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Election Notes, Mendocino County

Fleeting impressions.
As usual, most people lost, and, as usual, almost half those eligible to vote didn't bother. Obama and Romney spent about six billion dollars raised from wealthy individuals and wealthy individuals organized as corporations gulling Americans at the rate of $70 a vote.
Mendocino County has a new congressman exactly like the old one, while the old one, Mike Thompson, moved next door to a district specially gerrymandered for him where he was enthusiastically embraced by a welcoming landslide vote. Of course Thompson, standing for exactly nothing but more of the same, never even worked up an electoral sweat on the Northcoast.
Congressman-elect Huffman visited Boonville a couple of times pre-election, the most recent being a Boonville meet-and-greet with Anderson Valley's senior hippies. Now that he's elected, if Huffman ever appears in Anderson Valley again, he'll materialize like Thompson used to do, slithering in unannounced to meet with the wine people and a few superior court judges in the subdued setting of one of our zillion tasting rooms.
The Northcoast's eternal electoral curse, Wes Chesbro, was returned to office for the umpteenth time. Here's a guy who's never held gainful employment outside elective office where, lo these many years, he's gained absolutely nothing for the saps who just keep on voting for him.
Mendo and the rest of the Northcoast voted to put GMO warnings on food labels. Everyone else — except for the SF Bay Area — believed corporate food producers that the warnings were a bad idea, and yet another example of people voting against themselves.
A Northcoast plurality voted to end corporate personhood, not that it matters much because the big money in whatever form will find its way to get its way.
Jerry Brown successfully pimped “the kids” to beef up the teacher's retirement system, fund courts and to guarantee more than one year's funding for the return of some state prisoners to county jails. Brown did it all in one grand swindle, Prop 30. Diane Sawyer was drunk on camera election night: “And the winner is chardonnay!” as one blogger put it. We wondered how much drunker she might get before ABC cut to a commercial and replaced her with Tom Brokaw, the latter looking more lizard-like than the last time we saw him, which was I don't know when because every time we do see him we feel like shotgunning our television sets.
It wasn't by accident that neither of the presidential candidates talked much about the economy beyond soothing platitudes about how swell the “recovery” numbers are looking (Obama) and how much healthier the economy would be if free enterprise were all the way un-taxed and generally unchained (Romney). Meanwhile, the economy will move into full-catastrophe mode as The Fed, a consortium of private banks, plunges $30 billion a week in new money they've freshly printed to keep the ol' ponzo chugging along a little longer. There's too much bad paper out there, and printing bad money to shore up bad paper leads to very bad places.
National infrastructure? Nada. Single payer? Forget it. Less war? No way. Restoration of habeas corpus? Gone forever. Search and seizure? Come on in, Mr. Government, mi casa, su casa.
Obama might loosen up the DEA's war on marijuana, but that would be bad economic news for Mendocino County where the underground economy represents at least half of the more or less legit one, and where dope is already down to about $1,200 a pound, and falling, because ever more people are getting into the business. It's good for the marijuana economy that the cops at all levels take off as much dope as they do because pot raids keep prices at a reasonably lucrative level. (We hasten to add here that we regard dope of all kinds as a plague and a curse on the land.) The Mendo economy consists largely of pot, booze, public employment, a few big box stores, a few little box stores, fast food, food stamps, and Gram and Gramp's Social Security, which both candidates agreed has to be “reformed,” which means cut by Obama or privatized by the scared white people still hunkered down behind the Republican banner biting their nails that “the Mexicans are taking over.” That's us. In fact, that's US.
When the Press Democrat asked Jared Huffman why he ran for Congress Huffman replied, “I am looking forward to representing this incredible coastal district in Congress. I couldn't be happier.” As if the district is any more incredible or credible than any other place, and his happiness is relevant to anything except maybe his wife who has to live with a man so deeply superficial (sic) that he can say this kind of stuff with a straight face. Is she happy?
  Huffman attributed his success to a “100 percent positive” campaign. “They knew me; I knew them,” he said.
George The Gerbil would have beaten Republican Dan Roberts in the Second District, one of California’s uber-blue-est, if George had a “D” after his name.
Locally, we were pleased find that the AVA was approved by 79% of the electorate. The Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program, that is, and a $1 vehicle license fee will pay for continuing it.
In Mendo, ending corporate personhood went over pretty big at 73%.
Apparently, the other 27% thought Pepsico was the last name of that Alzheimer’s patient who wandered away from the nursing home in Ukiah.
South Coast school critic Susan Rush got an impressive 47% of the vote in her Manchester Elementary School Board, falling just short of the winner, Mary Beth Boyd. Ms. Boyd had claimed on her application for candidacy that she was a “retired school teacher,” which was “shy of the truth” as Ms. Rush pointed out. “Ms. Boyd was rehired immediately following her retirement with the Point Arena School District,” explained Ms. Rush. “She has been telling community members she actually makes more now that she is semi-retired than what she did while working full-time. Boyd was making over $54K a year without benefits. Ms. Boyd was paid $5,000 as an incentive for early retirement; she is receiving retirement funds and being paid a part-time salary by the Point Arena School District. She was/is a math teacher — I guess she did the math and went for the bigger bucks. However, the elementary school continues to be below proficiency State levels in math.”
Three seats were up for the city council in that perpetually turbulent fog-bound hamlet known as Point Arena, population 449, at least half of them sober at any given time. Incumbents Jim Koogle with 56 votes and Trevor Sanders with 49 votes will be joined by Phil Burfoot, 36 votes. The deluge of support for these three guys buried five other candidates for the third open seat on the Council. (But it was close and not all the votes are in.)
In the race for Point Arena Treasurer, former councilperson Lauren Sinnott got 33 votes, which was actually fewer than her write-in opponent(s) who got 39 votes. If 34 or more of those write-in votes were for one person, Ms. Sinnott, a seemingly pleasant person who nevertheless arouses strong antipathies, might be the first person in Modern Mendo History to lose to a write-in candidate.
The city council results in Willits and Fort Bragg may not change, but in Point Arena, with three open seats, only seven votes currently separate the third and fourth place finishers. And other seats remain up for grabs, like the Point Arena Treasurer's office, where recalled Mayor Lauren Sinnott was the only candidate on the ballot, but was being challenged by Caitlin Riehl, running as a write-in candidate. The election night tally showed 33 votes for Ms. Sinnott and 39 for “write-in,” but it remains to be seen how many of the write-in votes were for Ms. Riehl, as opposed to Mickey Mouse, the perennial favorite of write-in voters. And how many people correctly spelled Ms. Riehl's name?
Ms. Sinnott is also known as the “Art Goddess.” She's the creator of vagina-shaped purses she successfully markets as “the velvet vulva,” and tell me that Mendocino is not on the very cutting edge of free enterprise. But the thought of this imaginative woman serving as Treasurer is apparently too much for the recallers. The Treasurer is called upon to make monthly reports to the Council, and while Ms. Sinnott made it clear that she would act in a support role to the Council, she also noted the fiscal oversight function of the treasurer and the ability to see the big picture and provide fiscal analysis of the impacts of policy decisions. Ms. Sinnott also expressed a sincere wish to “move forward and leave the bad feeling of past events behind us,” a sentiment apparently not shared by some residents of the fervid little town. If the name Caitlin Riehl sounds familiar, it is probably because she was one of the recallers, along with her husband, Brian Riehl, who was elected to the Council, but chose not to run for re-election this time around.
Three seats were up for election on the Willits City Council. In preliminary results, challenger Madge Strong’s surprisingly “strong” second place showing with 450 votes leads long-time councilman/mayor Bruce Burton by 26 votes. And, if confirmed, Strong's success will mean that incumbent Victor Z. Hanson will be bumped off the Council.
Jerry Brown's controversial (not to say cynical) Proposition 30 tax measure surprised long-time political observers by passing statewide with 54%. It passed in Mendocino County with over 61% of the vote among that half of eligible voters who bothered to vote.
Final election returns for Mendocino County were not posted until 1:43 Wednesday morning. Many thousands of ballots remain to be counted and no further updates will be provided until final election returns are reported several weeks from now, by which time everyone will have forgotten that we just had an election, not that the final results are likely to alter the outcomes except maybe in Point Arena and Willits.
We remember a time, not so many years ago, when the local elections officials prided themselves on getting the ballots counted and the returns out as soon as they could. There was some awareness that candidates and voters in Willits or Fort Bragg might be anxiously awaiting the local city council results. We understand that polling place ballots must be driven to the elections office in Ukiah to be counted, and that each precinct must first go through the process of accounting for all ballots. But Willits, twenty miles from election central, had to wait more than four hours after the polls were closed to get their results. And Fort Bragg, another 35 miles to the west from Willits, had to wait until 1:43am, nearly six hours after the polls were closed, to get its final results.
When Marsha Wharf, former registrar of voters, started doing away with local polling places, complaints were answered with the explanation that the change would save money and increase voter turnout. Sue Ranochak, Wharf's successor, is sticking to the party line, but we question the cost savings and are doubtful about the claimed increase in voter participation. We support giving voters the option to vote a permanant absentee ballot if that is their preference. But for many voters, going to the polls with their neighbors was an integral part of the election day ritual. (As was posting results as they were known by hand on a big chalk board in the lobby of the County Courthouse, a community event every political person in the County looked forward to.)
Now, election day has been replaced with mail in ballot month. And election night results, which were definitive except in the closest of races, have now been replaced by post election limbo which drags on for the better part of another month before the many thousands of outstanding ballots are processed, sorted, manipulated (who knows?) and finally counted.
Ranochak announced last Thursday morning that her office was sitting on 17,795 vote-by-mail ballots, including 1,029 provisional ballots. Only 18,577 votes were counted on election night, barely more than half of the total votes cast. Approximately 1,608 of the ballots are from the City of Fort Bragg, which represents double the 805 ballots counted on election night. In Willits, the outstanding ballots number about 836, almost as many as the 860 tallied so far. And in Point Arena, there are another 95 uncounted ballots, while only 88 were counted election night. Under state law the Registrar's Office has 28 days to certify the election and produce the final results, thereby leaving voters and candidates alike to twist in the wind for several more weeks.
The switch to vote-by-mail ballots, and the elimination of most polling places, means that the mail-in ballots are usually pretty representative of the electorate as a whole. Therefore, although only about half the Willits ballots were counted on election night, and only a third in Fort Bragg, the City Council results in those cities are not expected to change. But with so many ballots still to be counted, and the results not even close to being final, it is somewhat unseemly for the putative winners to claim victory, and understandable if the apparent losers hope for a reversal. None of this happened when people had to apply to vote absentee and most people voted in a voting booth at their neighborhood polling place. All ballots were accounted for by the poll workers, driven over the hill to Ukiah, and efficiently counted — with final results usually available before midnight. And with a series of updates so voters and candidates could see the trends. Now we get “final” results that aren't final, in one fell swoop at nearly 2am and have to wait another four weeks until someone gets around to counting the other half of the ballots to find out if anything changed.
Why so many uncounted ballots on election night? Lots of people mail their ballots at the last minute, or drop them off at a polling place or at the elections office in Ukiah. And although the registrar has said they process everything that comes in prior to election day, given the extra large volume in a presidential election year, and the desire to save money by not hiring enough people to keep up, the result is a big uncounted pile of ballots sitting around waiting to be counted. And several candidates and lots of voters waiting for the results and wondering: whatever happened to election day? To register a complaint, call the Registrar of Voters Office at 463-4371, or try (800) 992-5441, and when prompted, enter 4370, 4371 or 4372.
Mendo went along with state votes on all but two of the ballot measures: Death Penalty repeal (Mendo, yes; California, no); and GMO labeling (Mendo, yes; California no).
AVA Recommendations, the statewide result, and Mendo’s vote:
PROP 30: Governor Brown's temporary tax plan: (AVA: Recommendation: No.) Statewide Yes: 54%, No 46%; Mendocino County Yes 61% No 39%
PROP 31: Two year State budget: (AVA: Recommendation: No.) Statewide Yes: 39%, No 61%; Mendocino County Yes 35% No 65%
PROP 32: Limit union political contributions. (AVA: Recommendation: No.) Statewide Yes: 44%, No 56%; Mendocino County Yes 36% No 64%
PROP 33: Let insurance companies set auto insurance Rates. (AVA: Recommendation: No.) Statewide Yes: 45%, No 55%; Mendocino County Yes
35% No 65%
PROP 34: Death penalty repeal. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.) Statewide Yes: 47%, No 53%; Mendocino County Yes 53% No 47%
PROP 35: Radical increase in jail time for pimps that would also require that they register as sex offenders. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.) Statewide Yes: 81%, No 19%; Mendocino County Yes 80% No 20%
PROP 36: Three strikes law reform: (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.) Statewide Yes: 69%, No 31%; Mendocino County Yes 77% No 23%
PROP 37: GMO Labeling. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.) Statewide Yes: 47%, No 53%; Mendocino County Yes 58% No 42%
PROP 38: Alternate/phony tax measure. (AVA: Recommendation: No.) Statewide Yes: 28%, No 72%; Mendocino County Yes 31% No 69%
PROP 39: Compels out-of-state corporations to pay proportionate taxes in California. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.) Statewide Yes: 60%, No 40%; Mendocino County Yes 69% No 31%.
Tariq Ali nicely summed up the Obama-Romney charade: “Nothing could disguise the fact that it was a painfully dull election, a tribal conflict at which little was really at stake. Obama, with his Wall Street chums giggling hysterically, pretended to defend the poor by denouncing Mitt as a rich ‘un. Romney, desperate to win, denouncing Barry as a radical, when, as Wall Street honchos acknowledge, he has done nothing that might make them apprehensive.”

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