You may have heard about Jim Pacheco before.
He grew up in the McSwain area, and is a long time resident of Le Grand. He spent his entire career at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, and still works part-time as a court bailiff.
In 2012, Pacheco ran for the District 1 seat on the Board of Supervisors against incumbent Supervisor John Pedrozo. Back then, he didn’t make it all the way to the county’s leadership dais. But he continued to serve the local community, supporting law enforcement efforts, and giving back through service clubs and by being a popular 4-H leader to many young students.
Now, a decade later, the 56-year-old Pacheco is in the race again, working hard, and giving it another shot.
And he says it’s really for one reason. Something that everyday people can understand.
“I live in the district, and I feel we have a lack of representation out there,” Pacheco says. “Community members are talking to me about the current supervisor who is not responding to them, and not working with them on the things they need. Calls go unanswered. When they do get through, there is no follow up. I think we deserve better representation. Somebody who will be available all the time.”
Pacheco is one of three challengers, along with Sonia Alshami and Maria Soto, who are going up against incumbent Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa in the race for the District 1 seat that represents the communities of Livingston, south Merced, El Nido, Le Grand, Planada and Santa Nella. Soto is an educator who currently sits on the Livingston City Council. Alshami is a business owner who ran against Espinosa in a two-candidate primary race in 2020. She only lost by a mere 86 votes out of 5,058 total.
The four candidates are on the March 5 primary election ballot, and if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus 1, a runoff between the Top 2 vote-getters will be held in the November general election.
Pacheco points to the close race in 2020, as well as the number of candidates facing off this year, as a big sign that voters in District 1 are demanding change.
If elected, Pacheco says he wants to do something constructive about the high cost of benefits and non-competitive salaries for local county employees, especially sheriff’s deputies and others in the department.
“We want to keep our employees here, and make sure they have the resources to feed their families. I think we can find the solutions. I think we can work with other supervisors and department heads, and think outside the box.
“County employees have been coming to the board asking for help. This is a crisis that is impacting families. They are making decisions to pay rent or buy food because of higher insurance premiums. I don’t think it should be like that. County jobs should be a good job. Something that will support a family. But this idea is being threatened.”
Pacheco has worked for the county since 1987 — pretty much right out of high school — and he feels a kinship with his fellow workers, including those who are on the lower end of the pay scale and really feeling the pinch of higher, across-the-board costs.
After 37 years of working with the Sheriff’s Department, it’s no surprise Pacheco has the full endorsement of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and Sheriff Vern Warnke in the race for county supervisor. The candidate says he can sympathize with the sheriff when he stands in front of board members, having to make a plea for immediate support, and warning them about low staffing levels.
“You want to have good cooperation in county government,” Pacheco points out. “When you have adversarial relationships, it’s not good for anybody. When I first talked to the sheriff about my intention to run, he told me that he would like ‘Somebody up there who I can talk to. I want to have a good dialogue, even though I know we’re not always going to agree on everything.’”
Pacheco adds, “I don’t think the sheriff has that kind of dialogue with the current supervisor. All department heads should have cooperation from every board member. You don’t have to always say ‘yes’ to everybody, but good dialogue and relations will lead to good compromise.”
With this sentiment in mind, the candidate hopes to become an elected leader who can help bring compromise on critical issues such as water availability and sustainability. Pacheco knows a thing or two about farming. His family lives on a 20-acre ranch with a small farming operation, mostly almonds harvested as part of a larger profit-sharing endeavor with other nearby family farmers. There’s also livestock on the farm for 4-H projects.
His law enforcement career has also given him some experience on the homeless situation in the region.
“I have visited with our Human Services Agency, and we have some pretty good programs that include pathways to permanent housing. We are feeding people, giving them a place to sleep, and providing social workers. There’s just the element of people who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs. The drug laws don’t deter them anymore, and some turn to crime to feed their addictions. I would like to see us work with state legislators to bring about tougher drug laws — not so much to send addicts to prison, but to mandate treatment so people can escape the homeless cycle.
“As a court bailiff, I see some of the same faces returning to court. I see them take light sentences just so they get out of jail, and go back on the street. … I think if you make treatment mandatory it might help with that.”
It would be nice if all deputies had some experience as a court bailiff, Pacheco opines. It’s a chance to experience the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys in action. It’s a chance to see how the legal system works, how laws are applied.
The candidate says he has plenty of problem-solving experience and budgetary knowledge from his time as a Sheriff’s Sergeant, whether it was during his time managing patrols across the region, working with teams to solve issues in rural communities, or helping to transition animal control services into the department’s operations.
He says he would like to use his experience to bring progress to areas of his district, including south Merced, where he says residential housing is expanding, but neighborhoods still don’t have a major supermarket to shop in south of Highway 99.
County roads are another issue the candidate is concerned about. “I understand you can’t fix them all at once, but we need to get grants and funding sources to target the well-traveled ones in need of repair. We need to make sure and prioritize road projects.”
Pacheco served on the Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) in Le Grand for a decade, and also participated on the county’s Employees’ Retirement Association. He currently is on the Friends of the Fair board, president of the Lions Club in Le Grand, a 35-year member of the Merced Elks Lodge, and a member of Club Mercedes.
He’s married to Jeannette, who works in administration at the DA’s Office, and they have four grown children, and four granddaughters.
And, by the way, Pacheco’s mother and grandparents were of Hispanic heritage via Mexico. He was raised in a Spanish-speaking family.
“My Spanish bilingual skills have helped me to better communicate in my job and in my community,” he says.
Pacheco wants residents of District 1 to know that he is working hard as a candidate, and standing up to make things better. Once in office, Pacheco says he will conduct weekly office hours in different locations throughout the district to listen to concerns and suggestions.