Rivalry on the Ridge

Big Mo announces bid for District 5 Board of Supervisors seat

Maurice “Big Mo” Huffman has several concerns about Butte County, not the least of which is its fiscal solvency.

Maurice “Big Mo” Huffman has several concerns about Butte County, not the least of which is its fiscal solvency.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Maurice Huffman’s introduction to Butte County sounds like something from a blues song. Journeying by motorhome in 1989, a 29-year-old with a wife and a puppy, he had to make an abrupt stop when the couple’s dog ate their last paycheck.

“So we were staying here, for sure,” he recalled.

Huffman, who’d spent the previous 23 years in Germany, got a job selling cars at a Chico auto dealership. Circumstances brightened: He became sales manager for an import company, then opened his own import business—Swiss-Link Military Surplus—in 1996.

He also emerged as one of the county’s most acclaimed musicians, playing guitar and singing the blues for 15 years with Big Mo and the Full Moon Band. (He’s Big Mo.)

Come June, he hopes to branch out again, as a Butte County supervisor representing the Ridge.

Last Friday (Feb. 19), Huffman filed to challenge District 5 incumbent Doug Teeter, who’d declared his intention to seek re- election two weeks earlier. As of the CN&R’s deadline, they were the only two candidates; the filing deadline is March 11.

Huffman’s wife, former Paradise Town Councilwoman Robin Huffman, ran for the office twice. She was unable to unseat then-incumbent Kim Yamaguchi in a three-way race in 2008 and fell short in the four-way race in 2012 that went to a run-off.

Huffman said his wife tried to talk him out of running and is not an active participant in his campaign, just as he was not an active participant in her political life. He was busy as a business owner and musician; likewise, she has a full schedule as a college instructor and an avid skier.

Now, Huffman says, Swiss-Link has grown to the point where he can relinquish many responsibilities to his general manager and staff, enabling him to embrace a new challenge.

Why vie for supervisor?

“Butte County’s always close to bankruptcy … mental health is underfunded, and there are a lot of homeless people out there—all problems that I see, budgetary problems,” he told the CN&R at his office. “My gosh, what I’ve been doing the last 30 years in business is taking care of budgetary problems.

“There’s a lot that can be done. Land use, water use, fracking concern me. My son [Miles, a Chico State senior] was born here, and I want him to be prosperous and healthy.”

Unlike his wife (a vocal progressive) with Yamaguchi (a staunch conservative), Huffman does not pose a stark contrast with the incumbent on issues or stances, at least at this early juncture. So, why take on Teeter?

“He’s a smart, nice guy—I just feel Doug just goes along, does his thing,” Huffman said. “There’s a lot more enthusiasm and a lot more fight that can be in a person; a lot more go-getter [approach] than just making everybody happy.”

Huffman noted that finding common ground is a key to success in business and musical collaboration, so he doesn’t object to building bridges. He simply wants to see more decisiveness and tangible results.

Teeter, elected by his fellow supervisors as their board chair twice in his four years, doesn’t chafe at the label of consensus-finder. He does object to the notion that he’s passive, telling the CN&R at his Paradise home that he has been proactive. In particular, he meets with constituents publicly and privately, plus represents the county on multiple intergovernmental groups.

Moreover, he says, a supervisor’s accomplishments won’t always show up on an individual score sheet because they represent team efforts and most county functions are mandated by the state, not at the Board of Supervisors’ discretion.

“I would hope that the voters would go, ‘Doug’s done a pretty good job. Can we pin something on him that’s just wow, outta-sight? Probably not.’ But that’s the county,” Teeter said. “County government just isn’t one of those outta-sight places.”