A new generation of leaders

Change is in the air in San Benito County. Citizens turned out in record numbers Nov. 6 to elect new faces on a wide range of boards, and appointees replaced some incumbents.

  • In Hollister, three new supervisors were elected, joining one who was appointed in October. Only the mayor is a returning council member, after Ray Friend stepped down from his District 1 seat and Planning Commissioner Carol Lenoir was appointed in his place.
  • Two new San Benito County supervisors were elected.
  • A new Superior Court judge was elected to replace a retiring two-decade veteran.
  • A new county school board member was appointed to replace a nearly four-decade retiring incumbent.
  • Three new school board members were elected trustees in Hollister’s PreK-8 school district, and will lead the hiring of a new superintendent.
  • Hollister got a native son in the state Assembly.
  • Election of a second-generation congressman ensures his increased influence in a new House Democratic majority.

The newly elected leaders in the county also offer evidence of a stark generational shift from their predecessors.

The under-45 winners included Jimmy Panetta in the House (39), Robert Rivas in the Assembly (38), Carla Torres-Luna (43) in Hollister schools, Omar Rodriguez (37) in Superior Court and Rolan Resendiz (38) on the City Council.

Youth carried weight in this year’s election, which by all accounts saw the new ballot influence of so-called Millennial (under 30) voters.

Change was more than a word in the campaigns this summer and fall.

The youthfulness of these candidates embodied their calls for a “fresh” look and a new voices on their respective bodies.

The era of predictable outcome may be over in San Benito County. It was clear from this election that from now on, those seeking elected office need to press ideas over experience and real-life accomplishments over resumes, and rely less on good ol’ boy connections.

Felipe Hernandez told the Free Lance he is excited to bring a new perspective to the board. The former school board member believes his business background will provide much needed ideas on economic development in the county.

“I can sense that there’s definitely a hunger for a change in how we govern,” he told the Free Lance. “It feels like we haven’t really maximized our value in this community,” Hernandez said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Hernandez said he’s eager to work with fellow newcomer Jim Gillio and believes Gillio’s shared experience as a business owner—and former city council member—will boost the board with a new economic focus.

Hollister City Council newcomer Resendiz is a likely ally of Mayor Ignacio Velazquez on city issues. The mayor won re-election easily. Resendiz said his successful turning out of an incumbent makes it clear that Hollister residents want a change. “The numbers don’t lie,” said Resendiz. “People made their voices heard.”

The election of Resendiz and the other two new council members, along with two newly elected county supervisors, mark the start of a new era in Hollister politics.

It is now the job of the new members to bring residents back together, and bridge divisions of the past several years.

They may find a role model in Rivas, who moves from the board of supervisors to the Assembly.

Torres-Deluna, a 43-year-old social worker and parent of two students in the district, topped all candidates in the six-person field for the three Hollister Unified School District board seats, with 22 percent.

“It would be great if (the next superintendent) was bilingual, from Hollister or invested in our community and planning to live here. Also, (we want) someone who understands the diversity of our community, .and is willing to listen and work with everyone,” said Torres-Deluna, stating her own priorities—and perhaps those of her fellow next-generation leaders of San Benito County.

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