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STRATFORD — State Sen. Michael Rubio’s scheduled visit to Kings County on Thursday began with a mix-up, disappointing a group who waited at Raven’s Deli in Armona. Rubio was on what he called a “listening tour” scheduled to stop in Armona at 11 a.m. and Stratford at noon to meet with members of the public, according to a press release from his Sacramento office.

But after waiting at Raven’s for 15 minutes with no sign of Rubio, local opponents of high-speed rail who were ready to grill him drove on to the Stratford Elementary School cafeteria to wait for him there.

“It really put a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” said Raven’s owner Marlene Raven. “I brought extra people to make extra food.”

Raven said she put a sign in the window advertising the meeting to her clients, many of whom are farmers with strong opinions against the $68 billion high-speed rail project Rubio voted to authorize bond money for on June 6.

Rubio showed up about 20 minutes late to Raven’s, only to find most of the crowd gone.

“Rubio really apologized for the mix-up,” Raven said.

Rubio said the Raven’s meeting was supposed to be a private lunch between him and Armona Union Elementary School District Superintendent Steve Bogan.

He showed up in Stratford more or less on time to find a crowd of about 40 people in the cafeteria, split fairly evenly between union supporters cheering his high-speed rail vote and local residents unhappy about it.

Union members applauded when he walked in the door.

“This is important stuff,” said Randy Ghan, executive secretary of the Fresno-based Central Labor Council, in an interview. “We’re talking about jobs for high-speed rail. We’re hearing that Rubio’s taking a lot of heat for his vote, and we’re here to show support.”

Rubio defended his vote, saying he’s always been a supporter of high-speed rail. He said it would bring jobs and ease traffic problems as California grows.

“With more population, we’ve got to deal with the issue of congestion,” he said.

But Rubio didn’t get off easy as opponents questioned him on whether he was going against the wishes of his constituents. Kings and Tulare county supervisors have voted unanimously to oppose the current project, while Kern County supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose it. Numerous cities in the district have also voted to oppose it, including Hanford, Corcoran, Bakersfield and Wasco.

“Why are you going against county governments?” asked one man.

Rubio said Fresno County and the city of Fresno were high-speed rail supporters. He also said that the two Kern County supervisors who voted in favor of the project represented areas that are part of his 16th Senate district.

Several educators questioned Rubio’s vote in light of looming school cuts to help balance a projected $15.7 billion budget deficit.

“How could you in all good conscience vote for something [so expensive] ... when at this point in time schools are struggling to get money for next year?” asked one woman who identified herself as a teacher.

“I believe in big ideas,” Rubio said, mentioning the Hoover Dam and the First Transcontinental Railroad. “Bold vision requires bold action. This country has never backed down from a big challenge.”

Rubio got big support from his union backers at the meeting. Many of them cheered the jobs they said it would bring.

“There’s going to be plenty of work for the building trades,” said Ruben Zarate. “This project is going to bring jobs to the community for years.”

Union members took a big group photo with Rubio before he walked out the door and headed to his next scheduled listening session in Huron.

He left his local opponents convinced that his “yes” vote would saddle them with an orphaned line from Madera to Bakersfield through Kings County, without enough money to get it over the mountains to Los Angeles.

“It was very slippery,” said Glenn Rider. “We don’t have the money. I’m not sure we really need it anyway.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.

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