Strange twists

LaMalfa campaign for Congress creates ripple effects

Doug LaMalfa at his Richvale rice farm.

Doug LaMalfa at his Richvale rice farm.

PHOTO courtesy of Lamalfa for congress website

It’s been quite a year for North State rice farmer, former state senator and current Republican congressional candidate Doug LaMalfa. On Jan. 10, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Rio Oso) announced he was retiring after a quarter-century in office. Two days later Herger blessed LaMalfa with his endorsement.

At the same time, 2nd District Assemblyman Jim Nielsen announced he would not seek re-election and was in turn blessed by LaMalfa to take the Senate seat he would vacate upon his election to Congress.

A number of candidates jumped into the primary race for Herger’s seat, including former Republican state Sen. Sam Aanestad. During that campaign Aanestad accused LaMalfa of dirty politics after an odd website called Sam4Congress criticizing Aanestad appeared online. LaMalfa denied any knowledge of the site, but it was traced to Mark Spannagel, LaMalfa’s chief of staff.

LaMalfa finished first in the primary and will face second-place finisher Jim Reed, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 general election. On Aug. 31, LaMalfa resigned his Senate post, and a few days later Nielsen announced his plans to run for the seat. LaMalfa said his quitting would save the taxpayers more than a million dollars because his announcement left enough time to place a special election on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Since that announcement, five other candidates have jumped into the race, including Republican 3rd District Assemblyman Dan Logue, who is simultaneously running for re-election to his Assembly seat, along with Magalia resident and Democrat Mickey Harrington, who’s run for the Assembly in the past, and Jann Reed, a member of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees. Reed did not state a party preference, nor did candidates Ben Emery, who’s listed by the state Elections Office as a “Ranch Manager,” or Dan Levine, a “Graduate Student/ Rancher.” (Emery has since dropped out of the race, though his name will appear on the ballot.)

To get elected in November, a candidate needs 50 percent of the vote plus one, which is not likely to happen with so many candidates. A run-off is likely between the top two finishers in a special election on Jan. 8.

Critics say LaMalfa’s timing on his announcement that he was vacating his seat was done so that candidates other than Nielsen, who’d been anointed by LaMalfa in January, would have less time to pull together campaigns.

Dave Gilliard, LaMalfa’s campaign manager, said it was true that his boss is helping Nielsen win the vacant Senate seat, but that the timing was not part of that plan.

“The last day of August was when all the lawyers and elections experts said was the day he needed to resign in order to avoid a special election,” Gilliard said. “He did not know until a few days beforehand that they could consolidate with the general election and avoid a special election. But as far as Doug helping Jim Nielsen, that is absolutely true.”

Gilliard said LaMalfa approached Gov. Jerry Brown and asked for the consolidation. And in fact, at about the same time, Brown told The Sacramento Bee editorial board that he had indeed crossed paths with LaMalfa in the basement of the Capitol building and tried to lobby the senator for a 1 percent lumber tax proposal.

“He kind of got into a little fetal position and started shaking, he literally was shaking,” Brown told the board. “And this big man, he looks like a—wears boots, he’s kind of an outdoorsman, a mountain man kind of. And I saw him kind of start shriveling in fear…”

LaMalfa wrote off the governor’s description as “trying to have some fun there. Obviously, I didn’t drop to the floor of the garage and shake.”

LaMalfa also made news last week, after he told a Redding tea party gathering that abortion causes cancer. When KRCR-TV news reporter Mark Mester, who was covering the event, later reported that experts said there was no evidence of a causal connection, LaMalfa was forced to admit he was “misinformed.”

Charles Rouse, a Corning Democratic candidate running for Logue’s 3rd Assembly District seat, has questions about Logue’s double candidacy.

“Logue running for two seats is positively weird,” Rouse said. “I tell people and get this blank look and they ask, ‘Can you do that?’ I’m not sure what Logue is going to say. I’m not sure what he can say. He has obviously walked away from that seat. The Senate seat offers more power, more money and better benefits.”

Cliff Wagner, Logue’s chief of staff, said it’s obvious that, with his resignation, LaMalfa was trying to help Nielsen.

“It looked to us and other reasonable folks as less an altruistic move and more of an attempt to game the system,” he said. “Nielsen was making noises back when LaMalfa first announced he was running for Herger’s seat.”

Jim Reed, the Democrat running against LaMalfa, also doubts his opponent’s stated reason for resigning.

“If it was truly to save the taxpayers money, I would applaud him. But I don’t think that is what is going on here. The timing was atrocious. He waited until the end of the legislative session. Shasta County already sent its ballots to the printer. He could have said this months ago. It’s just one more of Doug LaMalfa’s political acts.”