2017 is in the books and with it begs the question: who made 2017 here in the Central Valley.
As part of our continuing annual series of the most influential people and players in the Central Valley, CVObserver presents the Observer17.
17. Jim Bartko
The mysterious departure of Jim Bartko from the Fresno State Athletics Department may not fully be understood, but it is mighty intriguing. The man lured to the Valley from the friendly confines of Niketown to help guide Fresno State into a renewed era of top-flight competition.
In the end, we learned things about Bartko we never expected, much of it personal. And yet, it didn’t paint a complete picture of why he left amid one of Fresno State’s most successful seasons while tweeting as a spectator thereafter.
What remained, however, were glaring deficits for the Athletic program and its supporting foundation and grand designs for the future.
Fresno State faces perhaps its biggest challenge in attempting to keep up its Bartko-era moonshot dreams, including a massive overhaul of Bulldog Stadium, while hoping to return to the fundamentals of its business: putting Fresnans’ keisters in seats at Fresno State events, especially when the Dogs are hitting bowl games and Big Dances.
16. Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas
Stepping in and having to fire your top employee early into your new job is no easy task. Shortly thereafter having to deal with the vast majority of your employees on the verge of striking won’t be a picnic either.
That’s the reality Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas faced as a brand new member of the Fresno Unified School Board in December 2016. Now, as the new Board President of the district, she’s staring down a major teacher strike with little immediate hope of resolution.
Rosas didn’t get to this point on accident. Wife of Fresno Unified’s original dealmaker and swing vote, Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez, Rosas found a way to back an ouster of Superintendent Michael Hanson while wiggling her way to become Fresno Unified’s top trustee.
In 2018, she’ll have to find a way to bridge the gap between disgruntled teachers and budgetary realities.
15. Jerry Dyer
Call 2017 the quiet year for Jerry Dyer.
After celebrating his 15th year leading the Fresno Police Department, while simultaneously facing down a scandalous officer-involved shooting and the pending federal drug trafficking charges for his former second-in-command, Dyer’s 2017 was surprisingly quiet.
Crime hasn’t vanished from the streets of Fresno, but the forces driving crime rates upward are driven by Sacramento’s much-ballyhooed criminal reforms rather than an overworked police department. Instead, Dyer’s force is about to crack the 800-officer mark for the first time since the Great Recession and City Hall is still targeting a goal of 1,000 officers by the hopeful completion of Mayor Lee Brand’s tenure in 2024.
While Dyer’s presence on television is still as regular as any other year, he’s stayed away from the glitz and glam in his 16th year as chief that engulfed his 15th.
14. David Linn/Sally Moreno
The Madera County District Attorney is proving to be a character who would fit in nicely with Huey Long but is facing a situation not unlike
Linn, who ousted unpopular District Attorney Michael Keitz in 2014, found himself on the firing line in 2017. An independent investigation commissioned by the Madera County Supervisors found that Linn repeatedly harassed his employees, crime victims, and even local reporters while also making a number of racist statements in the office.
The resultant investigation report pushed the Supervisors to vote to censure Linn after Thanksgiving in the presence of a number of Madera County Grand Jury members.
Shortly thereafter, voicemail recordings of Linn threatening to arrest an insurance agent over a dispute with his personal insurance policy leaked. In the recordings, Linn demanded the agent also personally guarantee Linn’s policy with the agent’s assets.
Meanwhile, prosecutor Sally Moreno, now working for the Fresno County District Attorney and previously a top-lieutenant in Linn’s office, decided to take on her one-time boss in 2018.
The contest to be the chief law enforcement official in Madera County went from sleepy to wired.
13. Devon Mathis
One critical vote on the floor of the state Assembly placed Assemblyman Devon Mathis in hot water. Then the stove was turned up on high amid a national conversation on sexual harassment as allegations surrounded Mathis himself.
The salacious reports of alleged sexual assault of an unconscious staffer by Mathis were published by GOP activists in the wake of his vote to support extending California’s cap and trade program. The report led to an investigation into the alleged incident by the Sacramento Police Department which later ended its investigation, citing insufficient evidence.
Meanwhile, a critical issue in his reelection in 2016 – the Tulare Regional Medical Center’s so-called Tower of Shame – came crumbling down when the elected board of the hospital moved to end its management contract with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, led by Mathis ally Dr. Benny Benzeevi. The move forced the closure of TRMC.
2017 forced Mathis to weave around many dicey issues and political landmines. But with two GOP challengers already in the wings for 2018, how hot will the water get for the two-term Assemblyman?
12. Jeff Tedford
Call us Ted-heads.
After what could charitably be described as the most pitiful performance in the history of Fresno State football, the Bulldogs surged from a 1-11 record in 2016 to 10-4 in 2017 and (finally) a Christmas Eve victory at the Hawaii Bowl in Oahu.
The reason for the turnaround can be identified easily: Tedford. After three years of nonsensical quarterback controversy under Tim DeRuyter following Derek Carr’s departure for the NFL, Tedford settled on his man for 2017: Dinuba native and Oregon State transfer Marcus McMariyon.
McMariyon repaid the trust multiple times over, delivering the Dogs from the doldrums (where many analysts expected they’d stay in 2017) to the Mountain West championship, the Hawaii Bowl, and punching a plane ticket for the Hawaii Bowl trophy.
2018 brings Tedford two new challenges, namely avoiding the pitfalls that doomed his predecessor: recruiting aggressively in and out of the Valley and bring Fresno back to Bulldog Stadium.
The first appears to be in restored shape. The second is to-be-seen.
11. Jim Patterson
It’s not easy to stand against a wave. Jim Patterson also hasn’t taken the easy way out of things.
Still remembered for consistently arguing against an overbuilt Chukchansi Park, and later having his fiscal prudence proven correct, Fresno’s first strong mayor found himself in a familiar position. This time, however, it was in
Patterson found himself drummed out of the Assembly Republican Leadership after, according to Capitol insiders, voting for Bakersfield’s Vince Fong for GOP leader. He was also stripped of plum committee assignments.
All for casting a vote for the young guy with fresh ideas.
As for Jim Patterson, his in Sacramento may murky now, but his political future may be clear in 2019 when a certain Fresno County Supervisor post opens up.
10. Paul Caprioglio
These days, knowing where the wind blows on the Fresno City Council is less about paying attention to the loudest voice or angriest tweeter. Just lick your finger, hold it in the air, and peer over at the defense attorney from east Fresno on the dais.
Cap earned his nickname this year: Mr. Swing Vote. At critical junctures in the debates on rental housing, police oversight, and marijuana regulations, Caprioglio was not a key cog, but the key cog in deciding Fresno’s direction.
When it comes to the likely on-going war for recreational marijuana sales, don’t be surprised when Caprioglio serves as a deciding vote as to whether Fresno will take on the burdens and benefits of California’s decriminalized marijuana laws.
Meanwhile, City Hall horse trading on all other issues will still have to cross his desk before it gets to Mayor Lee Brand’s desk for OK.
9. Joseph Castro
Fresno State’s President faced quiet a year.
Outside of the frenetic environs of athletics, as detailed among other Observer17 honorees, Castro was focused on shedding other spotlights on his sprawling campus and tamping down a few negative ones, too.
Staring down controversy regarding adjunct Lars Maischak’s tweet stating that “…Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better,” Castro faced incredible pressure about what to do with a part time professor not-so-innocently musing to his 28 followers on Twitter.
Ultimately, Castro and Fresno State sacked Maischak.
Elsewhere, the President and his wife, Mary, worked to bring major thinkers to Fresno – including Washington Week‘s Robert Costa. And the university earned considerable plaudits from Washington Monthly as it was ranked 17th in the magazine’s national rankings for universities.
But, like many things at Fresno State, the high-voltage comes from sports. There, Castro delivered on one of his notoriously bold goals: he brought back NCAA wrestling to the university. Fresno, always a wrestling town, is spoiling for a good fight.
8. Bill McEwen
The dulcet tones of Bill McEwen may never be heard again in the newsroom at The Fresno Bee. But the bodybuilding opinion maker didn’t take the exit he once intended, leaving news for politics.
Instead, he decided to take on his old colleagues by competing as Editor-in-Chief at GVWire, the publication owned by Granville Homes and published by its owner Darius Assemi.
To call the move surprising would be an understatement. McEwen served as an anchor for the Fresno paper’s readers. Now, he’s breathing life into local new media. Meanwhile, the Bee and the McClatchy Company try to feel out the future without a guiding light and personality.
Love him or hate him, McEwen’s move is the beginning of the end of newsprint in Fresno.
7. Bob Nelson/Tish Rice
Bob Nelson’s path to Superintendent of Fresno Unified is circuitous and surprising.
The immediate resistance to his jovial disposition and happy warrior approach by Fresno’s teachers union, however, was downright shocking.
Endless negotiations with Nelson’s predecessor (and Nelson’s own boss prior to appointment) Michael Hanson led the Fresno Teachers Association, led by Tish Rice, to up the ante and eventually force a preemptive vote to strike in the fall.
Meanwhile, daily tweets haranguing Fresno Unified’s position and tactics reigned from FTA and its members. Nelson largely stayed out of the fray, with a major assist from his Board President Brooke Ashjian, who refused to shy away from the nonstop tweeting of FTA and its members.
The end of the fact finding process in their negotiations puts Fresno Unified and the Fresno Teachers Association at loggerheads. Strike looms. Will Bob Nelson and Tish Rice manage to overcome the daylight separating their contract positions?
Many hoping to cross the inevitable picket line for $500 per day substitute teaching positions sure hope not.
6. Andreas Borgeas
It was billed as the race of the decade. The race of the Valley. Ambitious Fresno politicians fighting other ambitious Fresno politicians, perhaps with a spoiler from Stanislaus County to add drama.
The race for the 8th Senate District was handcrafted for a repeat of the 2002 election that sent Devin Nunes to Washington or the 2010 race that sent Jeff Denham to the House.
In the hunt for this seat: Fresno City Councilmen Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier, Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, Assemblyman Jim Patterson, and former Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen.
Then there was Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas.
Slowly but surely, his fundraising prowess squeezed each and every one of the above names out. He, the Political ATM of Fresno, had hauled in roughly a half-million by midyear with eyes firmly set on Sacramento.
After a surprise win for the future of the San Joaquin River trail project, Borgeas is well-equipped for his 2018 run.
Now prepare for the race of the decade to emerge for his Supervisor seat in 2019.
5. David Valadao
The Hanford dairyman started 2017 being sworn in for his third term in the House of Representatives and hit the ground running by introducing major water legislation in the form of the GROW Act, which would greatly increase storage and conveyance of water to the Central Valley.
The bill made grower groups and water agencies across the Central Valley skittish, in spite of support from the President and the House. Such skittishness may eventually lead to a reckoning on what these groups aim to accomplish with ever-slimming water access.
Meanwhile, Valadao-sponsored legislation accounted for roughly 10% of all bills that became law in 2017. With only 97 bills becoming law in 2017, his Social Security Fraud Prevention Act hit the Resolute Desk for President Trump’s signature in September.
Now, works to prepare for another difficult election cycle. Fresh off tax reform success, offering a major lift for his rural, standard-deduction-heavy district, Valadao’s electoral success might be tied to the pocketbooks of the South Valley.
4. Brooke Ashjian
The weight of the FBI and U.S. Attorney wasn’t solely enough to push Michael Hanson out at Fresno Unified. It required a solid shove by Brooke Ashjian once he claimed the Board presidency of the school district.
Hanson, he of bond finance scandals, hard-nosed boardroom tactics, and bureaucratic insulation, was ousted by the paving mogul.
Ashjian’s flashy, Trump-before-Trump approach to his school board post delivered countless headlines, and a Kanye West-inspired declaration that “the Fresno B[ee] stood for Brooke.”
That approach led him to a raft of hot water come the second half of the year, where he fanned controversy following an interview with The Fresno Bee regarding the district’s sex education curriculum. Meanwhile, he served as the district’s public negotiator sparring with the Fresno Teachers Association on Twitter over contract offers, benefits, and media tactics.
Whether he decides to run for re-election in 2018 is still murky. But Ashjian still is certainly the most lively to sit on the Fresno Unified school board, with 2017 serving as a flashpoint.
3. Lee Brand
Fresno’s new Mayor came out of the shoot focused on instilling stability after Fresno emerged from a debt-crippled era.
His first days consumed by approving regulations on Fresno’s rental housing industry, Brand eventually turned his attention to the issue that will likely consume the next four-to-eight years of his life: rapidly expanding Fresno’s economy.
The first step was landing major logistics outposts for Ulta and Amazon. Mission accomplished, Mr. Mayor.
With few missteps and gaffes to note, Brand managed to stay focused on serving as the manager he sold himself as in 2016.
Along the way, some important policy changes – including a renewed lease on life for the police auditor and new police oversight – positioned Brand as the Mayor for all of Fresno.
In 2018, it’s likely back to expanding the economic pie and growing jobs through business friendliness.
2. Garry Bredefeld
For the first six months of 2017, whatever stability Lee Brand hoped to establish, Garry Bredefeld aimed to disrupt.
And in those early months, Bredefeld weekly seized the narrative at City Hall with impunity. From taking aim at Sacramento’s misguided policy decisions to waging a year-long war on legalized marijuana, Bredefeld found himself at the center of attention of Fresno’s agenda.
He was, for all intents and purposes, Fresno’s shadow mayor.
While the marijuana issue is anything but settled, Bredefeld demonstrated in first months as a returned member of the City Council what kind of artillery he can bring to a policy or political fight.
It can also get him into trouble, as demonstrated when he took aim at the NFL’s anthem protest in a campaign-style speech delivered from the City Council dais during a meeting, leading to a standoff between him, City Clerk Yvonne Spence, and Councilman Oliver Baines.
Playing with fire can be dangerous.
But all the flair means one thing: Bredefeld is showing that he didn’t return to City Hall just to serve two terms and retire to a life of golf. The lingering question in 2018 and beyond is what will Fresno’s newest member of the aggressive politico caucus do next?
1. Devin Nunes
Who knew there were that many ways to pronounce the name Nunes?
We sure found out by the spring, when the Valley’s longest-serving member of Congress became the most-talked-about player in Washington as the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election.
Such intense, 24/7 scrutiny led Rep. Devin Nunes to temporarily step aside from his committee’s investigation while the House Ethics Committee reviewed and cleared him from a scurrilous inquiry.
Meanwhile Democratic challengers a-plenty emerged to take their best shot at Nunes in 2018.
As a cottage industry of Kremlinologists emerges, eyes remain on Nunes and the House Intelligence committee as they investigate Russian influence in the 2016 election.
At home, he aided his neighbor, David Valadao, in rapping farmers and water districts on the knuckles to get in line and back the GROW Act as it circulated through the House of Representatives.
Good connections in the White House, built from his time on the Trump transition team, and an overnight celebrity delivered a whirlwind of a 2017 for Devin Nunes.
And it’s NOO-Nehz, for the record.