The 83-year-old North Fork Town Hall played host to nearly 150 people who came out April 20 to hear and see the candidates running for Madera County District Attorney and Madera County Board of Supervisors District 5 seat.
Appearing at the head of the room at an extended table facing the crowd were all three district attorney hopefuls, including incumbent David Linn, current Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Hornick, and Fresno County Assistant DA Sally Moreno.
Seated alongside them was Tom Wheeler, incumbent District 5 supervisor seeking his fourth consecutive term in office, and his challenger, political newcomer Marc Sobel.
The 90-minute event ran smoothly with minimal acrimony and exceptional moderation provided by Tom Burdette, voted “North Fork Citizen of the Year” in February for his efforts on behalf of numerous local service organizations.
Although questions from the audience were not allowed, a “Round Robin” format provided ample opportunity for all candidates to express their positions. Questions were rotated between participants in a sequence determined by prior drawing with two minute opening and closing statements. Each initial response was followed by brief rebuttals.
Combining direct answers with subsequent dialogue, these were some of the debate highlights:
Wheeler thanked all for their support through the years. He cited many examples of achievements in office ranging from significantly increased influence for our mountain communities in county government to specific advances on dozens of fronts. In his role as this year’s Chairman of the Board, Wheeler promised a continuation of maximum participation in community events combined with open transparency and exceptional service to all constituents.
Linn found himself constrained by guidance from the California Attorney General’s office restricting him from making any comments regarding his current investigation into wrongdoing by members of the board of supervisors, which led to the board’s censure of him.
He offered thanks for the privilege of serving his first term and hoped he could “finish the job.” Linn mentioned his efforts on behalf of driver safety, his establishment of a mountain DA office in Oakhurst, his vigorous prosecution of drunk drivers with “no deals offered” and preparation for marijuana detection in the wake of California’s new relaxed provisions.
Linn said that Moreno did not “charge arsonists properly” in the Yosemite Lakes Park fires while she worked in the Madera office and that Hornick has greatly limited experience - assertions both denied.
Hornick declared that the office of District Attorney is “broken,” and that he looks forward to providing new leadership to a team of dedicated young attorneys. He alleged that the office had lost a substantial grant to cover a special DUI prosecutor due to Linn’s negligence, a loss Linn said had basically “cycled out.”
Hornick attacked Moreno for having “abandoned ship” in leaving Madera for Fresno County following Linn’s 2014 election, a decision for which Moreno firmly retorted she had no choice.
Hornick also launched the sharpest attack of the night against Linn, proclaiming, “David Linn wants your vote and your money,” referencing Linn’s recent $15 million claim against the county, which was denied. “I just want your vote.”
Moreno presented impressive credentials and stressed that she had earned more experience as a dedicated prosecutor than either of her opponents. A former army veteran and police officer born and raised in the Central Valley, Moreno started her career as a prosecutor in Merced 22 years ago, taking time off for motherhood with children now 19,17, 12 and 10.
It was during this hiatus that she “didn’t pay her California Bar dues” and “fell behind required continuing education” as mentioned by her opponents. She emphasized that a memo issued by Linn ostracizing her created isolation from the staff and removed meaningful responsibilities, precipitating her move to the Fresno DA’s office.
Among Moreno’s endorsements are the Madera County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Madera County Probation Officer’s Association, the Peace Officer’s Research Association of California, retired Sheriff John Anderson and Gary Gilbert, retired Madera County District 5 supervisor.
With regards to the District 5 race, challenger Sobel believed it is time for a change. He promised to echo Tom Wheeler’s established involvement with area organizations, stressing public safety as a major priority with special accent on the Fire Department, which Sobel considers woefully unmanned.
He called for a $5 million increase in fire funding per year for the next three years, to be obtained from corresponding decreases in various budget allocations already scheduled over the next few years. He wants to see improved response time by emergency medical responders and reset county priorities to place public safety first.
Sobel also voiced strong opposition to recreational marijuana usage in the county as a matter of common sense.
Wheeler rattled off a number of accomplishments in the county he has been a part of including the construction of 370 miles of fuel breaks to protect mountain communities, two new fires stations (Oakhurst and North Fork), purchased three new fire engines, three new water tenders and two new ladder trucks to be in service by this summer, gave paid Cal Fire firefighters their fist raise ever, funded all the sheriff’s office allotted positions, started a Sheriff’s Cadet program, and recently finished a new morgue.
The DA candidates will meet again at 6:30 p.m., April 26, at the Yosemite High School Theater.
The two DA candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the Nov. 6 General Election.
Since there are just two candidates, the District 5 supervisor seat will be decided in June.