One out, one in, one on
The race for two supervisors to represent Chico on the Butte County Board of Supervisors got simultaneously a little milder and a little wilder last week, as one candidate all but sewed up her seat and another dropped out, allowing a current Chico City Councilman to drop in.
Staying in the race is Chico District Two supervisor Jane Dolan, who will run uncontested for an eighth term. While there were rumors that a conservative candidate would jump in at the last moment to challenge the well-connected and deeply-rooted lefty, no candidate actually emerged. Dolan’s district is made up of the downtown and college areas of town.
North Chico’s District Three seat was left up for grabs after Supervisor Mary Anne Houx, an old-school conservative, announced her retirement last year. But the race took a turn when conservative candidate Anthony Watts opted out last week, saying there was “not enough Anthony to go around.”
Watts, a TV weatherman and Chico Unified School District trustee, said family pressures and a heavy workload at the school board had crippled his ability to mount an effective campaign. When he came to that realization, he said, he immediately went to conservative Chico City councilman Steve Bertagna and asked him if he had an interest in running.
Bertagna almost immediately stepped in to fill the void, setting up a run against Maureen Kirk, a left-leaning moderate who also sits on the Chico City Council.
Just to make it interesting, Chuck Kutz, a spa contractor and political novice, is also running.
Bertagna, who lost a close race to Houx for the same seat in 2002, said he had already raised close to $20,000 in campaign funds and opined that his late start would not hurt him at the polls.
“The way it’s happened is perhaps unconventional but there’s plenty of time to put the race together,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider myself behind in fund-raising and I haven’t even got a fund-raising letter out yet. The rest of it, we’ve got the template. I’ve got the same campaign team together. We’ve hit the ground running …. With the experience of having done it before, I probably have the edge, not the disadvantage, over my opponents.”
Bertagna bills himself as a “common-sense conservative Republican.” He has a long family history in the area and owns a car audio business in Chico. He is well known on the council for defending the rights of developers against environmental and other challenges, but said he is not necessarily pro-growth.
“I would love to see us at a point in our history where we stopped growing, but that isn’t realistic,” he said. “The best we can do is try and manage and control the things around us and try to maintain the quality of life and create an atmosphere where that growth is … going to occur in an organized fashion. If we could go back to 1970 and stop [growing], I’d do it.”
Kirk, who has opposed Bertagna on the council more often than she has agreed with him, said her campaign strategy has not changed with her opponent’s late entry into the race. If anything, she said, the differences between her and Bertagna are starker than those between her and Watts, and should help voters make a clear distinction.
“Our constituencies are very different,” she said. “Anthony [Watts] was kind of nebulous because he didn’t have a known philosophy. Steve [Bertagna] and I at least have records we can run on.”
Kirk said land use issues are key in both city and county politics and that her stands on creating open space and curbing urban sprawl will resonate with many in the half-urban, half-rural district she covets.
“I want to keep open space and agricultural lands and I support the green line,” Kirk said, referring to the so-called ag-urban interface, which she said her opponent has expressed little respect for. Kirk also said she hopes to “get a handle” on the county’s meth problem, while Bertagna made a pitch for funding libraries and building a new veteran’s hall.
The dark horse in the race is Forest Ranch resident James “Chuck” Kutz, 48, who is running as an independent but has a strong conservative streak. Kutz wants better roads, increased law enforcement and more fire protection for rural areas and said county administration could be streamlined. While he admits to lacking experience, he hopes to sell his outsider status to voters, who he said are tired of infighting and partisan politics.
“I’m registered as an Independent, but really, what’s all that got to do with being on the Board of Supervisors?” he asked. “One thing that’s good about that is there will probably not be a lot people standing behind the curtain and telling me what to do because I’m not in those camps.”