From the Blogs: Who Will Take the Fifth?

by Mark Scaramella, June 7, 2010

Not me. I’m waiving my rights.

Let's go out on a limb and predict the outcome of the Fifth District Supervisorial Race on Tuesday.

The Fifth District -- those who vote anyway -- is at least three-fourths lib-labs and one-quarter not. (Obama got 70% of the Mendocino County vote in 2008, and the fifth district is more "liberal" than countywide numbers.

In 2006 when incumbent Supervisor David Colfax ran against Ukiah Liberal Els Cooperrider, Comptche Libertarian Tom Madden and Boonville Republican Bob Gardner, Colfax got 53%, Cooperrider 29%, Madden 10% and Gardner 8%. So 82% of the Fifth District voted for a "liberal" in the last Supervisorial election.

In 2002 Colfax ran against former AVA Editor David Severn, both liberals, and Colfax got 66% to Severn's 34%. Severn invested no money in his campaign, and was an inexperienced politician yet he got more than Els Cooperrider who is a higher profile, more moneyed candidate, who had the support of the anti-GMO voters and most shoppers at the Ukiah Coop.

On-line records don't go back before 2002 but the last decent conservative to run for Fifth District Supervisor was Comptche's George Hollister back in 1994 when Norm de Vall decided not to run again.

So, because the Fifth District is so heavily "liberal," there hasn't been a serious conservative in the race since 1994.

This year however there's a candidate who has received the full support of all the local conservatives, the Farm Bureau, various business groups, George Hollister himself, etc. Her name is Wendy Roberts, a B&B proprietor on the Coast. Ms. Roberts says she's a Democrat. So does Second District Supervisor Carre Brown who for years was the County's Farm Bureau spokesperson. (In Mendocino County “Farm Bureau” has morphed into “I love wine and winemakers” as evidenced by Ms. Roberts declaration to the Board of Supervisors last year that “the idea of wine regulation scares me to death.”

Ms. Roberts says she's for "balance" – in fact she even invoked a fortune cookie fortune in one of her appearances at a Board of Supervisors meeting last year saying “balance is more than not falling over” -- that everyone should be listened to and support from all sectors should be solicited. After all, a Supervisor is supposed to represent everyone, not just the liberals. But in Northern California "balance" is code for Republican, albeit "moderate" Republican.

The other candidates in the race are all liberals. Dan Hamburg (Green), Jim Mastin (Democrat with a Capital D), and former Supervisor Norm de Vall (coastal liberal).

Hamburg has been running for the position for more than a year. He announced before Colfax declared that he wasn't running again.

Mastin and de Vall announced only after Colfax let the filing deadline pass without re-filing.

Interestingly, none of the liberals -- much less Roberts -- have sought or claimed Colfax's endorsement. Colfax, always unpopular in Anderson Valley where he lives, but getting strong support on the Coast where people don't really know him, pretty much made himself into a non-candidate when he went on the record late last year with a rant about how his generous salary ($65k/year ) plus perks (another $45k worth) were "crappy," and that his main purpose for being Supervisor was to get a raise for himself.

(Have you forgotten those rants? Here a couple of excerpts.)

"I've had too much of an investment in this organization and wasted too damn much time bickering over a crappy salary connected to a not terribly rewarding job."

And, "I ran on a platform eleven years ago saying we need to increase the compensation of members of the board of supervisors. And that has been opposed by some of the worst elements in this community for all those years."

We proudly marched under Colfax's "worst element" banner, along with a host of other horribles like the Grand Jury, the Ukiah Daily Journal and anyone else who thought that Supervisors should do more than grab public money for themselves.

The question this year is how will the "liberal" Fifth District break down now that Colfax is retiring?

Let's assume that we're talking upwards of 80% liberals as indicated by the 2006 election. That gives Ms. Roberts a starting minimum of 20%. Can she get more?

Sure. She's from the Coast. She's a woman. She's a nice person. She's not overtly conservative. She's got a list of credentials that are the envy of her opponents, and she's got some money behind her. So she should be able to muster at least 30%.

Hamburg seems to be ahead among the remaining 70%. He's reasonably popular, accessible, a seasoned politician, and a nice guy. Whether his long association with marijuana is a plus or a minus is hard to quantify, but we suspect it's a net plus, numberswise, in the Fifth District, particularly since Mastin has no pothead support and de Vall's pothead support is weak.

Jim Mastin is a nice guy, not dumb, has the Democratic Party apparatus behind him and has been campaigning more conventionally than any other candidate. But he's from Ukiah and has basically no pothead support.

Norm de Vall is from the Coast, but I can't think of any other political plusses for him in the Fifth District. He's got a core group of supporters, but it's dwindled a lot since the early 90s when he last ran for office.

None of these candidates have any specific reason for running. They have no specific proposals or objectives if elected (Hamburg's novel pot-tax idea is sketchy, impractical and unworkable at best), no specific criticisms of the status quo, and almost no new ideas. They all seem to think that we should vote for them simply because they're such great people.

This is particularly odd at this time in local history since the Board's historically minimal role is even further reduced by the bad economy. They have very little real authority, very little discretionary budget money; almost no control, even, over their own meeting agenda. Their one significant area of influence is in land use policy. But that role is also severely diminished when nobody is proposing any significant new land uses due to the failed economy and very little prospect for improvement.

Revenues are down and going further down. Nobody has any real interest in proposing any new revenues. So the prospects for County government are only going to get worse.

Yet all four of these people seem to relish the idea of getting on the Board of Supervisors and having little more function than announcing more and more severe cuts to local services and programs.

It's hard to get excited about any of the "liberals" because you need a microscope much more powerful than anything we have access to, to find anything the liberals have ever done for Mendocino County.

That said, we suspect that people will vote for one of them anyway, even though the election is basically a high school popularity contest, not a battle of ideas, capabilities or plans.

Our wild guess: Hamburg 40%. Roberts 32%. Mastin 16%. de Vall 12%.

Maybe in the run-off things will get better.

But we doubt it.

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