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Brulte’s Fables: Ashley Swearengin stings California Republicans

By on September 21, 2014
Scorpion Ashley Swearengin

Ashley Swearengin, like the scorpion that stung the frog, can’t seem to help herself.

This weekend, the divisive mayor of Fresno added California Republicans to the long list of people she can’t get along with — turning what should have been a drama-free CRP convention into negative headlines about her stubborn refusal to endorse GOP gubernatorial nominee Neel Kashkari.

According to emails obtained by the Sacramento Bee, GOP party insiders, including CA GOP Chairman Jim Brulte, blasted Swearengin for her “felony stupid” decision not to endorse the GOP ticket.

“I doubt Ashley was given the prominence of speaking Friday night (the ONLY statewide candidate to be given a speaking role other than Sunday morning … as a platform to generate news by blowing off others on the statewide ticket,” Ron Nehring, the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, wrote in a private email obtained by the Bee.

He added, “This does NOT help the party, and it distracts from the efforts made to convey a positive theme. The coverage is not of a party expanding its reach. It’s about a party that isn’t unified because (its) candidates can’t get it together and get on the same page.”

Brulte, according to the Bee, wrote in another message of the email chain, that Swearengin’s decision not to endorse Kashkari was “Felony stupid.”

Traditionally, down-ballot candidates have trouble winning if the top of the ticket struggles. That means by under-cutting Kashkari, Swearengin’s also sabotaging her own chances of being elected controller.

Why would she do that?

The Scorpion and the frog

Scorpion Ashley Swearengin

The scorpion and the frog have the answer:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

Swearengin, like the scorpion, can’t suppress her natural tendency toward divisiveness.

Swearengin’s divisive record: Fights with labor, police & taxpayers

As mayor of Fresno, Swearengin’s tenure has been marked by contentious battles with labor unions, police officers and taxpayers.

Last year, Fresno voters narrowly rejected Measure G, Swearengin’s plan to outsource the city’s trash services. The controversial plan would have granted “Mid Valley Disposal an exclusive franchise for the collection of residential solid waste, recyclable materials, and organic materials within the City of Fresno.”

Fresno POAThe city’s labor unions viewed it as “anti-union tactic” that would line private pockets at the expense of union jobs.

“Measure G is viewed as an anti-union tactic to further the mayor’s political agenda,” wrote IBEW Local 1245 members Georgette Carrillo and Cruz Serna, who organized grassroots opposition to the measure. “If approved, union workers would have their wages slashed by 25 percent and would have their benefits greatly reduced.”

And labor wasn’t alone. Many taxpayers shared the unions’ concerns that the deal was a giveaway to a private company. One reason: “the City’s contract with Mid Valley Disposal calls for the latter to purchase the City’s equipment, including trash trucks and bins, at heavily discounted prices, to the tune of $50 million in assets for a measly $10 million!”

Amid the Measure G debate, Swearengin also fought with the local police union over the terms of their new contract. The police union offered $9 million in contract concessions as a budget tightening measure, but was rebuffed by the mayor.

Fresno Police Officer Association President Jacky Parks told the Fresno Bee that, at one point, “City Manager Mark Scott and other members of the Swearengin administration have stopped talking to the police union.”

In addition to her fight with labor unions and police officers, Swearengin’s also battled with taxpayers. For the first time in at least sixteen years, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association won’t back the Republican candidate for state controller.

Swearengin’s administration spent $386k in lawsuit against taxpayers

In August 2013, the Fresno City Council approved a controversial increase to the city’s water rates. As mayor, Swearengin had the power to veto the plan to double water rates. Instead, she allowed the rate hikes to take effect and publicly voiced her support for the plan.

“I recognize the short-term pain of raising water rates in the city of Fresno,” Swearengin said at a December 2013 press conference. “However, I believe this short-term pain will result in long-term gain for the people of Fresno.”

The rate hikes didn’t sit well with a group of taxpayers, who attempted to circulate a referendum to stop the rate increase from taking effect. But, when the group led by former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim attempted to get a title for their initiative, the city denied their petition request. Then, the city sued taxpayers.

Even the Fresno Bee editorial board, which supported the rate increases, objected to the hardball tactics, specifically taking issue with the Fresno mayor.

“We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future,” the Fresno Bee wrote in a November 2013 editorial. “But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city.”

Taxpayers ultimately prevailed in a series of lawsuits, but not before the city spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal bills. According to a public records request, the City of Fresno had spent $235,867.69 in legal fees, as of July 25. According to the terms of the city’s settlement with taxpayers, Fresno is also on the hook for $150,000 in legal bills of the taxpayer group.

That brought the total cost of the ill-conceived water rate lawsuit to nearly $400,000.



About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for,, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.


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