Lawman showdown

Dale Rasmussen joins race to unseat District Attorney Mike Ramsey

Dale Rasmussen is shaking things up in the local June primary. He announced his candidacy for district attorney last week and will be running against DUI attorney Lance Daniel and incumbent Mike Ramsey.

Dale Rasmussen is shaking things up in the local June primary. He announced his candidacy for district attorney last week and will be running against DUI attorney Lance Daniel and incumbent Mike Ramsey.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Round two:
If none of the candidates for district attorney in the June primary gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will square off in the November general election.

Dale Rasmussen announced last week his intention to run for Butte County District Attorney, adding his name to that of 22-year incumbent Mike Ramsey and recent Sacramento transplant Lance Daniel.

Rasmussen ran for DA back in 2002, raising and spending $15,000 in campaign contributions, which helped him win 41 percent of the vote. Ramsey has run unopposed since.

This time around, Rasmussen said, he plans to take a different approach to the campaign, raising no money and talking as directly as possible with the voters. He said he learned a lot from that first run.

“There is a whole old-school playbook for elections,” he said. “It means soliciting contributions to fund various activities like buying road signs, TV ads, multicolored mailers. And they are a couple bucks each. With 180,000 voters in Butte County, that adds up. It’s obscene.”

He says running such a campaign does not lead to direct contact with the voters.

“I don’t like that. We need more credibility. There should be people in the community who know the candidate. I know that works for Ramsey, but how could they know Daniel? Myself, I live in Chico, I get out and about, my wife is a teacher; she’s taught at both Montessori schools in town and teaches part time at Butte College.”

He said there are two reasons for his decision to run again.

“Ramsey needs to go, and I’m just not impressed by the other candidate, based on the statements he’s made to the press and the little bit of reporting there has been on him.”

A local group called Citizens for Economic Balance is backing Daniel, a registered Republican. CEB was born out of Ramsey’s aggressive prosecution of some environmental crimes in the Oroville area in recent years. CEB members reportedly approached Daniel at a Republican fundraiser at Chico’s Silver Dollar Fairground last fall.

Daniel’s campaign message says Ramsey, a registered Democrat, has created a climate of fear and intimidation in Butte County.

Rasmussen, who is registered as an Independent, said he too was approached a few months back by someone connected to the CEB.

“I was contacted by a person who said they were looking for a candidate,” he said. “I suggested to them, after talking a bit, that I probably wasn’t the best person for what they were after.”

Ramsey, he said, “doesn’t always go about things in the most diplomatic way, but if somebody is caught committing major pollution and told to stop it, and they don’t, it needs to be prosecuted.”

He said he had no personal knowledge of how those cases were investigated.

The 57-year-old Rasmussen was born and raised in Corning and has practiced law for about 20 years. He is one of five public defenders who work on Children’s Services cases, defending parents whose children have been removed from their custody.

“If you ask me, I’d say I’m a country boy,” he said with a sly grin. “I wouldn’t call myself a redneck, but that was the atmosphere I was exposed to. And the effect was to become more enlightened. I was against Prop 8 [the protection of marriage law], but I am a fiscal conservative. Some have pegged me as a fiery-eyed liberal. I am left of center, but not by much. I’d say I’m similar to Ramsey. I might have long hair, but I am a member of the court.”

If elected DA, he said, he would try to create a friendlier working relationship between defense and prosecuting attorneys.

“You still fight hard in court, but when we leave the courtroom, we should be colleagues or even friends,” he said. “Currently, at least in my perception, there is a climate in the DA’s Office of distrust, even belittlement and contempt. It does flow both ways, sometimes.

“There is only one person who can work on that climate, and that is the DA. A judge can only control what is in his or her courtroom. And I would give the individual deputy DAs more credit and more exposure to the media.”

He said the current DA is “addicted” to the media.

“Ramsey goes for the big-exposure cases instead of the more garden-variety cases,” Rasmussen charged. “That said, I don’t have any personal knowledge of personal wrong-doing by him. On the other hand, say what you want about Mike Ramsey, but having too much sensitivity or nuance is not one of those things.”

Daniel said Rasmussen’s decision to enter the race is simply further proof that there are problems in the DA’s Office.

“He has his reasons for running, I have mine and Mr. Ramsey has his,” Daniel said.

For his part, Ramsey dismissed the notion he’s held the office too long. He was appointed to the position in 1987 and has been re-elected ever since.

“Obviously there is no such thing as being in office too long, unless you’ve lost your faculties,” he said. “With 22 years experience I know how to run the office, how to budget, how to deal with the Board of Supervisors and the law enforcement agencies in this county. There is no substitute for experience.”

Rasmussen disagrees.

“I take issue with the idea that to be a DA you have to be a top-gun, hot-shot trial lawyer,” he said. “You really are a general, not a soldier. It’s a disservice to the idea of electing people to say you need X number of years’ experience. Did Ramsey have any experience? No, he got lucky and was appointed to fill a gap. Then he had three years to learn on the job. He’s been there 22 and is asking now for 26. What about 20 years from now? An institution tends to ossify and lock up if you don’t stir the pot occasionally.”