Political novice from Modesto to challenge the 'pro'

Terry Withrow's quest to undermine the premature "coronation" of a popular figure, he says, starts today in a barn.

The symbolism of Withrow's kickoff for a county government race speaks to the earthy, common-man approach he hopes to cultivate in next year's run against Bill Lyons. Lyons announced his candidacy Nov. 11 while surrounded by supporters at a country club outside the district that both men want to represent.

"Bill has been in this business a long time," said Withrow, a first-time candidate seeking to succeed Jeff Grover as District 3 supervisor for Stanislaus County. Grover and his predecessor, Nick Blom, were present at Del Rio Country Club when Lyons, state agriculture secretary under Gov. Davis, launched his bid.

"Bill is one of the professional politicians," said Withrow, a Modesto certified public accountant who also farms where he lives in a rural area west of Modesto. "I know there is a school of thought that says you need all these connections, and Bill has them, but it's not working for us. We can't continue to see them running the show because they're running it into the ground."

Withrow, 49, is not fond of Gerry Kamilos' dream to build a huge industrial complex on a former Navy air base near Crows Landing, one of the county's most controversial issues. Grover and three of the five current supervisors support Kamilos' West Park despite strident opposition from West Side communities.

District 3 includes Salida, west Modesto and parts of northwest Modesto, running north to the Stanislaus River.

Withrow's in-laws have farmed in Westley and Patterson for decades, and he grows grapes on his home ranch, plus almonds near Firebaugh.

Farmland protection will be a big part of his platform, Withrow said, as will economic development, public safety and ending "huge health and pension benefits for a select few" county government retirees. He'll frame his campaign as a nonpolitical outsider taking on "big government."

"I respect Bill," Withrow said. "He's a good man. I like him. But we see things very differently. Professional politicians just aren't getting it anymore."

'Conservative values'

Lyons, a Democrat, was county Farm Bureau president and has served on the boards of directors for the Modesto Irrigation District and Doctors Medical Center.

Withrow's talking points include "conservative Republican values."

The race is nonpartisan, but Withrow said it's not reasonable to expect that politics won't come up. His camp says registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 17,000 to 12,000 in District 3, but each party has cast about half the total votes in the past three major elections, he said.

Born in Fresno, Withrow has lived in the Modesto area since he was a boy and attended St. Stanislaus School and Central Catholic High School before obtaining a bachelor's degree at California State University, Stanislaus. He formed an accounting firm 25 years ago in downtown Modesto and has farmed for 15 years.

Withrow and his wife, Christen, have four children ranging in age from 12 to 23. He helped found St. Luke's Family Practice and the Stanislaus County Farmland Trust and serves on boards governing the Woodland Avenue Fire District, Gallo Center for the Arts and Central Catholic High School. He is a Stanislaus County Assessment Appeals Board member.

The filing period for the June 3 election opens Feb. 11. Also on the ballot is the District 4 seat held by Supervisor Dick Monteith, 77, covering Del Rio and much of Modesto.

Terry Withrow is scheduled to announce his candidacy today at 4:30 p.m. in Jan de Witte's barn at 7841 Paradise Road, Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.