As much as I appreciate readers turning to our pages before casting their ballots, there’s more to an informed decision than a scan of endorsements. Candidates and issues are rarely two-dimensional, so 3D exposure—up close, in person—makes a big difference.
To that aim, the League of Women Voters provides an invaluable service by hosting candidate forums. Recognizing how absentee/mail-in voters abound, it’s all the better that the Butte County chapter scheduled its events a month ahead of Election Day: Oct. 1 in Paradise, Oct. 2 in Oroville, Oct. 6 and 9 in Chico, Oct. 8 in South County.
Media members serve as panelists, asking questions that supplement audience queries (read by the league moderator). I participated in the first three and will be in Chico City Council Chambers for the congressional debate between Wally Herger and Jeff Morris.
I’m pretty sure I know who I’ll favor in that race when it comes time for CN&R endorsements, which will come out Oct. 23 after a meeting of the minds of our editorial board. Other races require more research and thought—ergo, the value of forums.
Here’s my take on each candidate panel, subject to change come Election Issue.
Chico City Council: They didn’t wear scarlet-letter Cs, but the words they spoke leave no doubt that Mark Sorensen, Joe Valente and Cynthia Van Auken share the ideological identification of self-proclaimed conservative Councilman Larry Wahl. They’re eerily close to being a slate, even if just by affinity. Sorensen, who as part of a slate narrowly lost in 2006, was the most cogent and convincing of the four.
Vice Mayor Ann Schwab won the night with clear, forceful articulation of her positions and record. Mayor Andy Holcombe’s answers had substance, if not the same style. Jim Walker and Ali Sarsour showed qualities present in most first-time council candidates: long on big ideas, short on specifics. If humor counts for anything, Sarsour got the most and biggest laughs.
Chico school board: Only three of the five candidates showed up. Elizabeth Griffin let the league know she’d be out of town; David Pollak, where were you?
I tend to cringe at one-trick ponies, and sure enough, Jjon Mohr’s carping on district salaries grated … and yet, the fact he had contracts in hand and hard data at his fingertips means he’s not knee-jerk indignant. He certainly would strip the genteel façade off the board.
Anticipating attack points such as school closures, current board President Jann Reed smoothly defended her tenure (though she may regret having put on the record a pledge to investigate complaints of past wrongdoings by current employees). Zane Schreder proved a great advocate for improved facilities, which would have come across better were he not a school project manager by trade.
Paradise Town Council: What a mixed bag.
Elaine Baltierra—totally out of her element, even on her single big issue, police oversight. David Anderson—almost as totally out of his element. Stan McEtchin—grumpy (as opposed to “Grumpy,” Dave Davis, who missed the forum while recovering from surgery).
Joe DiDuca was the only challenger on par with the three incumbents, of which I’m more in line with two (Robin Huffman and Woody Culleton) than one (Alan White). More pondering is in order.
Paradise school board: What an embarrassment of riches. Putting aside Glenn Stankis and his honor-thy-flag-and-cross agenda, there are seven broad-minded candidates for three seats.
Incumbent Donna Nichols showed why she’s up for a fifth term … but her slatemate, two-termer Gary Manwill, raised a serious red flag with his support of No Child Left Behind. (Gary, you’ve got some ’splainin’ to do—even Mr. Stankis knows NCLB is bad law.) So for the other seats, I’d give the early edge to Tom Conry and Justin Meyers.
Oroville City Council: What an interesting group. Too bad ex-Councilman Al Simpson and longtime Planning Commissioner Thil Chan-Wilcox weren’t more impressive; rival incumbents Jim Prouty and Jack Berry sure were, as was former Fire Chief Dave Pittman, whose bold declarations included that Southside should be annexed—and get a council seat—by November 2012.
Congress (District 4): Tom McClintock is too conservative for my way of thinking, but I can man up and admit he won the debate. Charlie Brown hung his hat on several fallacies—most notably the slogan that if you like the way California has been run, you like McClintock. (The rub: Republicans have been in the minority most of that time.)
McClintock had his doubletalky moments, too (tight currency flow is bad—loose currency flow is good … and led to the housing boom that led to the loan bust, which is bad); they just weren’t as conspicuous. Though Brown would serve the district better, he must stop doing himself a disservice with flimsy talking points.