Presenting our action plan. This county needs new leadership -- Let's get to work!
Born and raised in Tuolumne County, Jaron grew up immersed in our unique District 5 history and culture as only a local can. Jaron has lived in both Jamestown and Columbia and has deep roots
His mother was a renowned local musician, Lori Brandon, from the New Christy Minstrels, the Gunn House Josephine Room, and Railtown. His father is Ron Brandon of Live Oak Music in East Sonora, a small business owner of 28 years who taught Jaron about business, good service, and working hard.
Live Oak Music – "The REAL Musician's Friend." My day job where I help manage the family business.
I was born the year Bush and Yeltsin negotiated the Cold War, Compact Discs (CDs) surpassed cassettes, and "Unforgiven" was filmed here in Tuolumne County. Visiting the old Highway 108 by Harvard Mine, a single lane highway one can imagine stagecoaches traveling on, we are reminded that history goes deep here.
It is always being created in a thousand little stories. We've come so far and gone through so much, and the world keeps going. But it's important to remember our great past as inspiration for the future. Dream great things!
Ron, Lori, and Jaron in Confidence.
What, you mean this kid would grow up to be a political candidate?
Driving the train doesn't set its course. The real job is laying the track. – Ed Catmull
I'm a first-generation born and raised Tuolumne County local, son of Ron and Lori Brandon, two noted figures in the musical community, and my earliest memories are singing for campfire tour groups at Marble Quarry RV Resort with my mom, climbing around the rock tailings in Columbia, hiking hills and making forts in the area where the 108 bypass currently runs.
Returning home. Our old house in Jamestown on Willow Street.
I've attended local schools and graduated Sonora Union High School in 2010 –– between classes with Mogg and Hanson, I began really paying attention to civic society. But despite being interested, being a teenager who watched Newshour with Jim Lehrer, it wasn't until the University of California, Merced that I discovered my passion for civic service.
It's since gotten completely out of control.
Grassroots organizing with Bobcats United at UC Merced.
Carrying stack of clipboards and registration cards, I began with voter registration. “I can do it" was the mentality I brought to ever position. Whatever the task was, I wasn't above it. Run the information booth? Run the campuswide voter registration program? I quickly increased in responsibility and involvement as I saw more needs in my communities.
I joined my fraternity, Sigma Chi, a group whose values of Friendship, Justice, and Learning (and diverse brotherhood) proved to be a maturing and important force. Later, this became leadership over the entire Greek system. I served in local political campaigns and groups (largely doing voter registration) and joined the Order of Omega honors society for service-oriented leaders.
We'll skip over a few things for time, but I'd like expand on my most challenging time.
The ASUCM leadership team including many students from Bobcats United, our organizing group.
Volunteering soon became recruiting volunteers, and then managing volunteer programs or organizing speaker events. Eventually, I ran for the Associated Student Senate, and having focused on helping others win, myself lost miserably. Undeterred, I won the next election, chaired the difficult Budget and Finance committee, revised most of the organizational bylaws, wrote resolutions in support of Internet Privacy and tuition freezes, co-authored our first Code of ethics, and served a second term. It wasn't always an easy group. There were many personalities, priorities. Zealous folks and others less concerned. Worst of all, filled with PoliSci majors.
Admittedly, I take bad photos. Post-presentation to students at UC Merced.
Frustrated with a lack of bold thinking at the top, I ran for President to turn an aloof, out-of-touch, and opaque organization brand upside down (sound familiar?). The campaign broke all traditional norms. We elevated outreach and public input to a level never seen before and established the first year-round organizing group for student government. We walked, knocked, and spoke like mad. People had never been invited into the process like that before. It was a hard-fought election against strong candidates, but at the end of the day, teamwork won out.
As President, I managed a $1.3 million budget; hearing from a hundred groups in budget call, negotiating and writing line-items, authorizing each purchase, vetoing irresponsible spending, and protecting our fiscal solvency. This financial experience was invaluable in learning how to balance multiple competing priorities and groups while keep a firm bottom line.
Lobbying visit to UC Office of President Headquarters with UC President Janet Napolitano and other campus Presidents.
Meeting with State Senator Tom Berryhill on a lobby trip to his district office.
With 140 appointed student volunteers and representing 6,300 students, we fought for transparency, fiscal responsibility, and greater community involvement. For the first time ever, meetings were live-streamed. More money was given to organizations than ever before while "administrative" spending shrunk. I additionally represented student opinions on the Capital Physical Planning Committee for UC Merced’s $1 billion Project 2020 expansion and the MCAG Transportation Council Citizen Advisory Committee for major transportation infrastructure projects. I lobbied directly with our state legislators, in the district and at the Capitol, as well as our own UC President Napolitano. Standing up for students to administrators, elected officials, folks paid several hundred thousand dollars.
It was a crowning achievement on a wonderful journey at UC Merced. I graduated, by the way, with a B.A. in Political Science and Government with coursework in Public Health, History, City Planning and Sociology.
Outside campus leadership, I found a calling serving constituents in the offices of several elected officials, and proudly worked for Democrats and Republicans in Congressional, State Assembly, and State Senate internships through the Kenneth L. Maddy Institute out of CSU Fresno. This included 3 months in Sacramento with these wonderful folks. It was never about partisanship with me. I was there to help people who called in with anything from getting their VA services to relaying their opinions to writing certificates of recognition for local youth sports teams. Each time, helping someone as a direct extension of an officer voters put their to serve them.
My friends and coworkers from the office of State Senator Andy Vidak in Sacramento. In real life, he is not a cardboard cutout.
Eventually, I moved to the Bay Area following a relationship and worked for two years at a tech company where I served as the Senior Editorial Lead for a US news aggregator. What do you know, my first day was the approval of an acquisition by a Chinese conglomerate which led to work with an extensively global team in Mainland China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, Brazil, and more, including some consulting work in Beijing.
The editorial team corner at Opera, thrown together as any good startup should be.
But the Bay was never home, and I could feel that every day.
Eventually, my job was outsourced, and after being laid off I received that lucrative "step up" job offer. A big salary jump with a strong reference. But the moment that was offered to me, something clicked in my head –– I should have been ecstatic. Yet, it felt the same. It might mean a nicer car and apartment, more meals out at restaurants with better Yelp reviews, but it didn't change the fundamental things. It wasn't helping my community. It wasn't my community. It wasn't me.
A medical emergency brought me back to Sonora where I stepped in at Live Oak Music while he recovered his mobility. My dad, Ron, if you know him you know he is an amazing and dedicated guy running that store by himself. If I wasn't there, undoubtedly he'd be carrying speakers and amplifiers while on crutches. And little by little, I felt whole again. Coffee with dad. Awkward waves at traffic stops. Eye contact and a smile with people walking by. Memories tied to places.
A temporary return became semi-permanent, then permanent. I knew this is where I want to spend my life.
Hiking the beautiful outdoors is another big bonus. This is "Bloody Canyon" and you can see Mono Lake in the background. About 9,600 ft. You don't get this in the Bay.
We have an amazing area, don't we? You just don't get this elsewhere
If only it was that simple.
Little did I know that many rents up here were not so different that where I lived in the Bay. Air Bnb devastated the local rental market and even with friends looking, it took me four months to find a room. Four months, with no kids, no pets, no convictions or evictions, cash and references in hand. What about someone with any complicating factor? What about a single mom I met in Columbia who can't move out of her parent's home? Or the homeless couple who both work full time but are denied due for reason of deposits and 'lacking a permanent address.' . . . permanent address? That's why they're applying!
Looking around, it is easy to see how few folks my age, people I went to school with, have stayed even when they want to. It got looking critically. Of the issues we face, the exodus of our youth had not entered the conversation of our leadership.
Another factor is not just a lack of jobs but a lack of careers – enough to raise a family and put a down-payment on a house. Our area is economically fragile because it relies heavily on a handful of sectors. We're blessed to have the lumber industry not just for jobs and taxes but also environmental reasons. Yet, the Standard mill closed albeit briefly. The state continues to make it harder to operate while foreign imports undercut the market. Broadband internet (sometimes even cell service) hasn't been made a priority. Our population is stagnant or shrinking, and certainly shifting towards fewer working-age people. Even my own family looks at the modern retail model and worries while we see big box stores out of business by the hospital.
Meeting at Motherlode Job Training regarding all the locals opportunities they offer, and how can the county be a better partner in funneling applicants and businesses to them.
What has the county done? They wasted $5 million on the former Economic Development Agency and worse, nearly a decade of time. Our manufacturing tax credits are so out of date, the wages they require are too low to even be legal. And the answer I received about back-to-back deficits is "it's out of our control" or "it's too hard."
Given my background, I naturally wanted to get involved in local government and help to change it. I found it to be a frustrating experience.
Officials weren't visible. There were no town halls or social media page to follow. No handshake invitation to join the process. The website alternated between burying one in .pdfs to lacking basic information. Boiled down, it showed a third issues: Public input was at best not a priority and at worst, treated like an obstacle. Only a handful of folks know what was going on (the same ones at every meeting) and had a hand on the steering wheel.
It's was the final straw for me.
While county staff are asked to endure more cuts and more work per person each year, and have risen to that challenge, fundamental duties of our top leadership were being neglected, namely long-term planning, serving their constituents, being a voice for our community, and building public trust in government. A backwards approach that gave raises to executives during budget austerity; that built a juvenile prison but couldn't find rental fee money for summer camps; that paid $40,000 to find out people don't approve of their job and decided to solve it by hiring a PR person. 🤔
We need someone that understands these issues from living through them; a local who knows our area and is one of us; someone who isn't wealthy or powerfully connected; someone from District 5 that appreciates our unique history, culture, and place in the county; a younger person to bring a diverse perspective to the Board; someone with political experience and the capability to stand up for us to powerful individuals and groups, even in Sacramento; someone who can speak to both sides, both parties, and get above partisanship to actually work on issues; someone open to new ideas and with the humility to say that I don't have all the answers; Someone like me.
At first, I was hesitant. This was not my goal returning. In fact, I was considering selling generators and survival gear (....can you say PG&E outages?). County Supervisor is an incredibly technical job for a significant pay cut, a very long unpaid 'job interview,' and certainly public office is not a friendly working environment. But when I looked at the county, I saw a hole that fit my skills, background, and beliefs, and I saw a need.
If I wouldn't stand up for us, how could I expect someone else to do it for me? It's my duty to run.
Here's what I promise...
I'm not the status quo candidate.
I believe in open mindedness, examining what others are doing, and applying what we learn here.
I love our community, but I believe it has to grow and must provide housing, good jobs, and opportunities for it's residents.
I will serve with honesty, integrity, and humility.
I will use common sense, hear all sides, and treat people with the respect they deserve and have not always gotten.
I won't limit myself to just wealthy areas, connected people or staying holed up in the County building.
I will return to you, and invite everyone who will gainfully contribute into the process.
When you have a great idea, I want to be on your team to help get it done.
Together, we can do this.