put on probation for a year.

But his council colleagues did vote to remove him as mayor, as he had been serving in the ceremonial role for a second time that year. Garcia, who first served as mayor in 2019, told the B.A.R. he understood why they did so.

"I faced my consequences, faced my responsibilities, and faced the repercussions of my mistake," said Garcia. "It was just that, a mistake, though I never want to make light of it or make light of the situation. I learned from my mistake and moved forward. If anything, I want to share that lesson with others."

He received some redemption last December when his council colleagues voted him to serve as mayor a third time throughout 2024. Nonetheless, Garcia said he knows his arrest could be a factor with some voters in the supervisor race.

"I am not going to be surprised when they hit me with it and come after me for it," said Garcia, who since the summer of 2022 has worked as a licensed Realtor.

He is also cognizant of the fact he is a Democrat running against a popular Republican incumbent in a conservative region of the state. Garcia launched his campaign before Couch announced he would seek reelection.

He remained in the race because he believes it is time someone from a more rural part of the supervisorial district holds the seat. Couch, who was first elected in 2012 and is seeking a fourth term this year, lives in Bakersfield.

"Our residents deserve a representative who reflects our community and one who understands our experiences," said Garcia. "It goes beyond color or age. It is more about the lived experience."

Thus, among his priorities as supervisor would be paving county roads outside of the bigger cities, dealing with illegal dumping on side streets, better investment in county parks in the district, and utilizing libraries as hubs for county services.

"We need to bring Kern County into the 21st century," said Garcia. "I don't pretend to have all the solutions to the problems we face. But I pride myself with working with everybody to find solutions for our community and to bring people together."

Garcia has also pledged to assign staff to focus on the district's smaller towns.

"We deserve someone who understands rural communities' needs and the needs of our families, many of which are low-income families," said Garcia. "But we don't have that right now."

With 70% of Kern County voters adopting term limits for supervisors in 2022, Garcia told the B.A.R. he believes there is a desire for new leadership on the Board of Supervisors this year. Because it wasn't retroactive, the current supervisors are able to seek two more four-year terms.

"If that is not a mandate, I don't know what is," he said. "Voters want new leadership on the board of supervisors. They shouldn't have to wait for the next eight years."

LGBTQ statewide advocacy organization Equality California endorsed Garcia in November. He is one of several out candidates for supervisor running in the Central Valley in March primary races.

As no one filed to run against her, lesbian Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian of Visalia is assured of being reelected to her District 3 seat. She first won it in 2016.

Jennifer Cruz, the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission LGBTQ+ resource manager, is running against Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, a Republican who voted last year to create a board tasked with reviewing books in the county's library following complaints about LGBTQ titles it had displayed during Pride Month. LPAC, which aims to elect more LGBTQ women and nonbinary candidates to public office, this month endorsed Cruz, the mother of two children.

Outside of the Central Valley queer mom Monica Martinez, who grew up in Bakersfield, is running for the District 5 seat on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. Gay Skyforest resident Graham Smith is seeking the District 3 supervisor seat in San Bernardino County.

Gay former Vallejo city councilmember Michael Wilson is vying for the District 1 Supervisor seat in Solano County. In Alameda County, gay candidates Jennifer Esteen and John Bauters are running for the District 4 and District 5 seats, respectively, on the East Bay board of supervisors.

District 3 San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who is nonbinary and pansexual, is running for reelection. She is one of the eight known LGBTQ county supervisors in California.

The other six are all gay men. Martin Huberty serves in Calaveras County; Ken Carlson in Contra Costa County; Yxstian Gutierrez in Riverside County; and Rafael Mandelman, Matt Dorsey, and Joel Engardio all serve in San Francisco County.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on several Bay Area legislative candidates' stances on delaying unnecessary surgeries done to intersex children.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or email [email protected]

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