Candidates love to say that ideas and individual reputations matter more
than party identification. In Assembly District 17, it may actually be true.
The race features a very moderate Democrat, Cathleen Galgiani, versus
Republican Gerry Machado, the School Board President in Tracy. Both grew up
in the district. They are vying to replace one of the most reliable members
of the Democratic Moderate Caucus, Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews,
They’re so close on many of the issues that much of the attention has
centered on their disagreement over a single facet of the abortion issue:
Indeed, a highly unscientific sampling of voters in Tracy finds that people
say their party identification will play little role in whom will get their
vote. Take retired law enforcement officer Neal Growcock, 57. A Republican
since first registering to vote in the early 1970s, he’s leaning Galgiani.
In fact, he said he never votes party line and agrees party membership means
little here. “I hope it stays that way,” Growcock added.
Growcock’s “not a big fan” of Matthews, but also has issues with Machado’s
record on the school board. He likes Galgiani’s Capitol experience, serving
as Matthew’s chief of staff for several years. She’s also been a staffer for
former state senators Patrick Johnston and John Garamendi.
Her time in the Capitol allows her to point to accomplishments like the new
University of California Merced campus, in the southern part of the
district; she served as a consultant to the committee that helped develop
the campus. But Growcock admits another factor may push him to cross party
“She takes a great photo,” Growcock said. “You gotta have a male
But it’s the lack of a “male perspective” in Galgiani’s life that has some
voters worried, and has unleashed some of the nastiest attacks of the
campaign. The last Republican to hold the seat, Dean Andal, attacked
Galgiani last month as “not married, doesn’t have any children and, in my
view, she’s never had a real job.” Machado’s campaign manager, Chris Orrock,
piled on, saying the 42-year-old’s “only family is the 20 cats she lives
Machado quickly disavowed these comments. Galgiani said that Machado’s
campaign used Andal and Orrock as stand-ins to make the attack.
“I really admire women who are working and raising their families,” Galgiani
said. “I’m in awe over what they are able to juggle.”
But the idea managed to stick in the heads of a pair of Republican voters,
Maria Azevedo and Cheryl Facciola. Sitting outside a Starbucks in a strip
mall, both say they’ve been considering Galgiani. But her lack of a family
and her opposition to the Proposition 85 parental-notification initiative
have given them doubts.
By contrast, the 55-year-old Machado has three children and has been married
since he was half Galgiani’s age. An anti-tax, family-values Republican,
he’s been pushing a “Valley Values” campaign by keeping attention on the
parental-consent initiative on the November ballot.
“To me, it takes away from the rights of parents,” Machado said, explaining
his support of Proposition 85. “It isn’t really an abortion issue.”
Democrats hold a 47 to 39 percent registration advantage in the district,
with Democratic urban Stockton offsetting the more reliably Republican rural
areas. Matthews won her last race by 20 points. Any charges of being a
“tax-and-spend” liberal are unlikely to stick to Galgiani, who touts her
work on legislation attacking Medi-Cal fraud and improving the state’s
But it’s the Democrats that are generally more bipartisan here. Both
Matthews and her predecessor, Senator Mike Machado, D-Linden, (no relation
to Gerry) are known as “Valleycrats,” a term for the brand of conservative
Democrats the area produces. These voters have been known to throw their
support to Republicans such as Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, whose district
partially overlaps the 17th.
However, Galgiani has won the endorsement of the California Farm Bureau
Federation and the California Building Industry Association, two groups that
more often support Republicans. She’s also out-raised Machado by a wide
margin, allowing her to air more campaign ads. These spots seem to be
getting through to some local Republicans.
“Being born and raised in Tracy, it’s hard to vote against Gerry Machado,”
said Republican Olga Wallace while putting groceries in her car at the local
Safeway. But she added that it is “likely” that she would cross party lines.
Nevertheless, the diverse and fast-changing nature of the district will make
things complicated, both in this race and in the future. For instance,
surface water storage isn’t an issue in most Assembly races, but it is here
among the farms and exploding suburbs. Machado has pledged to increase
storage and, playing up his fiscal-conservative side, signed a pledge to not
He also sees illegal immigration as a huge issue, and disputes the idea that
little can be done about it at the state level. For instance, he said he
would be a reliable vote against the state providing driver’s licenses and
in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Indeed, immigration is a huge issue here–both foreign and domestic. The most
common response people gave when asked about the race was “I just moved
here” and some variation of “I don’t speak English.” Demographic research of
the area shows farmworker communities bumping up against upscale suburbs.
These high-income commuters are a wild card as well. They care about schools
and taxes, but often are characterized as out-of-touch with a district where
they spent few of their waking hours. Even for those who also work here, the
relentless pursuit of the American dream that so defines the area may be
pulling attention away from politics. Another Safeway shopper, business
owner Jasvinder Sidxu, professed ignorance about the race.
“I work 80 or 90 hours a week,” Sidxu said. “I’m too busy working.”