Last look at who's on Modesto-area ballots Tuesday

Candidates running for office in the Northern San Joaquin Valley didn't quite have the cash to steal air time from GOP governor candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.

Nevertheless, the region has a slate of competitive races set for Tuesday. Voters in Stanislaus County will get a new supervisor, auditor, judge, congressman, assemblyman and state senator. The county's sheriff faces a challenge, and so does its clerk.

Here's one last look at the choices Stanislaus County voters will make with their ballots:

Supervisor, District 3

Former state Agricultural Commissioner Bill Lyons tapped his extensive political network and his bank account to pull together more than $260,000 for his run for the seat on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors being vacated by Jeff Grover.

His opponent, Terry Withrow, didn't roll over. Withrow gathered more than $89,000 to make his case.

The candidates slammed each other in advertisements: Withrow's allies criticized Lyons' pension as a retired Modesto Irrigation District director and Lyons' friends struck at Withrow over a relative's transfer of groundwater out of Stanislaus County to south valley farms, a sale that's frowned upon by other farmers.

If he wins, Lyons would be the only Democrat on the board. Withrow pitched himself as independent of established politics, but he worked with former MID Director Mike Serpa.

— Adam Ashton

Supervisor, District 4

A race between three seasoned politicians to represent north- central Modesto and Del Rio is among the few local contests with a chance at heading to a fall runoff.

Incumbent Dick Monteith, a former state senator, is viewed as a nonconfrontational leader who would be 82 at the end of his second term. He has raised more money and is well known throughout the county.

Challengers Balvino Irizarry and Carmen Sabatino finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in a 2006 campaign won by Monteith. Irizarry served one term after his election to the Modesto City Council 23 years ago, and Sabatino was elected to one term as mayor in 1999. It looks as if they are duking it out for the chance to face Monteith in November.

— Garth Stapley

Stanislaus County Sheriff

Incumbent Adam Christianson is running for re-election as his department readies itself for drastic budget cuts that will force layoffs and reduce jail inmate space.

Challenger Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson is hoping to return to and lead the Sheriff's Department, where he worked for nearly 20 years.

Christianson's campaign boasts of a recent decline in the crime rate and promises that he's an experienced leader who can carry the department past the lean times. Jackson says he'll unify a divided department and correct mistakes made by Christianson's administration. He says he'll make fiscally responsible decisions, devising a plan to provide services using fewer employees.

— Rosalio Ahumada


The field to replace retiring Stanislaus County Judge Donald Shaver is a crowded one, with six candidates competing for the first shot at an open seat on the bench since 2002.

The list includes Stanislaus County Superior Court Commissioner Nancy Williamsen, Deputy District Attorney Shawn D. Bessey, and attorneys Martha Carlton-Magaña, Geoff Hutcheson, William Mussman and Philip A. Pimentel.

Voters may be lost in the pack because the candidates are discouraged from voicing personal opinions about laws on the books and how they would apply them impartially from the bench.

Thus, throughout the campaign, candidates avoided thorny topics like the state's "three-strikes" law, and were criticized at times for trumpeting endorsements.

The winner likely will secure a lifetime job, because it's rare for a challenger to unseat a judge.

— Merrill Balassone

19th Congressional District

Four Republicans are angling for the seat held since 1994 by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, who is retiring: State Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater, former Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund.

They generally agree in their conservative positions -- cut taxes, protect gun rights and the like. Sparks have arisen over campaign tactics, including claims that Denham and Pombo benefited from commercials for recent events put on by independent entities. They've been hitting each other hard in advertisements, which could benefit one of the Fresno candidates.

The Democratic primary pits Les Marsden, a music conductor in Mariposa, against Madera physician Loraine Goodwin. They face an uphill fight in November unless national party leaders decide that the Republican nominee is vulnerable.

The district takes in parts of Stanislaus and Fresno counties and all of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties.

— John Holland

25th Assembly District

This race could break several ways with five strong candidates vying for a safe Republican seat that covers six counties.

They are Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Ol- sen, former Modesto Councilwoman Janice Keating, former Modesto Councilman Bill Conrad, former Turlock Councilman Kurt Vander Weide and Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison.

Riverbank Councilman Jesse James White also is on the ballot, but the 21-year-old is a long shot after his May 14 arrest on suspicion of possessing small amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

Olsen and Keating lead the field in fund raising, but their opponents are fighting for votes in the district's rural foothill counties. All of them are conservatives who list cutting taxes, spending and regulation as priorities.

— Adam Ashton

14th Senate District

This seat opened unexpectedly in the fall when incumbent Dave Cogdill of Modesto chose not to seek re-election.

Assemblyman Tom Berryhill is the front-runner in a five-way race for the Republican nomination to the seat. He moved from Modesto to Oakdale for the campaign, and his opponents have characterized him as a carpetbagger for doing so. That charge hasn't stuck because voters in the district are familiar with him.

Fresno financial adviser Tom Marsella, Oakdale businessman Bret de St. Jeor, Columbia attorney Heidi Fuller and Manteca engineer Tim Campi round out the field. Marsella, de St. Jeor and Fuller have campaigned to Berryhill's right, arguing that he has compromised to work with Democrats. Berryhill says building relationships across the aisle is essential in advancing laws and Republican principles.

— Adam Ashton


Two-term incumbent Lee Lundrigan has a challenge from longtime title insurance provider Terry Harwell. The clerk-recorder manages elections and vital records from birth and death certificates to property records and marriage licenses.

Harwell touts his experience providing title insurance for residential, commercial and agricultural clients and supervising large staffs and budgets.

Lundrigan has a legal background and experience running the elections and records offices since 2002.

Harwell and his supporters argue Lundrigan is not a good manager, and Lundrigan says Harwell doesn't have the experience, especially in election law and practices, to lead the offices.

— Michelle Hatfield


For the first time in 28 years, Stanislaus County voters will have a choice for auditor-controller.

Two candidates will be on the June 8 ballot: Assistant Auditor-Controller Lauren Parrill Klein and Community Hospice Chief Financial Officer Rick Dahlseid.

Auditor-Controller Larry Haugh is retiring. Typically, the race has not drawn challengers, with auditor-controllers running unopposed and their assistants running unopposed when the auditor-controller retired.

Dahlseid wants to expand the role of the auditor-controller's office by lending its expertise to other county departments to improve efficiencies and to offer its services to nearby cities to generate revenue.

Parrill Klein wants the department to focus on its traditional duties and look for more operational efficiencies. She touts her experience in the private sector and county government.

— Kevin Valine

Proposition 16

This initiative would affect public utilities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It's sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and it would require a two-thirds vote before a public agency could create or expand a retail power system in an area where it is not the exclusive provider. The vote would be needed in the existing service area and the area proposed for service.

Proponents say such a vote is needed because electricity is a complex business and could put taxpayer money at risk. Critics see the measure as a brazen attempt by PG&E to choke off competition, and they note that power systems are funded by customer bills, not taxes.

The issue has drawn opposition from the Modesto Irrigation District, which competes with PG&E for power customers in some areas. Passage could complicate the effort by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to acquire the PG&E system in and around Escalon, Ripon and Manteca.

— John Holland

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star