Council incumbents say ‘no’

Holcombe and Walker will not run again

Councilman Andy Holcombe outside his Chico law office.

Councilman Andy Holcombe outside his Chico law office.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

In what seems to be a fairly early point in the process, local political incumbents are expressing their plans to an inquiring media.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a presidential election year and Newt and Mitt have the political pundits stirred up and that excitement is trickling down to the local level. Or maybe it was Congressman Wally Herger’s announcement last month, six months before the June primary, that he would not seek re-election after 13 terms in Congress.

Here in Chico, with four incumbent City Council members up for re-election this year, two have announced no más, which could allow for a political shift in the seven-member council’s majority.

Andy Holcombe, who has served two terms on the council, and Vice Mayor Jim Walker, in the final year of his first term, will not be running. In the meantime, Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilman Bob Evans say they will try to keep their seats on the council come election time this fall. Holcombe and Schwab are progressives, Walker falls somewhere in the moderate range, and Evans is a conservative.

Walker, a physician’s assistant who works at Enloe Medical Center and was elected to the council in 2008, said he’s just not ready to commit the next five years of his life to the City Council.

“I’m going to access what I want to do, what other adventures are out there,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed being on the council for the last three years. My decision-making has been without regard for how things might play out in an election.”

He said the job does take its toll on personal time, but that he feels appreciated even by those who disagree with his decisions.

“You may think this is a thankless job,” he said, “but I have people coming up to me all the time saying, ‘I may not agree with you, but thanks for doing it.’

Walker noted that he has now put in 22 years of public service, including 10 years on the Planning Commission, eight years on the CARD board and what will end up being four years on the council.

Sitting in his Ninth Avenue office, Holcombe, an attorney, explained his decision, admitting he was perplexed by the timing.

“Yeah, people have been asking me about it,” he said. “I haven’t been going out of my way to talk about my plans, but when asked I was forthcoming. I’m not sure why there is a flurry of interest right now because the election is still a long ways away. But it is Chico.”

Four years ago, after a two-year stint as mayor, which he said was especially time consuming, Holcombe closed his law practice and went to work for Clients’ Rights Advocacy, whose mission is to protect the state’s disabled.

Holcombe was born in New York, grew up in Pennsylvania, attended high school in New Jersey and college in Louisiana. He received his law degree from the University of San Diego. He came to Chico in 1978 as a volunteer with Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).

“We worked on self-help housing and farm-worker cooperative housing,” he said.

In fact, part of his legacy will be the efforts he put forward on the behalf of low-income housing, the future of which is in jeopardy with the state-mandated closing of the city’s redevelopment agency.

He reflected on his reason for running for council in the first place.

“My epiphany was when I was at a City Council meeting speaking to the council on a low-income city housing issue,” he said. I remember thinking, ‘I can do this better than they can.’ I wanted to be on the other side, on the council side.”

He defended his progressive approach to politics.

“The council’s been a progressive majority since I’ve been on it because our community is a progressive majority,” he said. “I get criticized and I get incredibly ugly emails from what I like to think is a small spectrum of our community about my ‘socialist agenda.’ Frankly I don’t have an agenda other than to listen to the community.”

In fact, it was Holcombe’s vote a year ago that landed Evans a seat on the council. A vacancy occurred when Larry Wahl was elected to the Butte County Board of Supervisors. Evans was the fourth-place finisher in the race for three open seats. Holcombe had nominated a man named Sor Lo. Seeing the deadlock, and wanting, he said, to head off what was becoming an ugly political stalemate, Holcombe changed his vote to confirm Evans’ appointment.

He said a year from now, he hopes to be doing public-service work out of the country, perhaps in Central or South America.

When he got out of law school in 1978, he said, he signed up for the Peace Corps and thought he was heading to Senegal to teach English. Instead he was asked to use his law degree domestically.

“And I got sent to Chico,” he said. “I didn’t know where Chico was. I had to look it up on the map. But that was obviously a good move for me.”