The five candidates running for the new 5th District Assembly seat gathered in Mariposa Feb. 23 -- the first time they've made an appearance together this election season.
The candidates at the meeting, hosted by the Mariposa Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the local Republican, Democrat and Independent parties, included Republican candidates Frank Bigelow, a Madera County supervisor, and Rico Oller; Democrat candidates Marc Boyd and Tim Fitzgerald; and Independent Mark Beldon.
The new district boundaries encompass nine counties stretching from Interstate 80 in Placerville in the north, to Madera County in the south. Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen currently holds the 5th District seat.
California recently approved an open primary system, meaning those with the most votes in the June primary will advance to the general election in November. In the past, only one nominee chosen by each party advanced to the November election.
"We are a brand new district and we have a unique opportunity to start fresh with five candidates," said Kathy McCorry, new executive director for the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce. "I think it's important that we know who we are voting for in the June primary and that we vote."
Frank Bigelow of O'Neals is a four-term Madera County Republican supervisor representing District 2.
His family has lived in Madera County and owned Ponderosa Telephone Company and cattle ranch Bigelow Farms for more than 100 years, showing "staying power" and a commitment to the community, Bigelow said.
Bigelow worked his way up the ranks of Ponderosa Telephone to vice president, and remains active with his family's cattle ranch.
Bigelow is also a past-president of the California State Association of Counties, representing 58 counties.
"I've already represented you in our state," he said.
He said he's running in this election to help make a better future for his three children and two grandchildren.
Bigelow said he will work to stop excessive government regulations if elected.
"It's hard to do even the simplest of things (like build a shed in your backyard) -- you can't do it," Bigelow said. "Regulations are killing us. When you talk about the root problem with jobs, it's there -- regulations."
Mark Belden is a 20-year resident of Calaveras County and a former Republican who is now an Independent -- considering himself "socially moderate and fiscally conservative."
"I tell voters I'm the uncommon candidate with common sense," Beldon said.
He said that if he is elected he will get the economy going and stay business-friendly, improve the environment, and change regulations that drive businesses out of California.
Beldon worked as an occupational safety and health manager in Burlingame and received a general building contractor license in 1994 and founded M C Beldon, later developing many steel frame home components.
Marc Boyd of Arnold in Calaveras County is the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party for the district seat.
He currently works as a substitute teacher and his family has owned a small real estate business in the district for many years.
Boyd said he is "tired of gridlock" and that he will help create a robust economy and eliminate cuts. Education cuts are short changing future generations of Californians and staff levels at local fire and sheriff stations need to be returned to what they were, he said.
Boyd said he'd like to see a "gold country spirit" -- working with all businesses and chambers in the 5th District to better capitalize on its incredible scenic beauty. It is also "unacceptable" to not be involved in environmental protection or clean energy in a district with such "beauty, scenic parks, rivers and forests," he said.
"I won't work for special interest, I will work for you," Boyd said. "I want for this district what everyone in this room wants. A robust economy, good schools and safe neighborhoods."
Tim Fitzgerald is a Democrat from Soulsbyville in Tuolumne County.
Fitzgerald, who considers himself "something of a renegade," said he has a grassroots approach and has been very involved in green activism.
"I've been active for 40 years, I've really paid my dues," he said.
Fitzgerald said he has five degrees from San Jose State and has written half a dozen articles and books on socio-economic issues.
He said he wants to help the people at the bottom of the society the most, but that "it's hard to see people on welfare who don't try to pick themselves up by their boot straps."
Fitzgerald said the handicapped and underprivileged are of great concern to him, and that reform is needed in the prison and healthcare systems, along with the homeless.
"It doesn't mean spending a lot of money, it means reorganizing how things are done," he said.
Thomas "Rico" Oller is Republican from San Andreas in Calaveras County.
In 2000, Rico won election to the California State Senate representing its 1st District (Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento and Sierra counties). From 1996 until his election to the Senate, Rico represented the 4th Assembly District (the lower half of his Senate seat).
He started up Material Ventures, Inc. in 1981 and is currently chairman of the board of his company, employing about 40 people in San Andreas, Jamestown, Merced and Placerville.
"We are fast approaching a day of reckoning," Oller said. "We have completely over stepped our bounds ... California is nothing more than a really, really badly run corporation."
Oller said the state can't borrow anymore money and that it must cut more people to survive.
"We better elect some grown-ups," he said, adding that regulations have gotten out of hand and that he does not believe in global warming.
"We need people who actually understand how to run a business."