Long-shot candidates

Wahl and Spears face uphill battles against experienced incumbents

When Jane Dolan first took her seat as a Butte County supervisor, Jimmy Carter was president. That was 1979, and she’s been there ever since—nearly 32 years. Voters in District 2 seem to believe she’s doing a pretty good job, since they’ve returned her to office seven times. This year, though, two-term Chico City Councilman Larry Wahl thinks he can end her streak.

The two squared off for an hour Monday evening (May 3) in the first of three candidates’ forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Chico Enterprise-Record, fielding questions from a panel of journalists (including yours truly) and audience members. In the second hour, District 3 Supervisor Maureen Kirk and her challenger, Chico businessman Erny Spears, did likewise.

The incumbents had a big advantage. Dolan probably knows more about county government than anyone alive today. And she’s been working her district for so long she knows nearly every constituent by name, including the babies. Kirk, after four years in office, also can speak knowledgeably about the complexities and details of the job.

Their opponents lack that ability, so instead they are trying to ride the wave of anti-government sentiment characterized by the Tea Party phenomenon. Their biggest issue Monday was jobs and what they charged was the anti-business, anti-free-market mentality of their opponents and county government in general. But Dolan and Kirk were able to counter that the county was working on streamlining its regulatory processes and had included an ambitious economic-development element in the new general plan.

The only surprise came when Spears insisted, during his opening statement, that the Pledge of Allegiance be said and that Wahl, who was in the audience, lead it. It was an audacious move—the forum was half over by this time, and it wasn’t an official meeting anyway—and some in the audience groaned, but everyone rose and quickly said the pledge.

Wahl, who is in his 60s, made the one good joke of the evening, pledging that if elected he wouldn’t serve 32 years.

But Spears and Wahl are definitely long-shot candidates. My guess is that voters know Dolan and Kirk are doing a good job during difficult times and will return them to office.

A shout-out to Roger Aylworth: The veteran E-R reporter was also on Monday’s panel. But unlike me and the third panelist, Northstate Public Radio’s Tom Gascoyne, Aylworth needed to file a story that very night. That’s tough double duty. The next morning there it was, on the front page: “Butte supervisor candidates share thoughts at forum.” The man’s a credit to the profession.

Speaking of good jobs: I want to call attention this week to the first installment of Christine LaPado’s new weekly column, called “The GreenHouse.” As its name suggests, she’ll be discussing gardening, building, decorating, cooking and many other topics, all in the context of sustainability and doing it yourself. It promises to be both useful and entertaining.