Hultgren steps up in new run for
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
October 12, 2017
Suzy Hultgren is well known in the local agricultural community
as a third generation farmer who owns an organic dairy in
She’s also a former board president of the Merced
Irrigation District — the first woman ever to serve
with that distinction.
The 53-year-old Hultgren has decided to run again for a
seat on the MID board after receiving encouragement from
the community to do so, and after accepting the proposal
that someone with the right experience and a strong sense
of responsibility needs to step up in a critical time for
“We are in the battle of our lives right now with
the state,” she told the Times in an interview. “We
need to be unified so that we can support and direct staff
to get things done. … This is a big, big deal. The
future of our ability to irrigate with surface water is
Hultgren is vying for a seat to represent Division 4 —
a regional stretch that includes the city of Livingston,
parts of Atwater, and the rural communities in or around
Cressey, Winton, Amsterdam and Snelling.
Hultgren faces Sam Sahota, a local farmer and businessman,
and the incumbent Board Director Kevin Gonzalves who has
been surrounded by controversy in recent months due to legal
matters involving a water theft case in the district, and
headlines in the daily paper detailing past personal transgressions.
“When you have a divided board, and there are one
or two members that are constantly in disagreement with
what’s going on — it’s a distraction,”
she said. “Tabling things that don’t need to
be tabled, voting no just to be in opposition — all
those things are not productive … Obviously when someone
is being accused of stealing water, it forces the district
to stop and deal with legal matters that are distracting,
time consuming and expensive. …
“I really believe Division 4 deserves better. The
people deserve somebody that is going to represent them
— not someone’s self interests. As board members,
we need to be supportive of the effort to protect our water
rights, and the effort to move MID forward in a productive
manner, while working with the people that we represent.”
Hultgren points out that Division 4 represents a diverse
community with diverse needs that all need to be taken into
account. It’s a rural area with a lot of farming activity
going on, but it also links to urban zones with quality
drinking water issues, and use of MID electric power for
some residential areas and big corporations such as Foster
The candidate’s family roots in the area go back to
her grandfather, Mel Hultgren, who bought the dairy back
“I’m proud of my family’s heritage,”
she said. “My grandfather came here and basically
made something out of nothing … He was actually instrumental
in helping shape the district.”
Hultgren’s father, Sonny, kept the farm and cattle
business going as Suzy grew up going to school in Balico-Cressey,
and later at Livingston High. Suzy went on to study at Merced
College and Bethany College, before returning home to work
with her dad in the family business.
As a trailblazer, Hultgren was first elected to the MID
board in 2007 as only the second woman to do so, and the
first in nearly a century.
Nevertheless, it was a tough period for the district. There
was a devastating drought, along with extremely tough financial
decisions, and cutbacks.
served a five-year term (instead of four) because of an
election modification to save the district money —
a move she voted for — but in the end it might have
left her seat vulnerable. When she was up for re-election
in the big 2012 vote, it was “not a good year to be
an incumbent.” She ended up losing to Gonzalves, an
almond farmer from Winton.
Meanwhile, Hultgren has been a longtime leader in the Merced-Mariposa
Cattlemen Association, and a supportive mom, often seen
as a photographer taking pictures on the sidelines at high
school sporting events.
She is married to Randy Pimentel, and she has two sons Luke
and Wyatt. Her children are grown now: Luke works on the
family dairy, and Wyatt attends college in Michigan where
he also plays collegiate baseball.
It should be mentioned that Hultgren has some interesting
family ties to leaders currently at MID.
Her cousin is MID’s General Manager John Sweigard,
who came on board around 2010. However, Hultgren points
out that there are no conflicts of interest, or no mutual
“I’m 10 years older than John, and it wasn’t
like we grew up together skipping and holding hands. …
We can disagree on things … He is a professional with
more than 20 years in the industry dealing with water. His
job is his life, his passion, and he has had great success.
He is well known in Sacramento and throughout the state.
… What I’m trying to do is a service for my
Another relation, Hultgren’s father-in-law, Billy
Pimentel, is an incumbent board director who is up for re-election
in Division 5, and trying to fend off a tough, experienced
challenger, Bob Weimer.
Pimentel, interestingly, has been described by some critics
as a board ally of Hultgren’s main competitor: Board
Director Kevin Gonzalves.
Says Hultgren about her husband’s father, “We
have never served on the board together, and it’s
possible that we never will. … When it comes to decisions
regarding the Merced Irrigation District, I’m going
to educate myself on the issues, and I’m going to
stick to what I believe. … At the end of the day,
yes, we will still be related, but that doesn’t mean
we are going to agree on everything.”
In recent times, Hultgren said she has tried not to be a
distraction as a former board member at MID board meetings.
Instead she attends key sessions for growers, and keeps
up on the minutes of agenda items.
She said she has reached out to union representatives, and
promotes a fresh perspective as a way to keep the MID organization
Her main goal is to keep local water in the local basin,
and allowing for good, productive water sales within the
district for farming and municipal needs, as well as smart
decisions when it comes to dealing with outside entities.
“At this stage in the game, we are fighting with the
state to keep the water in the reservoir,” she said.
“We are also in the middle of the ground water sustainability
program, of which I currently serve on the county board
representing unincorporated areas of eastern Merced County.”
Finally, and only when asked, Hultgren acknowledged she
is once again competing for a spot in a “male-dominated
If she wins on Nov. 7, she again would be the only woman
ready to serve on the five-member MID board.
“It’s not an easy position to be in as a female,
but I don’t usually think of gender when I do things.
… I’m running because it’s the right thing