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J.B. Hamby | Bruce Kuhn
J.B. Hamby | Bruce Kuhn

Newcomer Hamby, Incumbent Kuhn Likely Headed for Runoff

IID Division 2 — Political newcomer John Brooks Hamby handily won a spot in the November runoff and his opponent could be incumbent Imperial Irrigation District Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn.

Hamby led the four-way primary race as of March 4 with 1,225 of the votes, or 40.78 percent of the total cast, according unofficial final preliminary results of the March 3 primary election released by the county Election Department.

Kuhn was in second with 820 votes, or 27.3 percent, Ryan D. Childers tallied 771 votes, or 25.67 percent, and Dilda McFaddin 188 votes, or 6.26 percent.

Because no candidate won more than 50 percent, the top two vote getters will face off again on Nov. 3.

“I’m incredibly humbled. This is exclusively and solely due to the efforts, time and sacrifice of volunteers to make this happen,” Hamby said March 4.

For Hamby and his team, he said the campaign was about “meeting everyone…being within reach of every single voter” and that “this was not so much a political campaign for us, but an educational campaign.”

The goal, he noted, was to raise awareness to issues of water rights, the Salton Sea and key dates in the future of Imperial Valley and its shared use of the Colorado River among Western states.

Political veteran Kuhn, seeking a fifth term, remained cautiously optimistic.

 “It’s pretty close between Ryan and myself … I don’t want to call it right now,” Kuhn said March 4. “I guess I’m not shocked because Ryan and myself appealed to the same type of voter. … Most of the votes would have gone to he or I if it had only been one of us (in the race). … It would have changed the entire dynamics of this thing.”

The final preliminary count was made up of the results from early mail-in ballot returns and ballots cast at the 46 polling places in the division on March 3. Division 2 encompasses parts of El Centro, Calexico and irrigable lands in the western portion of the county.

There could be as many as 7,500 late mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted throughout the county, election officials have said.

It’s too early to tell whether the top-two could change, and county election officials do not estimate the number of ballots left to be counted by individual division.

“All we can do is wait for every vote to be counted and see where we are,” Childers said March 4.

The Division 2 race has been a controversial one that has played out Valley-wide. Initially, Kuhn announced in December he would not seek a fifth term but decided at the 11th hour to run again after responding to what he said at the time were irresponsible claims by Hamby.

During campaigning, the race was often reduced to a back-and-forth between Kuhn and Hamby over issues of water rights and past decisions made by Kuhn, including water transfers. Hamby was often portrayed as a select group of farmers’ preferred candidate to dethrone Kuhn.

If the results stand after the election is certified April 3, the seasoned Kuhn, 68, of El Centro, will face a candidate who is a political novice at just 23. This is El Centro resident Hamby’s first political campaign.

“In 2026, key agreements governing the Colorado River will expire. There is a concerted effort across the Colorado River Basin to move water from rural and marginalized communities, including our own, drying them up to build thirsty, sprawling growth in big cities,” Hamby wrote in his candidates’ statement for this newspaper.

Kuhn stated among his reasons for seeking re-election are, “protect and secure our valley’s water rights without further transfers; protect our consumers by minimizing rate impacts to families and businesses by keeping water rates low for cities and families; keep the lowest power rates in California; continue to work with the state of California and the U.S. government to have them take responsibility for the restoration of the Salton Sea; promote agriculture as our valley’s number 1 asset.”

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