Public safety was top of mind for Clovis voters, and they chose three like-minded candidates for City Council.
Drew Bessinger won his third election, earning his second full term. He is a retired Clovis police captain and retired last year as chief of the Fresno Yosemite airport police. He garnered 49% of the vote.
Diane Pearce, a businesswoman and local Republican Party leader, took second, with 48%. She has advocated for public safety.
Former Clovis police chief Matt Basgall is third, with 45% of the vote. He is currently security director for California Health Sciences University in Clovis.
All three celebrated their victories Tuesday night after 100% of precinct returns were released at 10:42 p.m. Mail ballots, postmarked by Tuesday and arriving at the elections office over the next seven days, will be added to those totals. Elections officials estimate 61,000 ballots remain outstanding countywide — although not all from Clovis — with the next update coming Thursday.
Public Safety Key Issue
The three winners said public safety was the top issue they heard on the campaign trail.
Clovis voters also approved Measure B with 70% of the vote, which will raise the hotel tax by 2%. Although the money will go to the general fund, it was promoted as helping to fund public safety.
“We’re going to be able to hire additional police officers with the funds that we get from that. I think we’re going to be at the position where we’re going to have to go into our reserves to actually do some hiring. We’ve saved money. We put money in reserve fund for a rainy day. And I think the rainy day is coming up. We’re going to have to do something,” Bessinger said.
Pearce said the issue is tied to homelessness.
“Our police, fire and first responders, they deserve the resources necessary to deliver the services that Clovis residents expect and deserve. And we’re going to have to do the tough work and make the hard decisions to ensure that they have the resources to do that. Measure B is really a very, very, very small part of that,” Pearce said.
It was no surprise to hear about public safety from voters, Basgall said, given his position as the former police chief.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and there’s going to have to be some hard decisions made. But, you know, we’ve got to worry about not going into a recession. I think the prior council has done a great job building the reserves so that we don’t ever have to look at doing what we had to do in 2008,” Basgall said.
Return to Public Life for Basgall
Basgall retired as police chief in 2019. He re-emerged in the public eye this year, advocating for more attention to police and fire.
“It’s humbling. It’s honoring. It’s all of those things. I mean, it’s really cool to get voted into a position. I really want to be a councilmember for the community. So to get back involved and to be there to help our community — it means a lot,” Basgall said from his party at the 500 Club.
Pearce Headed to Council
Watching returns from her northeast Clovis home gave Pearce “anxiety.”
“It was a really just a good feeling, but just a confirmation of what I’d been sensing out on the campaign trail,” Pearce, leader of the Fresno County & City Republican Women Federated, said.
This is the second city council try for Pearce, finishing out of the running in 2021. Her husband Jeremy Pearce ran and lost for Fresno City Council in 2016.
She credits her husband’s run for setting the stage for her entry into politics.
“In this household, we kind of like to think the third time’s the charm because we’ve been at this a little longer than some, but it’s all built on itself. And it’s kind of cool to be able to look back and see the different building blocks and how things unfolded in ways we didn’t expected. But it all brought us here tonight,” Pearce said.
A New Election Format
Bessinger celebrated at Clovis’ House of JuJu restaurant. He first ran in 2017, winning the seat vacated by Harry Armstrong and serving two years. He won a full term in 2019 — however that “full term” of four years was reduced to three-plus when the City Council voted to move from odd-numbered year elections to even-numbered. This year was the first in the new Clovis election cycle.
“There were a lot more votes, a lot more ballots out there. And so it was significantly more difficult to be able to get to people’s doors and significantly more expensive to run a successful campaign,” Bessinger said.
Bessinger said it is a good thing because of more voter participation. Turnout for the March 2021 election finished at 24%. Tuesday’s Clovis election participation is at 31% and likely to grow as more ballots are counted.
The field of 10 candidates was also the largest in recent memory.
“That’s heartening for the future, for the future of Clovis. And every one of the people who threw their hat in were ready to serve,” Bessinger said.
Voters for the first time in decades chose leaders in an even-year election. The last was in 1994. Since 1997, elections were held in March of odd-numbered years.
Candidates ran in an at-large election, with no districts.
The new council terms begin Dec. 12.
Ten candidates in total ran, with voters able to pick up to three on the single ballot.
The distance between the top three vote-getters and fourth place finisher, Joshua Phanco, is significant. Phanco garnered 18% of the vote.