Both candidates competing in California’s 35th Congressional District agree that the new district represents an opportunity to create something good for the Kern County community in Sacramento.
Every 10 years, the state changes its political boundaries to reflect new census data. And this time around, Democrat Rudy Salas’ 32nd District will leave Kings County and Hanford to focus on the 35th District in northwest Kern County, with a “teardrop” shape extending east of Bakersfield.
The area also includes Lamont, Arvin, Shafter, Wasco, McFarland, Delano and Lost Hills. It is 61 percent Latino, has the fourth-highest concentration of Latinos of any congressional district in California, and has a high Democratic voter registration advantage.
In November, Bakersfield family physician Jasmet Baines, 35, announced she would run in the district as a Democrat focused on the health care platform.
In January, Leticia Perez, a 45-year-old veteran county supervisor, also a Democrat, donned her hat for her 35th run.
Instead of seeking re-election at the state level, Salas is running for Congress. He supports Perez’s candidacy.
The primary is scheduled for June 7, but the results will be anticlimactic. Wherever next month’s ballots go, both candidates’ names will appear on the Nov. 8 midterm ballot — and voters will have to start all over again.
“This area is the most exciting opportunity to hit the restart button for Kern County,” Perez said.
She talks about her pride in Kern, its history as California’s largest oil producer and the state’s No. 1 renewable energy producer — and all the scientific and technical expertise that comes with that history
“Now we’re going to be a global carbon steward,” she said, noting that Kern is poised to become a leader in carbon dioxide pollution capture and underground storage, a burgeoning industry that could be the county’s next big job creator .
A third-generation resident, Perez graduated from Highland High School and attended local public schools. She has a BA in Law and Society from UC Santa Barbara and a law degree from Indiana.
In her resume to The Californian, she said she grew up with a dozen foster children in a family devoted to community service. Following his parents’ example, Perez has been active in political and social issues and philanthropy from an early age.
She returned from law school in 2006, dedicated to community service and representing underprivileged clients, while volunteering on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters and New Life Recovery Training Center. She was elected by her peers as the first female chairwoman of the Kern County Bar Association’s Criminal Defense Section.
After a stint as chair of the Kern County Planning Committee, she became a consultant to the California Senate Committee on Economic Development and the state licensing process.
On Friday, she spoke fondly of her work on the planning committee. She said that time gave her valuable experience in learning how the government and the private sector work together, which she said would help her become a state legislator.
The Bakersfield East resident was named to the State and Community Corrections Board by Governor Jerry Brown and made history by serving as the first Latino president of the California Association of Counties.
“We need our industry to prosper,” she said of the county’s economic strength. “They need to be positive and confident with their representation in Sacramento.”
She has always had to balance the interests of the oil industry, the governor’s office and environmental justice advocates to find a balance that favors her constituents.
Perez reached a court settlement in January 2020 on two misdemeanor conflict of interest charges she was in charge of — charges that were eventually dismissed in January 2021.
Perez reached an agreement with the Kern County District Attorney’s Office to have the charges dismissed if Perez met certain criteria.
The Californian previously reported an alleged conflict of interest between her role as director and the California marijuana industry. The first charge against Perez states that she “did make, participated in making, or attempted to use her official position to influence government decisions that she knew or had reason to know that she had a financial interest in.”
She was the only vote against measures to ban commercial marijuana sales in Kern. Her husband, Fernando Jara, runs a company that advises clients on cannabis policy.
The second charge alleges that she failed to disclose “her investments, real estate interests and income during 2016” in April 2017.
As part of the settlement, Perez paid the Fair Political Practice Commission a $30,000 fine, plus an administrative penalty of $4,000. She declined to comment, noting that she has said everything she would have said on the topic.
Perez won all three of her supervisory board elections by a majority in the primary cycle.
Dr. Jasmeet Bains, 35, Bakersfield, describes herself as “a family physician who has worked to provide primary health care to families across the valley and an advocate for children, working to improve the health of disadvantaged communities while increasing all An opportunity for people who call our valley home.”
Baines said she is running for state legislature, hoping to make bigger changes.
Asked if she was taking time off from the campaign, Baines said no.
“When you see patients in our community who desperately need access to quality health care — as a doctor, I see them every day — you make time.”
The daughter of immigrant parents, Baines grew up in the valley, she said in her written biography. She watched her father build a business, starting as an auto mechanic and eventually owning a successful car dealership.
After college, she worked in the family business and then pursued a career in medicine.
“I am deeply committed to supporting our local Valley businesses so they can thrive while creating good-paying jobs that provide a living wage, retirement security and health insurance, which I believe are key to strengthening public health in the Valley,” she said.
After graduating from medical school in 2013, Baines returned home and completed her internship at Clinica Sierra Vista in Kern County.
She said she chose to work in an underserved health care setting because increasing access to health care for the underserved is at the heart of her mission.
Today, she serves as the Medical Director at Bakersfield Rehabilitation Services, overseeing substance abuse, addiction and mental health recovery.
“When the pandemic hit, I was on the front lines,” Baines said, “building field hospitals to treat COVID patients.”
Baines said she was appalled by what she saw: the failure of the U.S. healthcare system to provide basic medical necessities during a national emergency. But that just inspired her mission to improve access to quality healthcare.
“I spearheaded a landmark mental health and addiction treatment program,” she said, “so that everyone can get the care they deserve.”
While this is her first run for office, and improving access to quality health care is at the heart of her mission, Baines is interested in addressing a wide range of issues.
She serves on the Global Family Board, a nonprofit dedicated to ending human trafficking and child abuse. In 2017, she was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the California Health Care Workforce Policy Council.
Baines has received several community service awards, including a certificate of appreciation from Task Force Axe 203 in 2022 for her work with Cal Fire, Cal National Guard, and U.S. Army during fire support operations; Big Bakers 2021 Beautiful Bakersfield Health Category Award from the Field Chamber of Commerce; and 2019 Family Medicine Heroes from the California Society of Family Physicians, among others.
Baines said she believes people with her background can bring a unique and much-needed perspective to elected office.
“It’s crucial,” she said, “that we get a primary-care doctor elected to office right now.”