(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)
Where did you grow up and what were some of the key elements of your youth?
Our house burned down when I was three and I do remember that. I grew up in Visalia where my dad was a teacher and then became the longtime superintendent of schools for Tulare County. I do have a lot of agriculture in my background as my grandmother came from cattle ranchers and my grandfather worked in Delano. Vidak is Croatian, and my grandfather worked with the many Croatian grape growers in Delano. In fact, he was in Chile in 1971 and ‘72 when Chile first began to ship grapes to the United States. On the other side, my grandfather was a veterinarian. Both sides came from Orosi.
I graduated from Redwood High School (in Visalia). When I was growing up I always thought I’d be an English teacher and a basketball coach.
When did agriculture become a viable option for you?
I didn’t know what I was going to do when I went to college. Then at the College of the Sequoias I took an ag class and changed my major to animal science. I was on a livestock judging show team and got recruited by Texas Tech University to help build a meat judging team. We won their first national championship (in meat judging).
After you graduated from college, how did you use your ag education?
My dream was to come back to Visalia, buy 40 acres and start my own plum orchard. I looked for a job and got one selling produce. I did that for seven years, including time on the Westside and in Salinas and Yuma. And then we formed our own cooler. I just always liked working outside.
[Vidak eventually saved enough money to buy his own acreage. Instead of plums, though, he became a cherry farmer, which he still does today. He also became a cattle rancher and settled down to a rural life as a farmer for about a decade beginning in the mid to late 1990s.]
How did you get involved in the political arena?
In 2008 and 2009, I saw friends of mine standing in food lines because they couldn’t make any money selling their crops. And here we were selling items from other countries. It broke my heart. I was very upset with environmental radicalism, and I started to go to rallies and speak out. Sean Hannity came to our area and I listened to him. Then once I was at a rally at Congressman George Miller’s office in Concord and I spoke to the crowd. Someone told me I really knew how to speak and state our case. So I decided to run against Jim Costa for Congress. I got a lot of support but didn’t win.
So that launched your political career. Were you then looking for another office to run for when your present seat came open?
At the time I ran against Jim Costa I was just doing my civic duty. I actually didn’t think I would ever run again. But I did get more involved in the Republican Party, and when Michael Rubio resigned (his State Senate seat in early 2013), a lot of people asked me to run. I asked myself two questions. Can I win and can I make a difference? I ran and won. And now I have won re-election.
How do you describe yourself politically?
I can work with both sides. As I see it, common sense has no party lines.
What are your top priorities?
Water. Water. Water. My district is water and energy, and I believe jobs come first.
What is your take on the recently passed Water Bond?
I was one of the co-sponsors and I was very supportive of it. I have visited both sites for dams and we made sure that we put enough money in the bond to start construction on them both. Initially Governor Brown was only asking for $2 billion (for water storage projects), but we were able to get $2.7 billion which gives us enough to start both projects.
What do you think of the groundwater legislation?
We did not like some of the provisions in that bill and we don’t think other people should be telling us how to run our water system. We were able to get all of the legislators from the valley to oppose it.
You are opposed to the high-speed rail project. Why, and what is the next step?
The issue is in the courts right now. The bullet train will destroy jobs, homes, farms and small business.
Our members, and some of your constituents, grow the best fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world. Do you have a favorite?
I am a cherry grower so I love cherries, but I really like everything. When I was selling broccoli and cauliflower, I loved broccoli and cauliflower. Whatever I start selling, I love to eat.
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