Referendum momentum

More than twice the number of needed signatures gathered to place county redistricting plan before the voters

NAME GAME: Butte County Supervisor Mary Anne Houx hands off her collection of signatures to volunteer Michael Pike as part of the effort to overturn the redrawing of supervisorial districts as approved by Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi, Bob Beeler and Curt Josiassen.

NAME GAME: Butte County Supervisor Mary Anne Houx hands off her collection of signatures to volunteer Michael Pike as part of the effort to overturn the redrawing of supervisorial districts as approved by Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi, Bob Beeler and Curt Josiassen.

photo by Tom Angel

Validation time: The Butte County Elections Office has 30 working days to complete the signature verification process, reports Laurie Cassady, the assistant registrar of voters. One person in that office will sort the petitions by the number of signatures on each and feed that information into a computer. Then all new voter registration cards will be tabulated, followed by the task of comparing signatures for validation.

They needed 6,562 signatures; in the end they got more than 14,000.

The folks behind the effort to repeal via referendum the Butte County supervisors’ adoption of a controversial redistricting plan were understandably happy this week. As the Sept. 26 deadline passed and they prepared to turn in their petitions, they had not only enough signatures to assure the plan would be placed on an upcoming ballot, they also had enough to feel confident of ultimate victory.

On Sept. 24, referendum organizer Amaera BayLaurel-Ceccone said as many as 12,000 signatures had been gathered and turned into Butte County Elections Recorder Candice Grubbs, whose office will now begin the painstaking task of validating them. By the 26th organizers reported 14,451 signatures would be handed in.

Included among the many volunteers who harvested signatures from across the county was Chico-area Supervisor Mary Anne Houx, whose 3rd District would be significantly altered should the plan in question, Paradise Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi’s self-titled “Return to Fairness,” be implemented.

Opponents have charged that the three supervisors who voted for the plan—which was submitted for approval after the period for public comment had closed—had met secretly and illegally to coordinate their shared support for the plan. Critics also say the brains behind the plan is Yamaguchi campaign adviser David Reade. The three supervisors, Yamaguchi, Bob Beeler and Curt Josiassen, strongly deny the accusations. But their majority vote on the council passed the plan over the vocal protests of nearly everyone at a packed supervisors’ meeting Aug. 28.

The plan would also greatly affect Chico Supervisor Jane Dolan’s District 2, displacing many of the progressive-minded voters who have helped her retain her seat since the last district redrawing 10 years ago. Dolan’s husband, Bob Mulholland, an adviser for the state Democratic Party, has been a key leader in the referendum effort.

Two days before the deadline, Houx dropped off at the referendum headquarters in downtown Chico a stack of petitions, each bearing eight signatures.

“I’m hopeful,” she said, of the ballot measure’s chances to overturn the plan. “These petitions are literally from all over the county. From farmers in north Chico, from the west side, from Republicans, Democrats and Greens. Even those not personally affected said they feel outraged.

“One lady out in north Chico, who is well into her 80s, is circulating petitions, and she turned in 25 completed ones,” Houx said.

Houx is not sure how many she’s turned in, putting her estimate simply at “a lot.”

“I’m glad this is over and now I can get back to my own campaign,” she said.

Both Houx and Dolan are up for re-election next year and will be in the March primaries, as will the redistricting plan measure, should enough signatures be validated. Houx will be facing current Chico City Councilmember Steve Bertagna, and Dolan will go up against Durham farmer and real estate agent John Merrifield, whom she defeated in 1990.

The Butte County referendum headquarters, where on a rainy Monday afternoon Houx turned in her armful of petitions to volunteer Michael Pike, is well ordered, thanks in no small part to the efforts and organizing skills of BayLaurel-Ceccone.

Arranged in the middle of the second-floor office space sit two card tables, one with a computer and a phone, the other holding neat stacks of papers, petitions and a second phone. Three folded ironing boards—a common tool for signature gatherers—lean against one wall. And there’s a cardboard sign with dated notes of accomplishment: “8/1 Ed Pitman gets [economic developer Bob] Linscheid’s signature"; “[Former Butte County Superior Court Judge] Ann Rutherford comes to rally, takes 15 petitions.” And this, “Michael Worley and Chris Belleces almost get Suzanne Richter-Reade [David Reade’s wife] to sign petition after refuting opposition’s argument and getting her to agree the voters should decide.”

“I’m an organizer,” said the pleasant and accommodating BayLaurel-Ceccone. “I want paper clips with paper clips. You know, you can waste valuable time looking for a paper clip.”

Though she cannot say for sure, she said she has a good sense that the ballot measure will be passed by the voters.

“So many signatures reinforces the word and the message that the process [of passing the redistricting plan] was unfair,” she said.

BayLaurel-Ceccone, who also serves as director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center and is member of the Green Party, echoed the sentiments of Houx, a stalwart Republican.

“Parties aside, Greens, Democrats and Republicans have told me we don’t want these back-room deals done in our community,” she said. “I’m more interested in feeling a sense of success that as a county we did well.”

She said the drive to gather signatures was temporarily derailed on Sept. 11, the day of the terrorist attacks back east.

“The office was not open yet,” she recalled. “I was in shock. The news was on, and the phone lines were pretty dead through Thursday [Sept. 13]. I did a lot of consoling. And at the time we thought, ‘How is the referendum drive important now, in the light of this?’ But we moved forward, and pretty soon more and more people started calling and asking how they could get involved. They wanted to do something.

“I’m hopeful that more people will get involved now that the true campaign has begun, which is to get out the vote."