Political candidates usually get to schedule celebrations to announce that they’re running for public office.
They arrange flags and banners and invite a host of supporters to crowd in behind them as the television cameras roll.
That’s not how things went for City of Bakersfield firefighter Jeff Heinle.
Heinle walked, relatively unprepared, into a firestorm battle for the Third District Kern County Supervisors race against veteran incumbent Mike Maggard this week.
On Tuesday Maggard outed Heinle, 52, as his opponent on talk radio and immediately tried to link the firefighter to pro-marijuana groups that have been attacking Maggard for his stance on cannabis.
Heinle dumped plans for a formal announcement with all the pomp and ceremony and instead sat down for an interview with a reporter.
“I’m running,” he said. “I’m still in the organizational phase.”
He has a little money in the bank and some yard signs, but he hasn’t even acquired new business cards, and his campaign team is just his wife Tracey and a couple friends from the fire department.
According to Maggard, he is a naïve city firefighter – “a Bay Area transplant that came here with Bay Area values,” who “has a passion about marijuana.”
Heinle tells a different story.
He was born in Oakland and grew up in the South Bay communities of Campbell and San Jose. He played Little League, went to Sunday School and played sports in high school.
Heinle’s parents divorced when he was young and his father moved to Bakersfield, where he married into the Antongiovanni farming family.
Heinle said he regularly visited Bakersfield for Christmas and summer vacations.
When he turned 18, he said, he chose to move to Bakersfield to go to Bakersfield College, where he played baseball. And he never left, he said.
At Bakersfield College, Heinle met his wife Tracey. They fell in love and were married.
Heinle worked for Hall Ambulance as an EMT and paramedic for six years and then got hired as a firefighter for the City of Bakersfield, a job he’s held for 26 years.
“I have served this community and have been dedicated to this community for my entire adult life,” he said.
He and his wife were unable to have children, Heinle said, so they adopted three. They adopted Kaitie, 21, from South Korea, when she was four months old. Ryan, 20, from Bakersfield, was adopted on the day he was born. And Olivia, 14, was a bit of a miracle.
An adoption firm from Colorado hunted the Heinles down when Olivia was an infant because she was Kaitie’s biological sister. The Heinles brought her home from South Korea when she was eight months old.
Now Heinle is taking on a political challenge.
If he wins in June – or in a November runoff – he will have to retire from his firefighter position at Station 15 in southwest Bakersfield.
Heinle said he is running on a simple political platform.
Though the Supervisor’s seat is a non-partisan position, Heinle is a Democrat running against a veteran Republican politician in a Republican-leaning district.
Republicans hold a 5.4 point voter registration advantage over Democrats in the Third District.
Maggard won in the seat in the 2006 primary election, easily defeating the other four candidates in the field with 62.7 percent of the vote.
He ran unopposed in 2010 and 2014.
Heinle said his motivations for running are public safety, health and jobs.
He will, he said, “Do whatever I can do to make the community safer, balanced with fiscal responsibility.”
Health issues fold right into that public safety focus, he said. He’s worked with people struggling with health and mental health issues as a firefighter and EMT for his entire career.
Heinle said he’s also passionate about education issues, a passion that was sparked by the debate in 2015 and 2016 over whether to privatize the Kern County Library System or pass a tax measure to help fund them.
Neither action happened, but Heinle said he’s committed helping use county resources to expand citizens’ educational opportunities and he supports teachers and schools.
His last issue, he said, is jobs.
In a Thursday interview, he was most critical of decisions now being made at the county level.
“I look at the situation over there and I see it like any other emergency situation,” he said.
The county is in a $28 million deficit situation, he said, yet it is voting against new sources of revenue for county coffers.
He pointed to a decision by Supervisors to deny a development plan by the Rudnick family for a large concert festival venue on Interstate 5.
That could have brought in $10 million in new tax revenue, he said.
And commercial cannabis – an issue which Maggard has already bashed Heinle on – could have been taxed through a voter initiative and brought in tens of millions more, Heinle said.
He is a supporter of medical marijuana, he said, because he watched his wife’s sister fight through a rare cancer for two-and-a-half years. She eventually passed away.
But he believes marijuana helped her have two more years with her family than doctors gave her.
“I’m a firm believer that cannabis has medicinal value,” he said.
But, despite Maggard’s claims that he will be backed by marijuana money, Heinle said he doesn’t plan to take contributions from the industry.
Beyond his positions, he said, the thing he brings to the race for supervisor is passion.
Heinle describes himself as a person who takes on projects and becomes deeply passionate about them. He feels he can bring people together as a Supervisor and make a difference.
And he’s passionate about it.
James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.