The CN&R endorses …

From the U.S. presidency to Paradise school board, here are the candidates we recommend

U.S. President

Barack Obama
The greatest irony of this presidential campaign is that the younger and less experienced of the major-party candidates has turned out to be the more mature, focused and steady of the two. At a time when the country is in the most dangerous crisis in decades as the result of the failed policies of the outgoing administration, Barack Obama offers the judgment, temperament, intelligence and ability to inspire needed to solve the nation’s problems.

Nowhere has that been more evident that in the selection of a running mate. Rather than go for someone flashy and dramatic, he chose the capable and experienced Joe Biden, knowing that Biden would be an invaluable addition to his administration. Compare that with John McCain’s cynical choice of the exquisitely unqualified Sarah Palin, whose only apparent purpose was to excite the so-called Republican base.

McCain was once an admirable figure, the maverick he still claims to be. Though largely a supporter of the Bush administration, he spoke out against torture, warned about climate change, opposed tax cuts for the rich that would bankrupt a country at war, and supported sensible immigration reform. That’s why this newspaper endorsed him in the Republican primary.

McCain the candidate has repudiated all those positions. Now it’s hard to know what he stands for. His campaign, directed by former Bush/Rove operatives, has become an exercise in distraction, distortion and negativity. And the candidate himself has been all over the map, changing positions and tactics in a way that seems increasingly desperate and erratic.

Obama, in contrast, has been the very picture of steadiness and consistency. He is the most unflappable candidate in memory, and one of the most disciplined. He also has an extraordinary ability to articulate his vision and inspire people to support it.

Win or lose, his two-year campaign, first against one of the strongest Democratic fields in history and now against McCain, will go down in history. One need only compare the organizational brilliance and cohesion of the Obama campaign with the herky-jerky and strategically unfocused McCain campaign to know which candidate is the superior leader.

Transformational politicians come along rarely. Obama is one of them. That’s why we whole-heartedly endorse him for president.

U.S. Congress, District 2

Jeff Morris
Twenty-two is enough. That’s how many years Wally Herger has served as the congressional representative for the district comprising much of the North State.

A Republican in a predominantly Republican area, he’s rarely broken a sweat in 11 elections, but this year is different. Not only are approval ratings low for the president he’s continually supported, but Herger faces a strong challenger in Trinity County Supervisor Jeff Morris.

Morris, like Herger, has deep roots in the region. Unlike AJ Sekhon (whom Herger defeated in 2006), and even Herger himself, Morris hails from the northern part of the district, where political insiders feel this election may well be decided.

Morris’ head and heart are in the right place. He’s taken Herger to task for supporting the invasion of Iraq and the $700 billion bailout (which the congressman prefers to call a rescue plan). He’s intimately knowledgeable about two of the matters most critical to the North State: water and forestry. Moreover, he has a proven track record of success in rejuvenating his county.

It’s a big jump from Weaverville to Washington, but we know Morris can make it easily and well.

U.S. Congress, District 4

Charlie Brown
Voters in this district, which includes Oroville, have a clear choice when it comes to replacing the scandal-tainted John Doolittle. The Republican candidate is state Sen. Tom McClintock, a rigid-right career politician from Southern California who has never lived in the district and who is more interested in winning ideological battles than working for his constituents (he hasn’t carried a single bill in the past two years).

His opponent, a retired career Air Force lieutenant colonel named Charlie Brown, is a moderate Democrat with a practical approach who understands that the needs of his district and the nation won’t be met by political pontificating, but rather by working cooperatively to reach practicable solutions.

State Assembly, District 2

Charlie Schaupp (write-in)
Former Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen is a shoo-in in this race against Democrat Paul Singh, and truth be told he’s the superior candidate—experienced in the ways of Sacramento and capable of getting things done for the district. There’s just one hitch: He’s been dishonest about his residency. He claims a small doublewide trailer in Gerber as his home and has registered to vote in Tehama County, but he’s been living in a million-dollar home in a gated Woodland subdivision, outside the district.

Voters who want to lodge a protest might want to write in the name of Charlie Schaupp, a Yolo County farmer who lost to Nielsen in the Republican primary. Schaupp has led the challenge to Nielsen’s residency claim—though so far to no avail.

State Assembly, District 3

Mickey Harrington
We’re giving the nod to the Magalia Democrat, though we’re sure he won’t include it in late-breaking campaign fliers. Fact is, we didn’t endorse him in 2006, and were his opponent not so strident, we might not have done so this time.

Dan Logue, chairman of the Yuba County Board of Supervisors, won a bitterly contested Republican primary, during which he said he’d rather have gridlock than vote for a new tax. He also continues to insist his campaign slogan—“secure our borders”—is his top issue, even amid economic crisis. We believe he believes he’s sincere in branding illegal immigrants as the state’s big fiscal drain, but we prefer less simplistic thinking.

Harrington, a union leader for 22 years, hasn’t impressed us with his personal presence. His “top 6 priorities for new legislation” are provincial and perhaps should be Nos. 4-10. On the other hand, he advocates for underrepresented constituencies and supports alternative energy and universal health care.

We don’t think Harrington will be a leader in Sacramento, but we know we’ll agree with most all his votes—and that, in the end, is what we want from our Assembly representative.

Chico City Council

Andy Holcombe, Ann Schwab, Mark Sorensen, Jim Walker
This newspaper took some flak from liberal activists in 2006 when it endorsed businessman and Chamber of Commerce leader Mark Sorensen for the City Council.

Well, we’re doing it again because we think Sorensen, a smart man who does his homework, would represent his constituency in the business community well and would bring a welcome balance to a body dominated by liberals. We expect him to be a flexible conservative in the style of Steve Bertagna, one who listens well to people and doesn’t let political ideology get in the way of pragmatic decision-making.

We also believe another newcomer, Jim Walker, a physician’s assistant, would be a valuable addition to the council. He has shown, during long stints on both the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board and the city Park Commission, that he is a thoughtful, independent thinker who seeks out compromise, as he did effectively with the Upper Park disc golf site.

Our support of incumbents Andy Holcombe and Ann Schwab is based on their performances as council members and their records. Both are good listeners and diplomatic debaters with the skill to make their arguments in persuasive and personable ways. Both are willing to change their minds when presented with stronger ideas.

On the most pressing issue facing the city, the $6 million budget deficit that will hit in 2010, they have worked successfully with City Manager Dave Burkland to make the cuts needed for balance. The budget problems have been long in the making and resulted from too-generous pay-and-benefits packages approved by both liberal and conservative councils and council members, so it’s not fair to saddle Holcombe and Schwab with the blame for the deficit.

Had there been another seat to fill, we would have endorsed Ali Sarsour. He is a wonderful man who has devoted much of his adult life to improving the community and has brought a unique and valuable perspective to every endeavor.

Larry Wahl is another candidate with a unique perspective—but one we find overly rigid and often disingenuous. The incumbent talks the talk but doesn’t always walk the walk. Thus, he can rail against what he sees as profligate spending … and then call, as he did in 2006, for adding three firefighters and two police officers to city rolls even though there was no money in the budget to pay for them. Or he can chide his fellow council members for actions that fostered lawsuits … and then take such an action himself, as he did on his Tradewinds Court vote.

We’ve agreed with some of Wahl’s positions—his advocacy of greater transparency in city labor negotiations was especially worthwhile, and like him we strongly support city funding of the Chico library—but more often we’ve been frustrated by his tendency to criticize without offering possible solutions.

Student and businessman Joe Valente has waged a lively campaign, but unlike Walker and Sorensen, he’s never been involved in any significant community endeavor. Retired teacher Cynthia Van Auken is a newcomer to Chico with no track record of community involvement.

CUSD Board of Trustees

Liz Griffin, Jann Reed
In 2006, Chicoans elected two new members and one incumbent to the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees. The newcomers—Chico State professors Kathy Kaiser and Andrea Lerner Thompson—have, by all accounts, brought fresh energy and inquisitiveness.

Liz Griffin exudes the same spirit, so we join the teachers’ union in endorsing her. A former CUSD teacher, she received a pink slip under the “last hired, first fired” procedure. So not only does she understand what teachers go through in the classroom, she knows the ancillary pressures and politics of education.

More than that, she grasps the struggles of students. Griffin spent seven years inspecting foster homes throughout Butte County, as well as educating parents. Her current job as school readiness coordinator for First 5 puts her in daily contact with districts countywide.

We are confident she will bring critical thinking to the key decisions the board will face over the next several years, without feeling the tug that comes from having children in district schools (her two have graduated from Chico High).

For the other spot, we recommend the re-election of Jann Reed, albeit with some reservation.

Reed, the current board president, has experienced tumultuous times during her term. In her fourth month, she voted not to close schools, but joined colleagues in picking the schools to close (Nord and Jay Partridge elementaries). This year, she voted to close two more (Forest Ranch and Cohasset). The superintendent she helped hire via national search, Chet Francisco, lasted less than two years, and the district has gone on probation for both its fiscal management and academic performance.

That’s not a grand record to run on, even when factoring in successes such as Professional Learning Communities and much-needed improvements to school facilities.

Yet, to be fair, much of the district’s financial misfortune stems from cuts in state funding and unfunded federal mandates. No Child Left Behind is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, and every district in California risks joining Chico in Program Improvement status over the next six years.

We appreciate Reed’s dedication and experience. We hope she will bring both to bear and ask hard questions that must be asked during her second term. She pledges to look into wrongdoing and ensure the district heads down the right path. We—and we know voters, too—will hold her to that.

CARD Board of Directors

Jerry Hughes, Mark Sweany
There are three candidates for two open slots on this important board, which oversees the operations and programs of the Chico Area Recreation and Park District. The third candidate is Ken Burkhart, but we were not able to talk with him about his positions and background. His name is not in the phone book, the folks at the CARD offices didn’t have his number, and he didn’t put it down on his campaign filing statement.

That’s OK. Both incumbent Mark Sweany and Jerry Hughes are known quantities, the former because of his many years on the CARD board, the latter for his two decades as CARD’s general manager. He retired in 1991 but remains active, most recently as a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee to develop the CARD 2008-28 Master Plan. He will be an excellent addition to the board.

Oroville City Council

Jack Berry, Steve Harvey, Dave Pittman
Of the seven candidates actively running for the council—incumbent Mike Howard is ill and not campaigning—the CN&R recommends these three, based on watching them at two candidates’ forums and talking with them.

Incumbent Jack Berry and challengers Steve Harvey and Dave Pittman all are moderates who want Oroville to grow but aren’t willing to support growth at any cost, as some candidates are. They also favor the annexation of Southside Oroville, a critical step if the city is to resolve its long-standing racial tensions, restore a blighted area and enhance its reputation in the county.

Berry, a retired police officer, is seeking a second term; Harvey is a civil engineer with Caltrans; and Pittman is a former Oroville fire chief.

Paradise Town Council

Steve Culleton, Joe Di Duca, Robin Huffman
Three incumbents are up for re-election, and while all have served Paradise well, we’re endorsing two and a challenger we think offers a fresher perspective.

Robin Huffman came up short in her bid to unseat Butte County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi and nearly didn’t run for a second council term. We’re glad she did. A minority of one on a number of issues, she represents a growing cadre of Ridge progressives. Plus, she’s become more politic in her demeanor, which should help her earn friends and influence people.

People such as Steve “Woody” Culleton. He, too, has matured in office, admitting that it takes a couple years to learn the how-tos and don’ts. We like the fact that he’s willing to question anything and anyone. Plus, his was the mayoral signature when Paradise signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement last year.

Paradise’s current mayor, Alan White, has said he’s running for his final term. We won’t be mad if he wins, but we’d prefer to see Joe Di Duca on the dais.

The son of a mayor/councilman in Los Gatos, Di Duca has lived in Paradise since graduating from high school and attending Butte College. He runs a contracting business, and even though he raised his two daughters as a single parent, he’s served on the town Planning Commission, Redevelopment Advisory Committee, Affordable Housing Committee and Tree Committee. We appreciate his tempered views (and votes) balancing growth with preservation.

PUSD Board of Trustees

Justin Meyers, Lisa Nelson, Donna Nichols
Donna Nichols has served four terms on the Paradise Unified School District board. We will be glad to see her get a fifth. She understands the quirks and nuances—or, put another way, minefields—of public education, and she’s not afraid to speak candidly about obstacles that make things worse, such as No Child Left Behind.

Nichols is running on a slate with two-termer Gary Manwill, who at the League of Women Voters forum in Town Hall praised the NCLB while conceding it leaves children behind. In a subsequent conversation, he clarified that the law has a worthwhile goal in providing standards for schools to meet, but it does not work in its current form.

It would be capricious to hold a single comment against him, even though Manwill is an experienced public official; we’re glad he set the record straight so we don’t fear for his re-election. The field of candidates is particularly strong, though, and even setting this issue aside, we’re especially impressed by challengers.

Thus …

We hope to see Justin Meyers and Lisa Nelson in the other seats. Meyers, just a handful of years removed from high school, knows about Ridge kids after fours years as Paradise youth coordinator and advocates sustainable, accessible, tech-savvy schools. Nelson knows the district inside and out after 10 years of volunteer work (Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee, school site committees, grant application reviews)—she’ll bring knowledge, freshness and intelligence to the board.