Liberals shine locally

But—no surprise— conservatives dominate other Northstate elections

AW SHUCKS Rep. Wally Herger welcomes with open arms his supporters at the Holiday Inn early on election night. Herger, R-Chico, who was elected to his 10th term in Congress, and his probable successor in that seat, Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, were the star attractions.

AW SHUCKS Rep. Wally Herger welcomes with open arms his supporters at the Holiday Inn early on election night. Herger, R-Chico, who was elected to his 10th term in Congress, and his probable successor in that seat, Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, were the star attractions.

In past presidential elections, when conservatives prevailed on the national and state scenes, liberals did well in Chico.

That tradition held true for this year’s election, as Republicans triumphed nationally and elsewhere in the Northstate and liberals came up big in Chico, regaining the majority on the City Council—assuming that the provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted don’t change the outcome.

With four seats up for grabs and all 43 city precincts counted, first-time candidate and bike shop owner Ann Schwab collected the most votes, 10,049, outdistancing second-place finisher and conservative incumbent Steve Bertagna by a slim 84 votes. Newcomer Andy Holcombe, a tenants'-rights attorney, finished third (9,520), ahead of incumbent Larry Wahl. Environmentalist John Merz finished in fifth place (8,802), a mere 323 votes behind Wahl.

The remainder of the 13-candidate pack fell well off the pace, as former longtime City Manager Fred Davis and banker Jolene Francis both came in more than 1,000 votes behind Merz.

The race for two trustee seats on the Chico Unified School Board came down to a three-way contest, with first-time candidate Jann Reed (13,877) finishing just ahead of incumbents Rick Anderson (13,199) and Steve O’Bryan (13,066). The results of the second seat will not be finalized until the absentee and provisional votes are tallied.

The day after the election, Anderson said the texture of the board would change without him or O’Bryan and that Reed’s campaign resonated in the community.

“One of her platforms was that the board needed a mom on it,” he said.

For her part, Reed said the voters showed they wanted change and experience.

“I know the learning curve is steep,” she said. “But I’m ready to get to work and solve the issues at hand.”

O’Bryan was skeptical about his chances of re-election.

“I would like to see Rick re-elected,” he said. “He has more experience than me and I think the community would be lucky to have him back. I think the reason [Reed] won is that there were five white guys on the board. She played the gender card to great effect.

“I think she will be hard-pressed to follow through on her campaign rhetoric.”

O’Bryan said he will probably apply for the planning commission.

“I’ll be around,” he said. “I still have a lot of irons in the fire.”

Dale Penne, the biggest spender in the race, came in more than 2,000 votes behind the frontrunners.

Andy Holcombe, who was elected to the Chico City Council, spent his election night at Moxie’s Café.

Continuing with tradition, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, pulverized opponent Mike Johnson for the 2nd Congressional District seat by gaining 67 percent of the vote. Rick Keene, R-Chico, trounced Democratic challenger Robert Woods, 60 percent to 37 percent, for the 3rd District Assembly seat, while in the 2nd District Doug LaMalfa plowed over opponent Barbara McIver with 65 percent of the vote.

Measure D, the attempt to ban genetically modified plants and animals from Butte County, withered on the vine, as 60.6 percent of the voters said no. In Chico voters told citizens 18 to 20 years olds they still can’t run for City Council by defeating Measure H, 61 to 39 percent, but those who are elected can expect to see their monthly stipend jump from $60 to as much as $500, as voters barely approved Measure I, with 52 percent saying yes.

Measure J, filling vacancies on the council, passed with 75 percent of the vote, while Measure K, preparing a city budget every two years instead of one, also passed, as did Measure L, an inconsequential housekeeping item for city operations.

Nine of the state’s 16 propositions passed, including Prop. 71, which pumps $3 billion into stem-cell research, and 1A, which protects local government budgets from state government takings. Required health care coverage, Prop. 72, was narrowly defeated, as was funding of hospital emergency services (Prop. 67), but expanded health care for the mentally ill (Prop. 63) won. Reform of the so-called three-strikes law, Prop. 66, failed, as did the effort to conduct open primaries, Prop. 62.

Both gambling-related initiatives, one to expand tribal gaming (Prop. 70), the other to allow non-tribal casinos into the state (Prop. 68), were both defeated. The so-called “ban on frivolous lawsuits” (Prop. 64) passed. Amending the state Constitution to include a reference to the public’s right to examine certain government records passed.

As is also part of local election tradition, the Republicans gathered at the Holiday Inn, where they snacked from a buffet table of cheese, crackers, fruit and sliced meat, while over at Moxie’s Cafà, the Demos bemoaned the national trends and cheered local developments.

Banners and bunting adorned the Herger/Keene Republican Party room at the Holiday Inn. Decked out in their stars-and-stripes costumes, Republicans young and old came out to support their candidates and chow down on the spread, the air thick with the smell of roast beef and hairspray.

Cheers erupted when Rep. Herger addressed the crowd and asked, “Is anyone excited about this election?” He reminded his supporters how important the political process is and “the fact that freedom is not free.” He said he was so grateful to have a president who does not wait for terrorists to attack, but rather is going after them before they get us.

He thanked the Republicans for the privilege and honor to be able to fight the battle, in Washington DC, for the beliefs and ideals that they share. He ended his short speech with the reassurance that he isn’t retiring in two years; indeed, he said he had two words for the crowd: “Strom Thurmond,” referring to the legendary South Carolina senator who served into his 90s.

Rick Keene said he wants to head back to Sacramento to continue his work on the budget, health care, health insurance and illegal workers.

Despite the success for the Republicans on the state and national front, not everyone was cheery at the Holiday Inn. Infamous Republican dirty trickster and former Keene campaign worker John Gillander told a News & Review reporter, “You’re the News & Review—you write lies and eat shit.”

At the county Elections Office in Oroville, ballot retrieval and countless hours of vote tallying became the main objective for Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs and her election-night squad of Grand Jury members, county workers and volunteers, primarily from the League of Women Voters. Ballots were collected in truckloads from the county’s 183 precincts and delivered to the Elections Office where they were sifted and placed in one of five counting machines.

Many of the absentee votes, roughly one-third of the total cast, came in early and made for easier verification of signatures and a head start on calculations.

Provisional ballots, those where there is some question as to the voter’s valid registration, present a bit of a headache to the ballot counters.

“I am given 28 days to record the provisional ballots,” Grubbs said, meaning final results may not be known until after Thanksgiving.

At Moxie’s, in downtown Chico, Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder and wall to wall with their eyes on three televisions beaming national results and a couple of laptops supplying the local numbers. They would collectively groan as President Bush crept closer to re-election and then burst out with cheers when results showed City Council candidates Schwab and Holcombe steadily gained on the conservative incumbents.

The joy of local success was tempered with the news coming from CNN that all but assured another four years of George W. Bush at the wheel. By around 2 a.m., those who’d stayed to the bitter end began to exit the cafà.

And, as they walked outside, it started to rain.