WASHINGTON -- An organization now headed by former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry has pumped $3,000 into a long-shot campaign to defeat Autry's fellow Republican, Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa.
Autry himself, though, still supports Radanovich's re-election bid. The June 3 contribution to Radanovich's opponent came before Autry joined the group, called Families Protecting the Valley.
The seemingly mixed signals reflect some turbulence in San Joaquin Valley politics. Organizations are changing, challengers are arising and candidates are adapting to new circumstances.
"There's a lot of frustration about water in the Valley, and people are expressing that in various ways," Radanovich said Monday.
With more than a year to go before the 2010 election, Radanovich appears comfortably situated to retain the job he's held since 1995. Republicans enjoy a 44 percent to 37 percent voter registration advantage in the 19th Congressional District, which stretches from Modesto to Fresno via the Sierra Nevada.
Radanovich reports having $124,752 in available campaign cash. This is less than his Valley colleagues. It is considerably more, though, than his sole declared Democratic challenger, musician and Mariposa County Planning Commissioner Les Marsden.
Late last week, Marsden reported having $11,083 in available campaign cash. Though it's still early in the campaign cycle, Marsden's fundraising to date hasn't been enough to attract national Democratic attention.
"I've promised to spend no more money than our campaign raises," Marsden said Monday, adding that "actually, the goal is $1.6 million. Or more as needed."
The largest single contribution to Marsden's campaign came on June 3, when Madera-based Families Protecting the Valley provided a $3,000 check. Madera County farmers founded the organization years ago to fight an underground water bank proposed by the energy company Enron.
Families Protecting the Valley has since shifted focus to encompass opposition to a San Joaquin River restoration plan supported by Radanovich.
"It's an educational deal, and we're going to create pressure on the politicians to do the right thing," almond farmer and Families Protecting the Valley board member Denis Prosperi said Monday.
Prosperi is a Republican, as are other board members including Autry and businessman Robert Smittcamp. Prosperi, Smittcamp and prominent Madera County farmer Kole Upton were all vocal critics of Radanovich's San Joaquin River restoration legislation, which has passed Congress.
Prosperi, though he is not supporting Radanovich personally, stressed Monday that the $3,000 contribution made in June was a decision made by a "previous board of directors" and not by Autry or the current leadership. He said that the revamped organization will not be endorsing candidates, despite the $3,000 contribution made two months ago.
"George Radanovich, I feel, has done a good job fighting for the water," Autry said, "but everybody has got to step it up."
Since leaving the Fresno mayor's office last year, Autry has been hosting a morning talk show on KYNO radio station. As the new, part-time executive director of Families Protecting the Valley, Autry said his organization's "mission is to inform, to educate and to expose."