State and federal offices

Incumbents will prove hard to unseat in Republican-dominated districts this fall

Wally Herger

Wally Herger

Photo By Tom Angel

In this year’s primary election, the only contest is the three-way race for the Democratic nod for the 2nd Congressional District and the chance to go up against the well-entrenched Rep. Wally Herger in November.

In the two state Assembly contests, for the 2nd and 3rd districts now held by Republicans, only one Democratic candidate is on the ballot in each race. The incumbents, Doug LaMalfa, of Richvale, and Rick Keene, from Chico, are also unopposed.

Wally’s world
Here in the 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Herger, R-Chico, reigns supreme. He’s hardly been challenged in his 18 years—yes, 18—on the Hill. (We pause to note that, when first elected to the state Assembly way back in 1980, Herger told the Marysville-Appeal Democrat that he defeated the incumbent because the voters were tired of “professional politicians.")

Little wonder Herger keeps getting re-elected every two years. District demographics show that it’s 46 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 14 percent “declined to state.” Herger, a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee who soaks up campaign donations from all over the country, has outspent his Democratic opponents each election by an average ratio of 5-1. The state Democratic Party simply concedes this district (as well as state Senate and Assembly seats) to the Republicans.

A.J. Sekon

This year the Democrats have three candidates in the primary: A. J. Sekon, a medical doctor out of Yuba City; Jeffery Vance, a carpenter who lives in Williams; and Mike Johnson, a second-time congressional candidate out of Chico.

Political analysts say the only candidate who conceivably could beat Herger, barring some sort of major scandal (highly unlikely with the likable Mormon congressman), would be somebody with name recognition and a boatload of money.

The candidate who comes closest to that description is Sekon, who besides being a Yuba City internist, a colonel in the Army Reserve, a decorated (and disabled) veteran of the Gulf War and last year’s Enduring Freedom campaign, is about to graduate from law school. The doctor also suggests he has enough money and his backers have the financial wherewithal to allow him to run a legitimate campaign against Herger.

A member of the large Sikh community of Sutter County and born in India, the 55-year-old Sekon said he is very much a member of the system. While it is unusual for Sikhs to seek political office, Sekon said he’s seen enough neglect of this district from the incumbent.

He’s lived here for more than 30 years and served in the U.S. Army for 20 years.

Jeffrey Vance

Photo By Tom Angel

“I have been living in Sutter County for 12 years, and this is a beautiful area,” he said. “You drive north up though Redding and to Eureka, and it’s beautiful. You can’t find a better place to live in the whole world.

“I’ve been around and seen that. But then you look at the people’s condition, their standard of living, the unemployment. Health care is the worst. We have people here, 30-plus percent are on Medi-Cal. And a lot of doctors don’t want to see them if they are on Medi-Cal.”

Is the incumbent to blame?

“I haven’t seen anything he has done in the last 18 years that has benefited the people of the 2nd District. He’s helped maybe 5 percent—the rich class; but nothing for the other 95 percent.”

He said he also has concerns as a disabled veteran that other disabled vets have trouble getting proper medical attention.

Mike Johnson

Photo By Tom Angel

“On the other hand,” he said, “if somebody commits a crime, he winds up in a prison and he gets full medical services right away. There is something wrong with the picture.”

Sekon said he believes there are enough independents and Green Party members to give a Democrat enough votes to win here.

“They are not a majority here in this district, but even the Republicans are tired of [Herger],” Sekon said.

If people can get past their cultural biases and notice the medals on his chest rather than being put off by his turban and long beard, the good doctor may well have a chance in November, should he get the nod in the March primary over his fellow Democrats.

Like Sekon, Jeffrey Vance is a newcomer to politics. And he shares Sekon’s concerns over the dismal state of this poor rural district.

Barbara McIver

“I’m running because I feel our country is on a perilous course. It doesn’t reflect the needs or concerns of our district.”

He blames Herger as well as the Bush administration.

“That was my motivation—a lot of it had to do with the policies of the last three years.”

So far he has raised and spent close to $12,000.

He’s borrowed money from family and raised it from friends and people he’s met through the district and who’ve gone to his Web site, where he offers shares of the campaign for $20. He’s also received a $500 donation from actor Peter Coyote.

Doug LaMalfa

Photo By Tom Angel

“As soon as I got our Web site up, I got an e-mail but didn’t recognize his name and called my campaign manager and asked, ‘Who is this?’ “

A carpenter by trade, Vance, 42, attended UC Santa Cruz, where he studied film production and then started a design and fabrication company that catered to corporate media.

His political philosophy is “to bring home the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”

Only about half the district has been represented, he charges. The other interests the congressman represents are outside the district—those who’ve funded his campaigns.

“I guess a lot of the reason I’m running is that I don’t think you can go to Washington encumbered by special interests and corporate monies and represent your district very fairly.”

Robert Woods

Photo By Tom Angel

What will it take to unseat Herger?

“If anybody had run against Wally with enough money, [Herger] would have lost his seat a long time ago. Nobody has been able to come close to spending what he does.”

Mike Johnson, of Chico, has run for Congress before and always with a low-profile campaign. He is pro-choice, pro-gun and pro-labor. And he has noted, along with a lot of other people, that Herger’s been in office too long and is a “do-nothing” legislator.

“You learn a lot the first time you run, because you’re running blind,” Johnson said of his candidacy two years ago. He said Roberts Braden, the Democratic candidate who last put together consecutive runs against the incumbent, picked up 10 percent more votes the second time around.

“I’d like to run two or three times to see what happens because each time you get more and more name recognition,” Johnson said.

Rick Keene

Photo By Tom Angel

Johnson also suggested that Herger, whom he calls “the greatest do-nothing politician of all time,” could get “sucked down by [the possible political failing] of an administration he’s sucked up to all this time.”

Johnson says a crumbling infrastructure in this district, the national economy, poor forest management plans and the poor access to health care are all issues he would like to address as a congressman.

“Health insurance is set up to basically scam the little guy,” Johnson said. “If you ever get so sick that you can use it, you have to stop working, then you lose your job and your insurance.”

We endorse Sekon mainly because he may be the only candidate with enough potential financing backing to challenge Herger in the fall.

Throwing rice
Barbara McIver, a Democrat from Red Bluff, is not so naive as to think she can unseat incumbent Republican Doug LaMalfa without a titanic effort. She is the lone Democratic candidate in the primary.

Bill Jones

She has served three terms as a Tehama County supervisor and before that was on the Red Bluff Elementary School Board of Trustees for five years. She was born in San Francisco, raised in Ventura, came to Shasta County in 1978 and moved to Tehama County 21 years ago.

She says locals are not served well in this district and that she offers a good alternative as opposed to knee-jerk left or right reactions.

The red haired, green eyed candidate has an engaging personality and comes across as very smart. She said the best way for her to get her word out is to walk door to door in the district precincts. That’s a lot of hoofing it in a district that runs from Yuba City to Yreka.

LaMalfa, a rice farmer from Richvale, faces no opposition.

Keene machine
Rick Keene’s 3rd District is being challenged by Robert Woods, 77, a retired school teacher who says his decision to run for state office—he, too, is the only Democrat on the primary ballot for this seat—"caps a lifelong career of activism in Democratic Parry politics, beginning with my first vote for President Harry S. Truman.” Woods chairs the Democratic Action Club of Chico.

“I intend to campaign vigorously in the coming election to represent the 3rd District for all the people,” he said in a recent press release.

Keene has done well for himself—if not his constituents—by getting named to a number of committees, including the important Budget Committee, where as vice chairman he sits as the highest ranking-Republican. Like Bernie Richter, the Chico-based assemblyman who served before him, Keene, a former Chico city councilmember, has become a money machine able to oil the wheels of conservative campaigns both here and in surrounding counties. Keene faces no opposition in the primaries.

In the clearing stands a Boxer
A herd of Republicans are vying for the opportunity of running against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in November. There are four out of the nine seen as having legitimate chances to capture the nomination in the primary.

Former Secretary of State Bill Jones is the front-runner at this point and is seen as the “old face of the Republican Party, at least according to Toni Casey, a moderate and former three-term mayor of Los Altos Hills

Jones, who made a failed run for the Republican nomination for governor two years ago, has infamous Republican campaign strategist (and Chico State University graduate) Ed Rollins working in his corner.

Howard Kaloogian, a former Assemblyman from San Diego, helped launch last year’s gubenitorial recall that eventually put Arnold Schwarzenegger in office. Kaloogian puts himself to the right of Jones.

Then there is former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, thought to be the GOP’s best bet at attracting part of the substantial Latino vote in this state. Marin, who has the closest ties to the White House of any of the four major candidates, was born in Mexico and came here as a teen, eventually becoming Mayor of Huntington Park.

Other GOP candidates are Danney Ball of Hemet, Barry L. Hatch of Arcadia, Bill Quraishi of El Granada, James Stewart of Temecula and James M. Van Zandt of Upland.