In the immortal words of Detroit rocker Bob Seger and the Coors Light Band, “Where have all the conservative PACs gone, long time passing?” (Or was that Pete Seeger and the Weavers singing about flowers? I always get those guys mixed up.) Time was that every election year here in Chico you could expect a conservative PAC to form, raise a boatload of developer dollars and then spend like hell to influence the election. And sometimes it succeeded completely. Over the years, the names changed but the mission stayed the same: Elect builder-friendly councilmembers who in turn will line the Planning Commission with like-minded people. In 1996 we had the Chico Economic Foundation, which raised a staggering $58,000 to promote the candidacies of Ted Hubert and Steve Bertagna, who both won, and Bill Johnston and Paul McCormick, who both lost. The CEF also spent money to try to oust incumbent liberals Mike McGinnis and David Guzzetti. That effort proved half-way successful with the defeat of McGinnis. That same year another conservative PAC called Citizens for a Competitive Northern California raised and spent $7,000 to the same ends. Hubert died a few weeks after he was elected, and a special election was set for the following summer. This time a PAC called the Conservative Women’s Council formed and quickly raised $1,886 from six sources—all male and all building-industry related—and helped Johnston defeat Ed McLaughlin in the special election, thereby maintaining a conservative majority on the council. Two years ago we had Clear Course and its $30,000 that helped get Dan Herbert re-elected. But that $30,000 couldn’t help candidate Ross Bradford claim a council seat, and the liberals took over. Turns out, Clear Course was apparently a last gasp.

What happened? This year the only PACs are the same liberal ones that for the past few elections have raised modest amounts to promote (or demote) certain candidates. The Chico Conservation Voters (McGinnis and Guzzetti) has raised about $6,000; the Esplanade League another $8,800—peanuts compared to the conservative PACs of old. Here’s my theory: The people behind those old PACs have moved out of the area, changed jobs or died. David Reade, son-in-law of the late Assemblyman Bernie Richter, now works out of Sacramento as Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa’s chief of staff. Josh Cook, who worked for Rep. Wally Herger, is now in another state. Reade and Cook both ran political consulting firms that provided political savvy and organization for the conservative movement that came of age in ’96. With money from local developers, contractors and real estate agents and idealistic, anti-tax “foot soldiers” to do their bidding, they helped the re-born right to become the dominant force in local politics. Jim Mann, former director of the Building Industry Association, was in the middle of a lot of the fundraising back then. He’s no longer running things at the BIA. And Chico mega-builder Dan Drake, one of the conservatives’ deeper pockets, died a few years ago. His widow Ginger, we’ve heard, doesn’t share her late husband’s interest in politics. In other words, the local conservative money machine no longer has either the operators to steer it nor the fuel keep it humming along.

One more question: Where is the hatchet man from the conservatives’ heyday, John Gillander, lurking this election season?

I recently got word from Phoenix that the Arizona Republic newspaper picked up the story about Chico’s efforts to legally accommodate big-ass SUVs by raising the maximum vehicle-weight limit on non-truck route roads from three to seven tons. In the last 20 years or so, apparently, the curb weight of these mighty trucks has overtaken the maximum limit as set by law back when we were a saner society. We’re guessing the AR picked up the story from our local paper, which had brought this glaring incompatibility between law and reality to the city leaders’ attention. Thanks a lot, Enterprise-Record, for alerting the entire nation to our fetish for really big and impractical transportation. How embarrassing. Couldn’t you have just left well-enough alone?