Chico council shifts left

Gruendl’s win gives liberal-moderate faction majority control

THUMBS UP<br>Rick Keene’s post-City Council meeting arrival at the Holiday Inn was eagerly anticipated by the Republicans gathered there. Even though it was clear Keene was a shoo-in, he said, “I guess tomorrow morning we’ll see if I’m the guy.”

Rick Keene’s post-City Council meeting arrival at the Holiday Inn was eagerly anticipated by the Republicans gathered there. Even though it was clear Keene was a shoo-in, he said, “I guess tomorrow morning we’ll see if I’m the guy.”

Photo By Tom Angel

Clear victory:
This is the first time in several cycles that there has been a clear set of winners in the Chico City Council race. Usually, a fourth-place finisher is so close it’s taken a few weeks to sort out the votes.

Even though Chico City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis wasn’t up for re-election, she was the one taking charge of election night math. As the progressive contingent gathered around an Internet-wired computer at Moxie’s Café and Gallery, Jarvis jotted down the standings on a newspaper’s stocks page. “Let’s do a major analysis here,” she muttered, with eight of 41 precincts—including the usually conservative early returns—in.

“I’m telling you, [Maureen] Kirk’s going to run away with this,” she said. “The progressives will continue to catch up and do better. If we’re above by 350 [votes], I think we’re in.”

They got it. It was a schizophrenic election, in which voters opted for a moderate in Kirk (who got 25.8 percent of the vote), a staunch conservative in Herbert (18.8 percent) and an openly gay progressive in Scott Gruendl (19 percent).

“It’s pretty awesome,” Gruendl said Wednesday morning. “I think this is the fourth time I’ve run for City Council.” “Clearly there’s concern about how Chico is growing,” he said, adding that while he will represent all voters, it’s just hit him how significant it is that his election means an ideological shift for the council as a whole.

Even though he well outspent Gruendl and liberal-backed candidate Barbi Boeger, Ross Bradford failed to come close to taking one of the available seats, coming in fourth with 16.3 percent of the vote. Boeger, who lost with 15.9 percent, was glowing Tuesday night. “Last time, I wasn’t even viable,” she said. “I’m a very moderate person, but I guess if you’re willing to think new thoughts they call you progressive.” Jjon Mohr brought up the rear with 4.2 percent.

Gruendl paced Moxie’s, grinning cautiously each time a new set of precinct returns showed him edging into the top three.

Earlier in the evening, Herbert was taking a wait-and-see attitude, remembering that the last three council elections have been so close it took weeks to get the final results. “I just really have no expectations,” he said. “I haven’t been nervous.”

His fellow councilmember, Rick Keene, in easily securing 61.3 percent of the vote (58.9 percent in Butte County), seemed aware that he would be going from a big name in a small town to new kid on the block in the state Assembly, representing the 3rd District. Starting Friday, he’ll be taking government classes put on by the Republican caucus.

Overlooked by many, the race for Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees proved tight, as voters resoundingly ousted the two incumbents running for re-election. Scott Huber, Rick Rees and Anthony Watts—the latter a popular former TV weatherman who did virtually no campaigning—took the three seats.

Huber, the only teachers’ union-endorsed candidate to win a seat, was the top vote-getter with 17.7 percent, while Rees—a university program manager and widower of Trustee Jackie Faris-Rees—came in second with 14 percent. Watts got 13.3 percent. Unsuccessfully following, in order, were union-backed candidates David Haynes and Eileen Robinson. Incumbents Donna Aro and Ann Sisco got only 8.4 and 8.2 percent of the vote, respectively, while Dave Donnan came in last with 5 percent.

Another hotly contested issue, Measure G, lost with 60.9 percent “no” votes, so Butte County will not be forced to direct tobacco settlement money solely to health-related causes.

The split political ideologies and lifestyles of Chico were as clear as ever Tuesday night: The progressives holed up at earthy Moxie’s downtown, while the Repubs again staked their claim on the Holiday Inn, where both the technology and the free refreshments were much more advanced.

Herger and Keene supporters munched on flag-studded meatballs as big-band music was piped in. Chico Police Chief Mike Efford was in attendance, and local gadfly John Gillander manned the screen showing the Internet election returns.

Herger warmed up the crowd early in the evening. Only 1.2 percent of the votes were in, but there was no way Herger would lose in this Republican stronghold: “I am guardedly optimistic,” he joked. “I wish it worked all over as well as it does here.” Indeed, Republicans had much to celebrate nationwide as the party took control of Congress even as Gray Davis bested Bill Simon in the bid for California’s governor. (Herger garnered 65.7 percent of the vote district wide, 58.7 percent in Butte County.)

Republican Party leader Josh Cook, who was with successful 4th District Senator Sam Aanestad in Nevada County, was similarly celebratory. (Aanestad got 58 percent of the vote, 56 percent in Butte County, besting Democrat Marianne Smith.) “We’re picking them off in the Senate and the Assembly,” Cook said. “It’s surprising how close it is everywhere around the country. It’s a great night to be a Republican.” Also winning handily was Doug LaMalfa, taking 67.1 percent of the vote district wide, 74.5 percent in Butte County.

But it was Keene whose political career was taking off. The Holiday Inn crowd had been waiting for the council meeting to end and Keene to arrive for hours. At nearly 10:30 p.m., the theme from Mission Impossible ushered him into the room.

“I’ll miss everybody,” Keene said in an interview, referring to his council cohorts. “We’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good things.” Keene is putting his attorney practice on hold to do the political thing.

On a state level, Butte County voters didn’t always agree with their counterparts elsewhere in California. They would have elected Bill Simon and most of the rest of the Republican ticket, although locals similarly favored Democrat Jack O’Connell for the nonpartisan position of state superintendent of schools.

In Butte County, Simon got 52.5 percent of the vote, compared to 42.4 statewide. California voters tolerated a second term for Davis to the tune of 47.4 percent, but only 31.8 percent of Butte voters supported him, throwing a relatively hefty 9.9 percent of votes to Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, who landed only 5.3 percent statewide.

As for propositions, statewide voters said “yes” to Prop. 46 (57.5 percent), an affordable housing bond, as well as school bond Prop. 47 (58.9 percent). Consolidating courts was OK with 72.4 percent of voters. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Prop. 49, for after-school programs, won with 56.6 percent. Prop. 50, bonds for water quality, secured passage with 55.4 percent of the vote, but Prop. 51, shifting motor vehicle taxes to transportation needs, lost with 58.7 percent “no” votes. Finally, voters couldn’t stomach the idea of allowing people to register at the polls, with Prop. 52 going down with 59.3 percent voting “no.”

Butte County voters differed on several bond measures: They would have voted down Prop. 46, with 51.7 percent “no” votes, and Prop. 47, with 51.4 percent “no” votes. They also would have tossed Schwarzenegger’s Prop. 49, with 55.6 percent voting against it. The contrary view held with Prop. 50, as 60.4 percent of Butte voters thumbed their nose at the rest of the state and voted “no.”

Turnout, which had been expected to be low nationwide, totaled 47 percent in Butte County, with 53,557 of 113,988 eligible voters casting ballots. Although County Clerk Candace Grubbs had predicted a high turnout—upward of 55 percent—the actual number of voters was only slightly greater than in the 2002 primaries, which brought 45.3 percent of voters to the polls.