BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Typically, in election seasons with high-profile congressional races and contentious statewide contests, the Assessor-Recorder position is a mere afterthought. Not this time around.
The Assessor-Recorder archives official documents and determines the value of property for tax purposes, which can be be controversial. With some some huge oil properties it can make a difference in millions of dollars.
It’s a non-partisan position, but this time, politics seem impossible to separate from the contest.
Earlier this year, Current Assessor-Recorder Jon Lifquist announced his retirement, spurring Laura Avila and Todd Reeves to declare bids for the role, pitting two long-time county employees against one another.
Laura Avila is a 42-year-old mother of three who has worked in the department for over 15 years. For the last two, she’s served directly under Lifquist as the Assistant Assessor.
“Since I’ve been pretty much doing the job, I’m ready to go day-one and there’s not going to be a learning curve, I’m ready,” Avila said.
Avila said she is a proponent of Proposition 13 and wants to improve the department’s customer service.
“I’m a taxpayer advocate, I’m here for the taxpayers of Kern County,” she said.
On the other hand, there’s 53-year-old father of four Todd Reeves. He’s been with the office for over 26 years, currently serving as the Chief Appraiser.
He says he wants to improve transparency with the public about how taxes are calculated because he’s seen a shift within the department.
“I’ve seen a change of philosophy within the office of putting the needs of the county ahead of the taxpayer and that’s one thing I would like to change,” Reeves said.
It’s a race typically garnering little attention but this campaign season is a different story entirely.
In early May, Avila’s campaign sent out a release, saying Reeves had “blatant disregard for local campaign finance filing”
“What her issue was is that paper copies were filed late at the County Elections department and I feel that was kind of a petty argument,” Reeves said.
A few weeks later came a mailer advocating for Reeves from the Kern County Young Republicans. It depicted Avila wearing a fake nose and mustache and said she was a registered Democrat for over 20 years before switching to the GOP right before launching her bid.
Avila said she was previously a Democrat, but switched to No Party Preference eight years ago before joining the GOP. She says in recent elections she voted with a Democratic ballot because Republicans don’t allow NPP voters to cast a ballot in California GOP primaries.
“They are not saying I’m not qualified for the job, that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m not going to do a great job, that I’m not a good leader,” Avila said. “It’s that I used to be a Democrat and I think that’s shameful. I think it’s kid of embarrassing.”
This race is very likely to be decided in the primary election next week. If one of the two candidates receives at least 50 percent plus one vote, he or she will take the role.