Daily Sun News: Sunnyside man at the wheel of gubernatorial race

(7.25.16) SUNNYSIDE — A local man is literally at the steering wheel of Bill Bryant’s campaign for governor.

And on Sunday, Victor Ochoa, 35, piloted the gubernatorial hopeful’s 1972 Greyhound bus into his hometown as part of Bryant’s 24-city Big Blue Bus Ballot Bash tour.

“It was luck,” Ochoa said of taking on the job of chauffeuring the Republican candidate around the state for the weeks-long tour.

But it wasn’t luck that Ochoa brought Bryant to the Daily Sun News and then to El Mejor Taquito restaurant for tacos. It was a drive to “turn out the vote” in the Hispanic community.

“In every city, we’re meeting with local volunteers, helping them set up phone banks to call people who

don’t vote in the primary,” Bryant said. “We want people to turn in their ballots for the Aug. 2 primary and vote.”

Bryant, a Republican, is challenging incumbent governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat who has not yet visited Sunnyside to campaign in this election.

El Mejor Taquito owner Pepe Navarro, 66, was one of the local residents who took advantage of the stop arranged by Bryant campaign worker Mickaela Razo.

The owner of the restaurant at 544 S. Sixth St. said he always votes, but usually has the assistance of his children. This year, they are away at college. So, Razo and Ochoa arranged for campaign bus to stop.

“I feel very proud he takes the time to see and envision Hispanic businesses,” Navarro said after meeting with Bryant and talking with him about local issues.

According to Navarro, Bryant’s visit helps him get to know the candidate and will be a factor in how he decides for whom to vote.

Bryant and his campaign staff ordered tacos at the restaurant and met with Navarro’s employees and customers for photographs and to talk about the importance of voting.

Navarro said there’s a buzz about Bryant’s campaign in the Hispanic community, and the fact that Bill has made several trips to Sunnyside has people here talking.

Bryant, too, said people are talking. Not just here, but statewide.

“Generally, on this side of the state, the No. 1 question is about education,” he said. “The second thing they’ll talk about is taxes; a lot of people think they’re sending their money to Olympia and not getting anything.

“The third would be jobs.” Ochoa said he’s excited to be able to help Bryant spread his message on how he’d improve education, reduce taxes and bolster jobs.

Taking on the job last Friday, Ochoa said he didn’t have a clue beforehand that he’d be driving the bus carrying a gubernatorial candidate.

Razo did.

When the campaign kicked off on the west side more than a week ago, Bryant had a bus driver, who was used to driving in the city, with city traffic. But when the tour headed to Yakima last week, she decided piloting a campaign bus through the mountains and on the interstate wasn’t for her.

With the tour in Yakima, Razo said she knew Ochoa was the man for the job. 

“He’s a school bus rodeo champion,” she said.

A former candidate for City Council, Ochoa said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

“I enjoy driving,” he said, noting the job was not only fun, but easy. “I’m usually driving 40-foot school buses. So, driving this bus is like driving a Honda Civic.”

Bryant praised Ochoa for his skill behind the wheel.

“We’re so fortunate to have him,” he said. “He can move this bus anywhere. He’s also a nice guy.”

That comfort behind the wheel should make the next few weeks on the Big Blue Bus Ballot Bash tour a little less stressful as the candidate stumps in Wenatchee, Omak, Republic and Chewelah today.

There are also upcoming stops planned for Spokane, Ritzville, Seattle, the Kitsap Peninsula, Bellingham, the Vancouver area and wrap up Aug. 1 in Centralia.

Mike Foster