BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — This June and 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.

We are turning to one of the most competitive races in the nation — The Central Valley’s 22nd congressional district, which includes parts of Kern, Kings and Tulare counties as well as portions of cities such as Bakersfield, Hanford, Tulare, Arvin, Delano and Porterville.

This is a Latino-majority district that leans Democratic in terms of registration. Voters in this district would have voted for Joe Biden in 2020 by a margin of almost 13%. However, Republicans have seen high turnout in this region previously. Incumbent David Valadao (R-Hanford) won this area as a Republican on the same ticket in which the district voted for Biden by a margin of about 11%.

Three candidates are hoping to unseat Valadao: Republican Chris Mathys, Republican Adam Medeiros and Democrat Rudy Salas.

A closer look at Rudy Salas

Rudy Salas says his interest in holding public office came at an early age, sparked by his boyhood streets in Bakersfield near the Kern County Fairgrounds.

“That part of the city, it’s a little bit rougher, a little bit tougher,” Salas said. “You grew up asking things like why aren’t my streets fixed. Why every time the police come to my neighborhood they are looking for somebody, why aren’t they doing outreach programs or afterschool programs.”

The 45-year-old says those same questions have driven him ever since, in political career that has now spanned well over a decade.

After graduating from UCLA with degrees in history and political science, Salas worked as a counselor at Cal State Bakersfield and district director for state senator Dean Florez.

In 2010 he became the first Latino elected to Bakersfield’s City Council.

Two years later, he left the Council before his term was up to head to Sacramento to represent Bakersfield in the 32nd Assembly district.

“Being in the Assembly for 10 years has definitely taught me a lot about how to get things done, how to get people on board with your issues,” he said.

Salas says he is particularly proud of the work he has done for Valley Fever research as well as the funds he has brought in to build an emergency response center in Kings county and invest in California State University Bakersfield and Bakersfield Colleges’ nursing programs.

But over his time in the state Legislature, the Democratic Assemblyman has been known to stray from his party on occasion.

I’m always going to do what I feel is right for Central Valley families, whether that a Democratic idea, a Republican idea, an independent idea,” Salas said.

Salas points to 2017, when he was the only Democrat to vote against increasing the state’s gasoline tax.

“That was the right vote for our Central Valley families. That was the right vote for people on a fixed income. That was the right vote for people that have to travel for everything,” he said.

Although recently, Salas missed two votes on a Republican led effort to suspend the gas tax amid soaring prices at the pump, saying he had a family funeral.

Now, as the only blue candidate in one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation, Democrats across the country are throwing their support behind Salas, hoping they can flip the seat from red to blue.

Salas is determined to make that happen and believes party affiliation isn’t the only thing that separates him from the other candidates.

“I’ve proven over the last decade that I’ve been able to deliver for Central Valley families. Whether that’s direct funding in million of dollars to expand nursing programs, bring new buildings, public safety, clean drinking water,” Salas said. “There is a big difference between me and my opponents: I’ve been able to deliver on these things.”