BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — This November, voters in Kern will face a slate of options at the ballot box. 17 News is sitting down with Kern’s candidates so the county can make informed decisions.

The 16th Senate district includes Kings county and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern. It is a Latino-majority district that leans Democratic in terms of registration.

This was a packed five-candidate race in the primary, but Republican David Shepard and Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado emerged in the top two spots, meaning they will face-off in November.

A closer look at Melissa Hurtado

The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, raised in the Fresno County city of Sanger, Melissa Hurtado says she has a heart that bleeds for the Central Valley.

“Well, some say that I’m the female version of Joe Manchin. And I like to say, no, I’m just, I’m just a girl from the Valley,” Hurtado said.

The 34-year-old may shrug off comparisons to the notoriously moderate-Democrat West Virginia U.S. Senator, but Hurtado still considers working across the aisle — and occasionally crossing it — a pillar of her time in public office, starting with her first role in government when she was elected to Sanger’s City Council in 2016.

“I was only woman, I was the youngest one, I had to work with, four men. And I’m very proud of that working relationship that I established with each one,” she said. “It was a bipartisan effort.”

In 2018, Hurtado went on to run for the Valley’s 14th Senate seat, beating Republican incumbent Andy Vidak and becoming the youngest woman ever elected to California’s State Senate at 30.

“I felt that at that moment, and I still feel [this] way, at times, to be honest with you, the Valley is often not heard. But we needed more,” she said.

Now rounding out her first term in office, Hurtado is seeking re-election. She first launched a bid for the 14th district, which included Sanger, and, after redistricting, pitted her against another Democratic incumbent. Hurtado then decided to switch to the 16th, saying it was hard to choose between her hometown and the district that includes most of the area she represents now.

“I’ve been working on all things oil and protecting jobs here, I’ve been working on making sure that moms are are protected from doctors that could harm them,” she said. “Those are issues that are specific to Bakersfield.”

Hurtado says she is proud of the work she has done on water during her four years in Sacramento, pointing to her efforts getting funding to repair the Friant Kern Canal.

“I want to solve problems. That’s why I went to Sacramento,” Hurtado said. “And if I can’t solve them, or if I’m not effective, then I shouldn’t be there. But I feel like I have been effective.”

If re-elected she wants to continue her work on water and health care.