The forgotten election

Upcoming special runoff another chance for Mickey Harrington

Jim Nielsen

Jim Nielsen

photo courtesy of jim nielsen

Vote early:
The Butte County Elections Office (25 County Center Drive in Oroville, Ste. 110) will be open to the public for voting on Saturday, Jan. 5, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The runoff for Doug LaMalfa’s District 4 state Senate seat set for next Tuesday, Jan. 8, could be considered a forgotten election. It’s not on the forefront of the public’s consciousness, no debates have been held, and neither candidate is mounting much of a campaign.

But for Democrat Mickey Harrington, the 73-year-old Magalia man and union representative running against former Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, a Republican, the election gives new life to his bid to represent the expansive 12-county district.

“I’ve got people working to get voters out, but whether they come or not, I don’t know,” Harrington said during a recent phone interview. “If they’re good Democrats they will. It’s the same for the Republicans—it’s about who can get their base out.

“I’m not saying I’m going to win, but I sure as heck think I’ve got a chance.”

November’s general election did not fall in Harrington’s favor, to put it mildly. Nielsen received 188,207 votes, or 49.8 percent, while Harrington got 104,572 votes, or 27.7 percent. Republicans hold a significant registration advantage in the district.

Things got weird in the election, due largely to the 43,303 votes cast for Republican Dan Logue. The incumbent assemblyman had dropped out of the race to concentrate on his simultaneous race for re-election, but not soon enough to have his named removed from the Senate ballot. Logue drew sufficient Republican votes to keep Nielsen from garnering the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to win outright.

Ironically, LaMalfa cited avoiding a special election and concentrating on his run to replace U.S. Rep. Wally Herger as concerns when he stepped down from his seat at the end of August.

Mickey Harrington

CN&R File photo

“I’ve thrown my hat over the fence and am taking nothing for granted in my campaign for Congress, but I do not feel it would be right to wait until the end of the year to resign from the Senate,” he told the conservative website Flash Report. “Resigning now gives the governor the ability to consolidate elections, saving local counties and taxpayers at least $2 million.”

With the most registered voters (122,554) of the 12 counties in the district, Butte County will pay the most for the special election, around $400,000, Butte County Clerk/ Recorder Candace Grubbs said. As of Dec. 28, Butte County had issued more than 70,000 mail-in ballots for the Jan. 8 election, with about 28 percent returned for processing so far.

Grubbs wouldn’t offer a prediction of voter turnout, but she said the special election may not be on the minds of many Butte County residents.

“Is this a forgotten election? In many respects, yes,” she said. “Many families are just returning from vacations now. They aren’t even thinking about it.”

Harrington has never held office, though he has run unsuccessfully for the Assembly three times. He lost to Rick Keene in 2006 and to Logue in 2008 and 2010. But Harrington maintains he has “something to offer” on issues regarding unemployment, education reform and protecting Northern California’s water resources.

He also feels obligated to run against Nielsen, who has been frequently accused of not living in the district he represents. Nielsen’s critics believe he uses his double-wide mobile home in the Gerber area to establish his residency, while he actually lives in a gated community in Woodland, outside the district. Harrington said he believes state officials have turned a blind eye on the possible fraud.

“Nobody seems to give a rat’s ass,” he said with a laugh. “But he needs to be taken out, one way or another, because he is as dishonest as the day is long.”

Nielsen could not be reached for comment on this story.

Although it seems like a long shot, Harrington has high hopes headed into the special election. His modest campaign has set about calling party members within the district, emphasizing that a strong turnout could lead to a surprising result.

“The whole thing hinges on who gets the people out, and we’re making an effort to do that,” he said. “I feel good about it.”