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 David Shepard

Like many Republicans in deep-blue California, David Shepard has a stern message for those at our state Capitol.

“At this point in California history with more people leaving our state than ever before, two years in a row of record numbers fleeing our state, something is not going right in Sacramento,” Shepard said.

Born in Visalia and raised between Arroyo Grande and Porterville, Shepard has spent much of his life working as a supervisor on the table-to-grapes operation of his family farm in Porterville.

The 29-year-old father of two graduated from UCLA, where he did an internship with Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy. But entering politics himself was never really on his mind.

Until March 2020.

“I was very inspired to jump in because of COVID-19 and just seeing how the authoritarian government was reacting to a lot of the situations,” Shepard said.

That led Shepard to reach out to his contacts in McCarthy’s office, noting, at that point, there was no Republican candidate running for the 16th Senate seat.

“The problem that I had was that there wasn’t going to be a another Republican running. That’s a problem,” he said.

Shepard decided to jump in the race himself, determined to make a difference and turn the tide on what he said is often the party’s reputation.

“I think there is a major disconnect between young people and the Republican party. A lot of that is due to over the course of years just a stigma wrapped around Republican ideology,” Shepard said. “As a person of Latino heritage as well, I believe there is an opportunity to really garner the Latinos into the Republican party as well.”

Shepard has received the endorsement of Kern’s most influential Republicans: McCarthy along with Senator Shannon Grove and Assemblyman Vince Fong.

Among his top issues are opening up our natural resources such as oil and water, building water storage and addressing crime. But it’s one sentiment in particular that’s driving his first political bid.

“This used to be the land of opportunity and it’s not and it’s disheartening for me and that is why I’m running.”