Eight is enough

Herger’s retirement leaves a crowded race for Congress

Sam Aanestad

Sam Aanestad

photo by kyle emery

Wally Herger’s announcement Jan. 10 that he would not seek re-election to the congressional seat he’s held for the last quarter-century triggered a wave of interest, and eight candidates jumped into the race, including a couple of widely known veterans.

Fourth District state Sen. Doug LaMalfa was blessed with the incumbent’s endorsement on the same day Herger made his plans official. LaMalfa’s predecessor, former state Sen. Sam Aanestad, made public mention of his interest in the job soon after and then made it official on Feb. 10.

Joining those two Republicans in the June 5 primary election are the candidates who ran for Herger’s seat two years ago—retired Air Force Col. Pete Stiglich of Cottonwood, also a Republican, and Democrat Jim Reed, a tax attorney out of Fall River Mills.

And those four are joined by two more Republicans: Gregory Cheadle, a real estate agent from Happy Valley, who actually announced his intentions to run a year ago, and Michael Dacquisto, a Redding attorney.

Rounding out the field are Nathan Arrowsmith, a Democrat from Red Bluff who doesn’t trust government, and Gary Oxley, a registered nurse from Redding who says that, while he has been both a Republican and Democrat, he is running as an Independent.

Political reality in the open primary suggests that the top-two finishers will be Reed and either LaMalfa or Aanestad. The Republican candidates most likely will split most of their party’s vote between them, while Reed will pick up most of the registered Democrats.

Reed lost to Herger in the general election two years ago, but received a respectable 43 percent of the vote. The 1st Congressional District was redrawn since that time, and while it is still heavily Republican, Reed thinks he has a pretty good shot.

The district has “changed favorably,” he said. “When I ran against Wally Herger in 2010,” he said, “boy, it was a rough year to have ‘Democrat’ next to your name because the Tea Party was basically in control.”

Reed lost by seven percentage points and won in Butte County. He said his campaign has analyzed the new district, and even though the number of registered Republicans is 12 percent higher than in the old district, 20 percent of the voters are registered as independent or decline to state.

Spicing up the race is the recent flap generated by a website called Sam4Congress.com, which criticized Aanestad’s voting record and his “out of touch elitism.”

Aanestad’s people traced the site’s source to LaMalfa’s chief of staff and campaign manager, Mark Spannagel, who has remained silent publicly in the wake of the disclosure, which happened on May 14.

Jim Reed

photo by tom gascoyne

The next day LaMalfa’s campaign released a statement: “Neither Doug LaMalfa, nor the LaMalfa campaign, had any knowledge or involvement in the construction or posting of the website in question, which just came to our attention this morning.”

It also added this disclaimer about the role of humor in politics: “Political satire has a long history in American politics, something that thin-skinned candidates, or those trying to hide their record, sometimes have trouble fully appreciating.”

Aanestad’s campaign called the website a “clear violation of federal campaign finance disclosure laws.” A lawsuit has been filed.

Interestingly, Aanestad noted that an accusation on the website that he is not an oral surgeon or doctor was also brought up back in 1998 when he ran against former LaMalfa chief of staff David Reade for the Republican nomination for state Assembly, the seat for which Reade’s father-in-law, the late Bernie Richter, had just been termed out.

At a recent candidates’ forum at the Paradise Senior Center, candidates were asked about the website controversy—ironically, neither LaMalfa or Aanestad attended the forum, each saying he had a scheduling conflict.

Oxley said he was “very disappointed it even made the headlines. It’s just mudslinging.”

The accusation by Aanestad and any discussion of the matter, he said, should have been done behind closed doors.

For his part, Jim Reed said he had heard of a similar misinformation effort in which a purported “Democratic mailer” was sent out telling voters, “We support Sam Aanestad.”

Michael Dacquisto noted a reference to him was initially on the website, which had a disclaimer across the bottom of the page that said: “Free Thinkers for D’Acquisto.” He called the posting “childish.”

Candidate Greg Cheadle said he, too, was linked to the site because of his campaign signs that say “Thinkers for Cheadle.”

Pete Stiglich called the matter a “major distraction.”

“It’s childish and says something about the candidates and the people who work for them, the people whose jobs count on these guys getting re-elected,” he said.

Doug LaMalfa

photo courtesy of doug lamalfa

On the other hand, Aanestad has been accused of saying President Obama is Muslim (see Guest comment, page 4). At a press conference on May 21, he said the statement, while he can’t remember the exact words, was in response to a question at a Tea Party meeting in Paradise a month ago.

“What I said was that the president’s background is Muslim,” Aanestad said. “He was brought up in the Muslim culture, his father was a Muslim. Does that mean he follows the practices and customs? He says he is Christian. Who are we to judge?”

On matters of actual government, Reed says an overhaul of the nation’s payroll taxes is in order and that the wealthy should pay more. He referred to the remark made by President Obama during the State of the Union Address about billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s secretary paying a higher tax rate than her boss.

“But the federal government has been mired in a political gridlock over the past four years with little getting done,” he said.

He does not support the House budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that calls for a slowing down of federal spending over the years to balance the budget in 2049. “The Ryan plan balances the budget on the backs of our services like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” he said.

Dacquisto said the Ryan Plan doesn’t reduce spending fast enough. Stiglich agreed and said more strident spending cuts are needed.

On the matter of federal farm subsidies, another touchy subject in this race because of LaMalfa’s Richvale rice farm being on the receiving end of nearly $5 million in the last 15 years, the candidates who weighed in at the Paradise forum were for the most part on the same page.

Oxley said he was against them. Cheadle called them “green-collar welfare,” and Dacquisto said, “Let the free market system work.”

Reed said subsidies have their place to encourage farmers to grow or not grow certain crops. “But I’m not sure about a 2,000-acre rice farm receiving $5 million over the years,” he said in an obvious reference to LaMalfa.

Stiglich didn’t bite his tongue. “I agree with these guys,” he said. “Subsidies have outlived their purpose, and now only the big farms get them. LaMalfa will continue to fight for subsidies. Is that the kind of leadership we want?”

While he wasn’t at the forum in person, LaMalfa did forward a statement that was read by Art Messenger, the senior center’s president and emcee of the event.

“Thanks for the forum and I’m wishing you all the best,” the statement began. He mentioned some of the support he’s received, including that of the Gun Owners of California, Crime Victims United and the California Farm Bureau Federation, and that he has earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.

He said it is time to “stop the spending and rampant waste in Washington,” and reminded voters that he has been fighting against implementation of the state’s high-speed rail system.

“I would eliminate the burdensome laws and regulations, fight Obamacare and out-of-control government.”