Helms Lewis, Silveira, Win Big Time In County Vote

June 7, 2018

Change doesn’t always come easy, but sometimes on Election Night, the energy and motivation to create a new beginning comes crashing through.

Political newcomer Kimberly Helms Lewis helped relay a strong message from voters on Tuesday night with a landslide victory over incumbent District Attorney Larry Morse for the job of being the county’s top prosecutor.

"We've campaigned based on bringing change to Merced County, and they let us know tonight they agree that change is what they're looking for too," she said.

Helms Lewis received nearly 66 percent of the vote, with 11,171 out of 16,987 votes cast in the race, compared to Morse’s 34.11 percent, or 5,794 votes.

The 47-year-old, District Attorney-elect immediately promised to lead the DA’s Office with a “tough, fair, and honest” approach.

“The hard work starts tomorrow,” she said, adding a thank you to Morse for dedicating 26 years to the office. “Hopefully, we will be working together to bring about a smooth transition.”

In reaction to the election, Morse said: “I congratulate Ms. Lewis on a decisive victory and pledge to do everything necessary to ensure a smooth transition. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as district attorney and especially the opportunity to work with the incomparable employees of our office, who have done so much to make our county safer.”

Helms Lewis came onto the political scene only a few months ago — around the same time the Merced Sun-Star published allegations from three former prosecutors who said Morse inappropriately kissed a married subordinate employee and made sexual comments to women in the office. Morse denied any wrongdoing and said the allegations were incidents taken out of context.

However, Helms Lewis appeared to be boosted by local undercurrents of the national #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as she highlighted serious concerns about the sexual harassment allegations, along with possible rifts between the DA’s Office and other county offices, and legal decisions that had the appearance of being politically motivated.

While the idea wasn’t brought up much in the campaign, Helms Lewis made history this week by shattering a long-standing glass ceiling of Merced County politics.

She is now believed to be the first woman ever to be elected to lead the DA’s Office since it first opened more than a century and a half ago.

Silveira elected supervisor

Not as surprising, but equally impactful is the dominant win by Scott Silveira over three other candidates in the race for the “West Side” District 5 seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

Silveira of Los Banos received a whopping 69 percent of the vote, with 2,367, compared to his closest competitor Patrica Ramos Anderson of Santa Nella, with 19.76 percent, or 758 votes.

For the past seven years, Silveira, a dairyman, has served on the Los Banos City Council, and is a self-proclaimed protege of longtime District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion, who is retiring from the board after an amazing 28-year run.

Before the Times press deadline Wednesday morning, all signs indicated there would be no runoff in the District 5 race because Silveira had way more than the 50 percent + 1 needed to win the county seat outright. However, there were still plenty of absentee and provisional ballots left to count this week.

“All the hard work paid off and the community rewarded me,” Silveira told the Times on Wednesday morning. “Last night, I was not nervous. I knew I gave it everything I had — physically and emotionally — and ultimately it was in the hands of voters. They believed in our message.”

If his big lead holds, Silveira said he plans to take time during the summer to get to know the inner-workings of County Administration and meet all the department heads. He plans on being a strong voice for the West Side, and work on economic development plans such as an new industrial park outside of Los Banos. He also is seeking a priority list of road improvements for his district and increased cooperation with the Sheriff’s Department to improve public safety in West Side neighborhoods.

Tietjen’s work pays off

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, County Superintendent of Schools Steve Tietjen said he was taking nothing for granted while campaigning across the entire county to serve local students for another four years.

“I’m a competitor at heart,” he told the Times on Election Night, “and you respect your opponent by working as hard as you can. … And you play fair.”

Tietjen earned 53 percent of the vote, with 8,833, compared to his challenger, Richard Lopez, with 46.59 percent, or 7,739.

Lopez, who is the superintendent of the small Merced River School District, was considered the underdog of the race, but he managed to keep the results pretty close — losing by a little more than 1,000 votes.

“I’m glad it’s done and over with,” Tietjen said, looking forward to continuing his goals on the education front.

The superintendent wants to change the perception of Merced County as a place where there is underemployment and an undereducated workforce to a place where people want to come, and executives want to bring their companies.

His administration has been targeting literacy rates in the crucial period of preschool to third grade when some students can fall behind. New strategies are encouraging reading at home as well as in school, and looking at child care income options.

Tietjen has also been improving ties with UC Merced and Merced College, working to increase local college scholarships, and bringing greater student access to summer programs such as Camp Green Meadows, performing arts events, and STEM activities.

It’s Caballero vs. Poythress

Candidate for State Senate, District 12, Rob Poythress ran a blistering advertising campaign backed by Republican donors to discredit his GOP challenger Johnny Tacherra.

And it appears to have worked.

Poythress earned 26.8 percent of the vote, or 16,277, compared to Tacherra’s 23.6 percent, or 14,343, to take the second spot for an eventual runoff in the November General Election.

The overall winner in the race was Democrat Anna Caballero, with 41.2 percent, or 25,017 votes. However, Caballero should have her hands full in the runoff because District 12 has been represented by Republicans for decades, and her GOP challengers this week had way more combined votes than she did.

Caballero says she’s the logical choice for the Senate job based on her experience, ability and mission to improve the economies of rural communities in a district comprised of parts of Monterey County, including Salinas, as well as parts of San Benito, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera and Fresno counties.

“Part of the advantage of having a Democrat is that I’m in the caucus that’s making the decisions,” she told the Times. “I’m in the caucus that is determining where resources are going to be spent, and how bills affecting the district are going to be managed. And I have a real track record of working really hard on rural issues and being able to actually make things happen.”

Poythress, a Madera County supervisor and farmer, has called the race “critical” to Republicans who are trying to gain ground in the battle against a Democrat-controlled state government.

This is the fourth consecutive election loss for Tacherra, who came close to defeating Congressman Jim Costa in the midterms some years ago.

Costa vs. Heng

Speaking of Costa, the incumbent Democrat representing the 16th Congressional District, received 53 percentage points, or 24,139 votes, over GOP newcomer Elizabeth Heng, with 47 percent of the vote, or 21,491.

The 16th District leans Democratic, but Costa has survived a couple close calls from Tacherra and Andy Vidak in midterm elections due to poor Democratic voter turnout.

Since this Congressional race featured only one challenger, Costa and Heng are headed to the General Election.

It’s basically a progress report. And Heng … well … she did all right.

Expect Costa, a longtime Valley representative with a substantial war chest, to go all out come November.

Said Costa, “My commitment to do the best job possible for the people of the 16th Congressional District and our state has never wavered, and on Election Day, the voters gave me the encouragement to continue. To that end, I will always be the strongest advocate for meaningful solutions that will give us a reliable water supply. In addition, we can’t stop fighting for adequate healthcare for all, job creation and improvements to our infrastructure. I plan to work hard, and campaign hard, and encourage everyone to remember they need to turn out and vote in November to make sure their voices are heard.”

Measure Y passes

They said there was no reason not to vote yes on Measure Y.

And City of Merced voters agreed.

Measure Y, a tax on marijuana sales, passed Tuesday night with 77 percent of the vote, or 4,156 YES votes, compared to 1,247 NO votes, out of 5,403 total votes cast.

Basically, Measure Y authorizes the Merced to tax the local cannabis industry (the business owners, not the pot smokers) on the sale of recreational marijuana by up to 10 percent.

All proceeds from the sales tax will be spent exclusively on public safety — police and fire — and parks and recreation. Each area will get 20 percent of total proceeds each year, with the council directing the remaining 40 percent to where it’s needed most among the three.

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