Ramsey’s got a fight on his hands
DA has two challengers for the first time in his career
One of the more interesting and contentious local races is for Butte County district attorney, perhaps the most powerful position in the county. For the first time in his career, longtime incumbent Mike Ramsey faces two challengers.
They are local attorney Dale Rasmussen, who ran against Ramsey in 2002, and Lance Daniel, a transplant from Sacramento recruited by some local business owners whom Ramsey has prosecuted for polluting.
The group, headed by Butte County scrap-metal-yard owner George Scott, formed a political-action committee in October 2008 called Citizens for Economic Balance. Ramsey prosecuted Scott in connection with his scrap-metal yard located at the Highway 70 Industrial Park, one of four he owns. It was leaching chemical contaminants that migrated into the nearby Feather River.
Since Daniel officially announced earlier this year that he was running, countless green signs of various sizes touting his name as well as numerous billboards have spread across the county. Ramsey signs, too, have blossomed across the landscape, and in fact there’ve been rumors and exchanged charges of illegal sign removal, which is nothing new in a political campaign.
Rasmussen signs are conspicuously absent, and that is by design. The 57-year-old attorney announced early on that he was not raising money this time around, and if supporters wanted signs they’d have to make their own.
Nor has Rasmussen participated at any of the candidate debates, sitting them out to let the other candidates trade barbs and criticisms in a public forum. And that they have done.
On May 13, at a forum in Chico hosted by the League of Women Voters, Daniel and Ramsey took questions from a panel of journalists, including the author of this piece, as well as questions from the audience. Ramsey, born and raised in Oroville, portrayed Daniel as an outsider brought in by disgruntled convicted polluters. Daniel said Ramsey has been in office too long and practiced selective prosecution of those with deep pockets. He also criticized the DA’s conviction rate.
Ramsey defended his record, saying the conviction rate is on par with or better than other area counties’ rates and, more important, the crime rate here has dropped in recent years.
Daniel, who came to Butte County with a reputation as a DUI attorney, though he now resents that label, said he’s worked some 12,000 cases in his 20-year career. He is also trying to separate himself from another bit of his past, and that is his work in the field of “remote viewing,” which is the use of physic abilities to solve crimes.
His connections to it are all over the Internet, including a story from St. Louis Magazine dated 2007. In that story Daniel talks of meeting Bevy Jaegers, founder of something called the U.S. Psychic Squad. In fact, the same story says that Daniel became the director of the squad after Jaegers died in 2001.
But when asked about the squad at the League of Women Voters debate, Daniel distanced himself from the practice, calling it simply a tool of which he remains skeptical.
As for Ramsey’s prosecution of local businesses for polluting the environment, Daniel says it’s a matter of determining whether a crime occurred and then seeking compliance with environmental laws.
“How you get that compliance is either through cooperation, which is the way I would try to get it first, or, if necessary through prosecution.”
He said very often the polluters don’t know the law and need to be educated.
“You’ve got to work with the community,” he said. “It is the district attorney’s job to administer the office and use judgment and discretion as to the resources of his office.”
For his part, Ramsey notes that when going after polluters, he first sends an abatement notice telling them to stop what they are doing. If they don’t he prosecutes.
“If it is brought to our attention,” he said, “we tell them, here is what the law is, and here is the endangerment to the public, and you need to stop. Some are very agreeable to do the right thing, and others want to buy their own district attorney candidate.”
Ramsey has been challenged for his seat only twice in his long career. He was appointed to office in 1987 following the resignation of Will Mattly and ran for re-election three years later against George Robison, a criminal-defense attorney. Ramsey won that campaign by garnering 72 percent of the vote.
He points out that today he has the support of local law enforcement, including the sheriff, all chiefs of police and all of the local police officer associations.
He also doesn’t buy the been-in-office-too-long argument used against him.
“How long is too long? Would you rather have an experienced prosecutor work a case in which you are the victim, or maybe the surviving kin of the victim, who has been murdered, raped, robbed? That is the answer.”
Dale Rasmussen ran for DA back in 2002, raising and spending $15,000 in campaign contributions, which helped him win 41 percent of the vote.
He is running, if not exactly a stealth campaign, then one that is nearly off the radar. He is using social networking, including Facebook, on which some 535 people have joined under the “like this” category.
The low-profile candidate has posted a couple of videos on his Facebook page. One is called “Remove Ramsey” and begins with Rasmussen sitting in a chair, holding a sign with those very words.
He tells the camera that Ramsey has been in office too long and needs to go. He asks the voters of Butte County not to vote for Ramsey. “It is imperative to remove Mike Ramsey from office. We need new blood in the DA’s office. Thank you.”
The other video is titled: “Waging War on Politics as Usual.” In this one he is wearing a T-shirt left over from his 2002 campaign that says, “Rasmussen for District Attorney.”
There are no T-shirts this time around, he says, because T-shirts cost money and he thinks it is immoral to spend money on political campaigns. Television ads, he adds, are annoying. Billboards end up in landfills, as do the multi-colored mailers, which are too slick to recycle.
“It’s obscene to take people’s money and buy garbage with it,” he tells his audience. “It’s obscene to insult the intelligence of working people. So this time around I am declaring war on politics as usual. I’m pledging a campaign that is going to be free of caca.”
The ponytailed 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.
Daniel, who has said he’d be selective about the cases he’ll take, portrayed Rasmussen as a defender of “child molesters.” Rasmussen shook his head and gritted his teeth against such an accusation.
“Ramsey needs to go,” Rasmussen insists. “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 done on him.”
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.”
If no candidate takes more than 50 percent of the vote June 8, the top two finishers will face off in the November general election.