Hometown California

Episode 01- An Interview with Daron McDaniel, Merced County Supervisor

July 21, 2020 Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) Season 1 Episode 1
Hometown California
Episode 01- An Interview with Daron McDaniel, Merced County Supervisor
Hometown California
Episode 01- An Interview with Daron McDaniel, Merced County Supervisor
Jul 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC)

Our host, Paul Smith of RCRC, talks with Daron McDaniel, Merced County Supervisor and Chair of the Rural County Representatives of California. McDaniel shares how, as a teenager from Illinois, he found himself in rural California and eventually elected to a seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Listen in to hear his story and what it has been like to lead during a worldwide pandemic.

Show Notes Transcript

Our host, Paul Smith of RCRC, talks with Daron McDaniel, Merced County Supervisor and Chair of the Rural County Representatives of California. McDaniel shares how, as a teenager from Illinois, he found himself in rural California and eventually elected to a seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Listen in to hear his story and what it has been like to lead during a worldwide pandemic.

INTRO: [00:00:01] 
Welcome to Hometown California production of the Rural County Representatives of California, advocating for California's rural counties for nearly 50 years. Hometown California tells the rural story through the eyes of those live, work and play in the rural communities of the Golden State.

Over the next several weeks will discuss the future of railroads, the role of trucking, the role of airlines, leading political figures and, of course, the upcoming November general election. So be on the lookout through notifications of RCRC's podcasts, Hometown, California. An exciting series and informative one at that. 

PAUL: [00:00:45] 
I'm your host, Paul Smith, and our first guest will be Supervisor Daron McDaniel of Merced County. How are you doing today, Daron? 

DARON: [00:00:52]
Paul, I'm doing great, thank you. Considering what's going on, I think I'm doing pretty well. 

PAUL: [00:00:57]
Yeah, I think I think everybody shares that sentiment. So you have a pretty rich biography there in Merced County, being now in politics and being a member of the Board of Supervisors. Looks like you're not a native of Merced County, but you've been there a long time. 

DARON: [00:01:14] 
Yeah, I've been there since 1981. I moved here from Illinois. It was my junior year of high school. I moved from a high school of approximately 300 kids to a high school of over 3,000 kids. It was quite a big experience for a 16 year old. I played basketball and it's interesting coming from Illinois of a small town like that and playing at a high school as big as mine. The high school that I went to is bigger my entire athletic conference in Illinois,to give you perspective. 

PAUL: [00:01:43] 
And you moved to a rural California county by all stretches, so that that must make where you came from in Illinois really rural. 

DARON: [00:01:51]
Exactly. You know, there's a lot of similarities, though. That's what's so amazing. When I moved to California, when my parents said that we were moving I was excited, thinking I was gonna be with palm trees and beaches. And little did I know, I'd move to a place that was very, very similar to where I grew up in Illinois, in the Midwest. 

PAUL: [00:02:08] 
And you went to Merced College and looks like Stanislaus State. 

DARON: [00:02:12] 
Yes. Yeah. Merced College. I actually played basketball and ran track there as well as that Stanislaus State. Stayed local. Right out of college, I moved into I worked for Gibralter Savings during the Savings and Loan era and worked for them in the Bay Area out of one of their district offices. I worked out of two offices, one in San Francisco and the other one in Sunnyvale, and got a good start, got a good taste of the city life. And I didn't like it, and I chose then to move back to rural California. 

PAUL: [00:02:39] 
You obviously are now a member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Tell our listeners how you became interested in politics and what inspired you to run for office. 

DARON: [00:02:48]
It's kind of an interesting story. So, my grandmother was very involved in politics when I was at a very young age. She was actually a Republican delegate for the National Convention back in the 60s. And so as a young boy, I mean, you know, still knee-high to my parents, basically, I can still remember running around a lot of the fundraisers and the speeches and stuff like that. And then it just kinda, it was always an interest. I always paid attention. I was always up to date on the political situations, but I never really got involved. I was an entrepreneur and was more focused on the next item that I could discover or make happen. 

And then actually, one of my best friends, Jeff Denham, people might remember him, was a state senator and he was going through a recall at that time. But Jeff and I had a good relationship where we never talked about business with each other. We just enjoyed hanging out in the backyard, letting the kids play and, being able to just, you know, talk guy things and talk family things together. But when he started to go through that recall, that's when it kind of brought to my radar going, hey, this is this is real. This is my friend. They're trying to recall him. And everything you're saying about him isn't true. And that's when I actually brought it up to Jeff and thought how can I get involved? And he actually talked me out of it a couple times, but then as it kept going on, I had to get more involved. And so the next thing you know, we had a really good relationship during that time and we worked together so well.

He offered me a position and I wasn't really looking. I was running my own business at the time, but I really wasn't interested in it to that extent. But the more I got involved, the more I liked it. And when I helped him carry the Gold Star Family License Plate legislation and, you know, when we went through that and be able to fund the money so those Gold Star families wouldn't have to pay for that license plate, that's really where it hit me in the heart. And I was, I was stuck. And so next thing I know, I'm full time with him in Senate and helped him run for Congress. And next thing you know, I worked for George Radanovich for a little bit as a Congressman, and then Jeff Denham. And it was quite an experience. 

PAUL: [00:05:05]
That work, being a congressional aide- an aide to a state senator- really, really helps both politically and electorally. Yeah, I can see where a lot of on your role at the Merced County Board of Supervisors. So why did you choose the Mecred County Board of Supervisors? You live in Atwater. Why not try the Atwater City Council? Why not go directly to the legislature? Why the Board of Supervisors? 

DARON: [00:05:26] 
Well, it was interesting. So the person who was sitting in the seat that I sit in now was a really good guy, but it just seemed like he didn't have a connection with our constituency. And I had a lot of people always asking me, because they knew I was involved. More so, I was involved up in Stanislaus County, Tuolumne County, Madera County- like every county but Merced County- and a lot of people were coming to me saying, hey, what what's going on with ours? We don't even know who our supervisor is. So I tried reaching out to that supervisor, and I reached out to him seven different times and he never called me back. So I got it. 

And at that point, I thought, well, here's an opportunity. I'm very good at getting out into the public and talking with the public. And I think the constituency is looking for somebody who's going to do constituent services. And that's, you know, where Jeff Denham was very powerful in. And I was well trained in it, and so I thought this is my opportunity. Jeff actually pushed me into it a little more than what I was going to, and he says, you need to go for it. You're you're probably better as an elected than you are as a staff person. And I pulled the trigger and ran and won. And it worked out really nice. I absolutely love the position that I'm in right now. 

PAUL: [00:06:40]
And it seems by all standards you're doing a great job. Good stuff's going on there. So Merced County, member of RCRC, Rural County Representatives of California. So you sit on the Board of Directors, and actually you do a lot more than just sit on the Board of Directors of RCRC. You are now the Chair and you were sworn in this past January as the chair. I know it's been a crazy, crazy year. Probably a crazy term for you to be Chair. But what were your goals for the year as you assumed that leadership role? 

DARON: [00:07:12]
Yeah, I was really, really focused on rural economic development and preparing rural California to be able to receive economic development, which would be broadband or other items to bring them up to speed, because we're actually the other California- the part of California that is able to grow rich with economic development where we see it very compacted in the urban areas. And then another thing that I was really wanting to do is I love RCRC so much. I was really wanting to try to bring staff more into with the board, you know, with the sitting board to- if we love it as a Board so much, I wanted to make sure we can motivate and make sure staff loved RCRC as much as we do. I know they do. But I think there's just that connection that I was really wanting to build, that relationship with the with our Board and with the folks that work for RCRC. 

 PAUL: [00:08:04]
Yeah, and for those who aren't really familiar with RCRC, we're a 37-member organization. All 37 are counties, small, low population, generally rural and remote and elected county supervisors sit as the Board of Directors for RCRC. 

So talk a little bit about the accomplishments you have achieved during the first half of your term and the priorities you'll be focusing on during the coming months. 

DARON: [00:08:28] 
Well, definitely the communication with the staff hasn't worked out so well because we've completely lost the face to face contact through this pandemic. But that's very understandable. But we see a lot of the broadband issues or broadband stuff coming to fruition. And I think a lot of it is because of the pandemic. I think, you know, with the rural schools and everybody else who are not able to attend the schools and having to go to virtual schooling, they're seeing that their limitations with broadband has deterred them. And now we're hearing in Washington, D.C., we're hearing it at the State. We hear more conversations about rural broadband. And it seems that you hear it weekly in newscasts and folks talking about it. And hopefully that I mean, that has really brought up the attention. And I think that's really important because for us to compete with other entities in urban or even suburban California or the rest United States, we have to have that availability to be able to communicate at a high level with high data transfer. And I think that's really important for the rural economic development. 

 PAUL: [00:09:33]
Absolutely. It remains a high priority for RCRC and all of rural California. And Merced is a little bit larger than most of the RCRC counties. But don't you find that even though more said is nearly 300,000 in population, it has a lot in common with the Modoc counties, the Alpine counties, you know, where their numbers are less than 15,000? It seems like we share a lot of the same challenges throughout the organization when you factor in Merced's role. 

DARON: [00:10:03] 
Right, and you look at Merced County, I mean, we have the City of Merced, which is, you know, roughly 80,000 people, but then the next largest city is 40,000 people. And that's in Los Banos on the west side of the valley, which is forty five miles from Merced. So, to be honest, when you drive when you leave the city limits of Merced it is completely barren, rural until you get to Los Banos. I mean, I'm lucky I live in Atwater, which is only six miles away from Merced. But even between the two of us, it's not walkable. It's not urban whatsoever. It's there's fields. You know, we have a lot of almonds and a lot of row crops that divide the two cities from each other. And if you just look at every city and how we're placed, it is very rural. So, we do lose a lot of internet connection in between there. And just my internet connection in Atwater doesn't meet the standard that you're supposed to have for broadband. And so I even struggle from there. 

PAUL: [00:11:06]
Yeah, now, switching gears, how has Merced been able to get through this pandemic that we're all experiencing? I'm sure it is similar to a lot of counties, but at the same time, unique. How's Merced doing these days with the virus and trying to meet all the demands of the virus, both to residents of Merced, but also the county itself as an entity providing vital services?

DARON: [00:11:28] 
Yeah, it's been a real challenge. And we were doing very well at the beginning, at the slow curve of it. And Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemps - she's fantastic- she was a health director for a cruise line, she was their world health director. And so the confidence we had going into this pandemic, just because of her calmness and knowing how to approach it, we were doing very well. You know, we kept the curve down. Now, just lately, we've had a really big spike, and that's where it has taken all of our staffing to the minimum. And it is really, really a challenge right now. And I still have to just I praise her for how she is handling and how she's doing it. We did just receive a grant. So we're able to hire 20 more, 21 more track and tracing folks, which is what we're missing right now. But what we're seeing here in our area, it's a lot of family get togethers, family clusters, and basically backyard parties and barbecues that is causing our spread. So we're not seeing the spread basically with the open stores or the businesses. It's mostly through family get togethers. So we're really pushing the education process out to let folks know it's still happening. We still need to remain six feet apart. And you've got to wear facemasks when you're out in the public. 

PAUL: [00:12:46]
Right. And Merced County's centrally located right next door to Yosemite National Park. In fact, I think it's called the Gateway to Yosemite. How is the Yosemite traffic impacted Merced in terms of, are people staying in Merced? Are they just traveling through? How's that going during this pandemic? 

 DARON: [00:13:06]
Yeah. What we're seeing are TOT down. That's expectable. It sounds like we have our ridership on YARTS. I do have a meeting today. I sit on that Board as well with Stacey Corless, our Vice Chair. And Merced, as we call ourselves the Gateway to Yosemite we're a pass through. It's really interesting here on the weekends because you'll hear people speaking from German to, I mean, just any language in the world because we have our Amtrak station and Yosemite Area Transit System is headquartered here in Merced. So a lot of that pass through happens through here. I haven't noticed it so much just because our restaurants have been closed. But it's going to be interesting to see what our ridership will be since the Yosemite National Park has opened up. And it sounds like, from the reports I'm seeing is that, Yosemite National Park has actually been very busy, but a controlled busy. 

PAUL: [00:13:59] 
And just for folks listening, YARTS is the Yosemite Area Regional Transit Agency, if I'm correct? 

DARON: [00:14:06] Correct, yes. 

PAUL: [00:14:08]
And they provide bus service from a variety of points that surround Yosemite. And I would say you want to put a plug for them, because even though the pandemic has reduced the numbers of visitors in the park, when things are back to normal full swing, it's really encouraged to take a YARTS bus up there, minimize the congestion in the park and obviously deal with air pollution out. How is YARTS doing throughout this pandemic? 

DARON: [00:14:33] 
Well, thank goodness we got some money through the CARES Act. We're able to do that. I'm really concerned about our contractor who runs the busing service for us because, you know, we have to contract out. It's you know, with the ridership down, the gate fares are way down. But I think the CARES Act is going to clean a lot of that up for us. And we're going to start to see it moving more people. Because, you know, the county in between us and Yosemite National Park, Mariposa, they really, really depend on their TOT. And a lot of that has to do with YARTS bringing those folks and staying in their hotels and eating in their restaurants and then continuing their journey into the park for their vacation. 

PAUL: [00:15:15] 
Yeah. You know, Daron, we touched a little bit about your involvement in the community and the work that you've done as a supervisor and even before. So let's talk a little bit about your continued role with that community effort since you've been on the board and probably will continue long after. You and your wife started a charitable foundation that supports athletic programs in your region. I also hear you're a big St. Louis Cardinals fan, by the way, but you've supported these types of efforts in the community. Why do you believe it's so important? 

DARON: [00:15:45]
It just really is. When you see when the, you know, the schools have cut so many of their budgets for their sports programs, and I just think the inner personal communication and the team building that you do when you play for a athletic team, it just really helps the kids out. And so, being a basketball player, playing in college, a lot of my buddies ended up becoming basketball coaches.They're high school coaches, junior high coaches, and some even in college. And their biggest problem is having funding source to help out their kids because a lot of kids cannot afford- and the schools can't provide- a lot of the equipment that they need. So working with them, they were coming to me and I was helping them with fund raisers on a continual basis. And then I just found out, you know, it's probably easier if I could just start my own foundation. My wife and I put it together and then we were able to organize where we could have multiple sports teams volunteering for efforts to raise money. And then we would just turn that money and donate it back to each of these programs. And so a lot of these people can, we can have four or five different sports programs working together on an effort and they'll make more money and that afternoon than they do on having three or four different barbecue dinners or are those kinds of things. And so it just really caught on and it just grew regionally. So we were doing it, you know, for sports programs up in Stanislaus County and Madera County, some of them in Fresno County. And it was just, I've got a long list of folks wanting to get involved, and I just wish we could do more for them, but it's just a continual effort to help them, you know, with that. I just think sports are really important for kids that age. 

PAUL: [00:17:24] 
So vital for young folks to enjoy. Yeah, It is. What sports brings as well as the mentalness of it all, and the physical thing. That's just awesome that you're doing some of that work. You know, baseball kicks off later this week, as you know, we're talking and how do you think that your Cardinals are going to do this year in this season short effort to campaign? How are your Cardinals looking? 

DARON: [00:17:45]
You know, I think they'll do well. I think it's kind of neat about this because, you know, the season is so long anyway. You get interest and then you lose interest. I get interest and I lose interest. I think it's as good as the Cardinals are playing and they're on how they're doing. But I think this shortened season with this new type of schedule, I think it's going to be interesting to watch because I think from day one, it's going to every game is going to count towards the championship. And I think more so in the shortened season than it is in the longer seasons, because folks can get hot and then they can fall off, and then they get hot again and still survive. I don't think any baseball team will, if they slow down or go through a slump, will be able to recover in the shortened season. So it's going to be exciting. This is. It's going to be like March Madness, I think. You know, it's going to be like the NCAA basketball tournament. 

PAUL: [00:18:36]
Well, we're all glad to see some some semblance of normalcy come back, particularly with our sports. And I'm sure it's going to help you with the sports programs that you do there in the Valley. Daron McDaniel, Supervisor in Merced County, Chair of RCRC. Thanks so much for being with us today. Make sure your family stays safe and healthy as well as your constituents. And I really appreciate all the work that you do, again, for RCRC and Merced County and the region. So, again, stay safe, my friend. 

DARON: [00:19:04]
Thank you, Paul. Thank you very much. Wash your hands. Wear your face mask. 


PAUL: [00:19:07] 
You got it. You got it. Thanks again for tuning in, listeners of the podcast. We really appreciate you tuning in. More will be coming shortly. Again, this is Paul Smith. And thank you for listening and have a good day, and stay safe.