Is Nielsen fudging again?

The Republican establishment backs the candidate, but his opponents charge he doesn’t live in the district. It’s not the first time …

WOULD JIM NIELSEN LIVE HERE?<br>This is the mobile home in Gerber that former state Sen. Jim Nielsen (inset), who is now running for the District 2 Assembly seat, indicated on his filing form was his residence. He actually lives in a gated community in Woodland, outside the district. <br>PHOTO BY BARRY CLAUSEN/COURTESY OF THE PIONEER PRESS

This is the mobile home in Gerber that former state Sen. Jim Nielsen (inset), who is now running for the District 2 Assembly seat, indicated on his filing form was his residence. He actually lives in a gated community in Woodland, outside the district.

Raking it in:
So far, Assembly candidate Jim Nielsen has raised $279,000 in campaign funds. The only Republican opponent even within range is Charlie Schaupp, who has lent his campaign $100,000. The other two Republicans, John Martinez and Pete Stiglich, have not raised enough money to require reporting it.

It’s déjà vu all over again for Jim Nielsen. Once more, the former state senator finds his credibility being challenged as he runs for statewide office. It happened 18 years ago, and it’s happening again now. The issue is the same: his residency.

It last surfaced during his re-election campaign in 1990. He’d been in the Senate for 12 years, since 1978, representing District 4 while living in Woodland and rising to become Senate Republican leader. The problem was that, from 1983 on, following reapportionment, his home was no longer in his district, as required by state law.

In January 1986, Nielsen bought a condo in Rohnert Park, which was in the district. In July 1989, he sold the condo and rented another. When the San Francisco Chronicle questioned him about the new digs, he gave the wrong address. And when the weekly Napa Sentinel sent a reporter to the correct address, the resident next door said she thought the condo was empty and that she had never seen Nielsen.

Nielsen lost that 1990 election, but Republican Gov. Pete Wilson soon appointed him to the Board of Prison Terms.

Fast-forward to summer 2007. District 2 Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, anticipating that he’d be termed out in 2008, approached his long-time friend Nielsen and asked him to run. Nielsen, who has said he wasn’t looking to get back in politics, agreed to throw his hat in the ring.

Once again, however, his home—in a gated Woodland subdivision—is outside the district.

Nielsen registered to vote in Tehama County, and on Feb. 29, 2008, filed his candidacy with that county’s clerk. He listed his address as 22475 Pomona in Gerber.

That might have been the end of it, had nobody thought to check. But somebody did.

One of Nielsen’s opponents in the Republican primary is John Martinez, who has worked as a reporter at the Pioneer Press, a feisty weekly paper serving the Scott Valley area, including the towns of Fort Jones and Etna, north of Weaverville and west of Weed.

Not coincidentally, in late March, that paper’s editor and publisher, Daniel Webster, and reporter Barry Clausen drove down I-5 to Gerber to find out just what Nielsen’s new home looked like. Not much, it turned out: “Chickens run amuck along the roadway,” they wrote, and “a dilapidated trailer sits next to the double-wide mobile home on Pomona Road.”

Nielsen had told them that he and his wife, Marilyn, had purchased the property in September 2007 from his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Larry and Ellen VanDyke.

The woman who answered the door said Nielsen didn’t live there. She refused to identify herself, but when asked whether she was Ellen VanDyke, she replied, “No.”

When Webster and Clausen’s story appeared, in the April 2 issue of the Pioneer Press—under a huge front-page headline reading, “Is Jim Nielsen a fraud?"—it made waves throughout the North State. Nielsen’s three opponents in the Republican primary all called attention to it, and newspapers from Mount Shasta to Woodland picked it up, writing their own versions of the “Where does he lay his head” tale.

None, however, noted that this was not the first time Nielsen had been challenged on the residency issue.

State law says that, in order to run for the Assembly or Senate, a person must be registered to vote in the district. In order to register, one must declare residency. But Nielsen, by his own admission, has never lived in Gerber. In an April 11 story in the Mt. Shasta Herald, he was reported as confirming, in a phone call, that he currently lived in Woodland and lived there when he filed as a candidate.

The candidate did not return a CN&R message left at his Yuba City campaign office, but he’s told other newspapers that his attorney signed off on his residency.

“I checked with my attorney before I even filed,” Nielsen told Herald reporter Earl Bolender. “He told me that because I own property in the district and plan to make it my home, I meet the legal residency requirement.”

His in-laws are building another home, he said, and when they move out he and his wife will move into the double-wide. They will keep their Woodland home and use it when the Legislature is in session.

To Charlie Schaupp, that doesn’t pass the smell test. Schaupp, a farmer and retired Marine Corps. lieutenant colonel from Esparto who served in Iraq, is one of three men running against Nielsen in the Republican primary. The others are Martinez and Pete Stiglich, a retired Air Force colonel from Cottonwood. (The lone Democratic candidate is Paul Singh, a Yuba City resident who ran unsuccessfully against Sam Aanestad for the District 4 Senate seat in 2006.)

The idea that Jim Nielsen would move into a mobile home in Gerber is absurd on its face, Schaupp said. More significant, though, is the fact that “he had almost eight months to move, but didn’t,” Schaupp said. “According to the laws of California, he can’t run. He needs to withdraw. … Either you follow the laws or you don’t, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be in office.”

Schaupp said he has asked the Tehama County Grand Jury to investigate Nielsen’s residency.

Another person trying to derail Nielsen’s candidacy is Don Bird, a Red Bluff man who was in the news last year for protesting and filing suit when he couldn’t get a jury trial to contest a speeding ticket.

He was angry then at LaMalfa for refusing to back his effort and took to standing on street corners carrying a big sign reading, “Doug LaMalfa is a liar.” Now he’s going after LaMalfa’s pal Nielsen. On April 7 he filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Tehama County Superior Court seeking to compel the candidate to withdraw from the race unless he can prove he has met the residency requirement.

Should he succeed, or should the Tehama County grand jury get seriously involved, it could have a big impact on the District 2 race. Nielsen has the backing of virtually the entire Republican establishment, from former Govs. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian on down to county sheriffs and district attorneys.

Not that there’s much difference between him and his less widely known opponents, at least on the issues. All are bedrock conservatives. What separates them is the opponents’ notion that, while Nielsen is a statewide figure whose loyalty is to the Republican Party and his own advancement, they are local guys who want to serve their constituents.

Stiglich has said he’s been surprised by the way members of the Republican establishment have gotten behind Nielsen, endorsing him long before the deadline for filing—and thus possibly before all candidates had filed.

Otherwise, though, he has chosen to let others fight the residency battle. “I’m trying to monitor the situation from a distance,” he said in a phone interview.

“It’s been quite a process,” he added, explaining that he’s become somewhat disillusioned by politics, “a system I helped to defend for 26 years. … I’ve been walking the towns in the district, and I hear a lot that the system is rigged.”