Somewhere over Butte County

Former political reporter for the Enterprise-Record. A native of Germany, he is returning home this month after six years in America.

While the Chico City Council chews through important but bland debates about growth and the merits of Keenesian vs. Keynesian economic theory on the municipal level, the Butte County Board of Supervisors’ get-togethers spark the kind of sizzle one would expect from a Jeffrey Dahmer cookout.

Despite a brief respite during the board’s meeting on Dec. 18, it’s unlikely supervisors are done cannibalizing each other just yet, even though there are more pressing issues they could sink their teeth into. The grudge match over redistricting is rooted far too deep, going back to the 1978 election for District 2 supervisor. Back then, Jane Dolan unseated the incumbent, the late Bernie Richter. Though Richter did move on to the state Assembly, today many suspect his son-in-law and scion David Reade is the vengeful éminence grise behind the board majority of Bob Beeler, Curt Josiassen and Kim Yamaguchi.

No doubt this triumvirate has long seen Dolan, the consummate political survival artist from much-envied Chico, as the Wicked Witch of the West and redistricting as an opportunity to splash some water on her (while also getting rid of Chico’s other supervisor, Mary Anne Houx).

Instead, the big three only wet themselves—due more to their blatant disregard of the public process and their last-minute shenanigans than the contents of their redistricting scheme. If anything, the plan has energized Dolan’s and Houx’s electoral bases, thus crippling Chico City Councilman Steve Bertagna’s campaign for supervisor. Bertagna played his role of bumbling Munchkin, though, by remaining silent on the issue for too long and then speaking out when he shouldn’t have.

If getting a judge’s opinion on redistricting “was our whole intent,” as Josiassen claimed, Judge Roger Gilbert’s ruling on Dec. 6 in favor of using the old districts in this year’s elections should put an end to such trials and tribulations.

That’s not exactly getting a lot of bang for the buck, seeing how the triumvirate’s sojourn into the surreal has already forced the county into hiring three outside attorneys, two for $275 and one for $185 an hour—all at taxpayer expense.

But despite whatever bitter aftertaste the redistricting mess may have left, it’s still the holiday season—a time for wishful thinking and New Year’s resolutions.

Many may already be wishing those three would fly somewhere over the rainbow, but my hope is that Yamaguchi, Josiassen and Beeler resolve to atone by hitting the yellow brick road as Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion. If they find what they each ought to be looking for—brains, a heart and some courage—it might just signal “the beginning of the journey toward prosperity” that Yamaguchi ebulliently promised when he was sworn in last January.

I’m afraid, however, the forecast calls for more political tornadoes—a late court appeal, maybe, or perhaps a legal challenge to this year’s supervisorial election results.

In that case, taxpayers may want to unpack their ruby slippers, click them together and repeat three times, "There’s no place like Butte County."