The run-up

Candidates vie for votes as big money flows to county supervisorial races

District 5 supervisorial candidate Henry Schleiger, left, takes questions at a League of Women Voters of Butte County event Saturday (Feb. 1) at Chico High School.

District 5 supervisorial candidate Henry Schleiger, left, takes questions at a League of Women Voters of Butte County event Saturday (Feb. 1) at Chico High School.

Photo by Andre Byik

Henry Schleiger took his seat at the round table.

A first-time candidate for Butte County’s supervisorial seat representing the Ridge and surrounding communities, he faced voters at Chico High School, where he flatly stated that there is a need to “move toward a wiser future in the foothills.”

What that means, Schleiger said, is being cautious about the types of buildings—specifically, mobile homes—that are erected in the communities devastated by the Camp Fire; redeveloping in a way that is “fire smart”; and working collaboratively with the county’s cities, where it may be more appropriate to develop lower- and middle-income housing.

“The planning of Paradise and Magalia was kind of like building a 10,000-seat theater with one door,” Schleiger said during a Q-and-A session with one group of voters. “It was not wisely done.”

Schleiger, a county planning commissioner and wildfire mapping technician, is challenging incumbent District 5 Supervisor Doug Teeter in the March 3 primary election. The two candidates appeared for the first time together at a candidates’ event Saturday (Feb. 1) hosted by the League of Women Voters of Butte County, following their absence at a league-sponsored candidates’ forum last month because of a cited scheduling conflict by Teeter (see “A closer look,” Newslines, Jan. 23).

Schleiger grew up in Durham and joined the Navy after high school, he said. He bought a house in Magalia in 2015 and immediately began preparing for what he felt would be an “inevitable occurrence”—a wildfire like the Camp Fire. His home survived.

In a back-and-forth with voters, he noted the need to avoid sprawl by increasing the housing stock in Chico and Oroville, addressing homelessness with a “shelter first” mentality and changing the political makeup of the Board of Supervisors.

Historically, the board has prioritized the needs of the rural parts of the county above all else, he said, adding that while he loves and respects the rural lifestyle, supervisors of the past allowed irresponsible development in the foothills.

“I don’t know what kind of fancy world they were living in,” he said, “but there should not have been 55,000 people on that ridge.”

Teeter, a Camp Fire survivor, is seeking a third term, and he told voters he is looking forward to rebuilding the communities affected by the fire, as well as representing the county as a whole. He noted that in order to attract businesses to the region, the county must prioritize road repairs, infrastructure—including high-speed internet—and public safety. Without those, businesses likely would look elsewhere.

The incumbent also emphasized the need to look for solutions to keep Paradise Irrigation District (PID) solvent long-term. To that end, he said, he supported studying the feasibility of an intertie between PID and California Water Service Co.’s Chico branch as one potential project, which could pipe water to the valley floor and make use of the district’s stranded assets after losing its customer base in the Camp Fire.

“What a lot of people don’t know,” Teeter said, “[is], after a while, if you don’t use your water rights, the state comes in and goes, You’re not using them. We’re giving them to someone else. That’s the real danger.”

Three seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs in the primary election: Districts 1, 4 and 5. In District 4, which encompasses the south county area north to Chico, more than $300,000 in contributions has flowed to the campaigns of first-time candidates Tod Kimmelshue, a retired agriculture finance adviser, and Sue Hilderbrand, a political science lecturer.

According to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the county in late January and earlier this month, Kimmelshue’s campaign has received about $235,000 in monetary contributions and loans to date. Hilderbrand’s campaign has received about $115,000.

Both candidates told the CN&R that their hauls have exceeded the initial budgets they had planned for, and both cited enthusiasm for their campaigns. Both also signaled they would be open to reforming county campaign finance regulations.

Kimmelshue said he “absolutely” would be in favor of reform proposals for Butte County, which does not place limits on contributions. He noted the city of Chico limits personal contributions to individual candidates at $500, but he questioned whether that figure would be appropriate for supervisorial elections.

Hilderbrand said she did not think contribution limits would be a bad idea.

“I think unlimited money in politics favors the very wealthy,” she said, adding that there is a balance between freedom of speech through campaign contributions and a well-functioning democracy.

Nevertheless, the contributions signal high interest in the District 4 seat, which is being vacated by current Chairman Steve Lambert. Kimmelshue described the seat as a “swing vote” on the five-member board (Hilderbrand is endorsed by current Supervisors Debra Lucero and Tami Ritter) and the race as “very important” for the future of the county. He said his campaign intends to spend every dime it has in an attempt to secure a win.

Contributions in the races for Districts 1 and 5 have brought in fewer donations.

In District 5, Teeter’s campaign has received about $38,000 in monetary contributions and loans. Schleiger’s has garnered roughly $8,000. In District 1, which covers the Oroville area, incumbent Supervisor Bill Connelly’s 2020 campaign has received about $105,000 to date, with his challenger, Ian Greene, receiving about $1,000, according to disclosure forms.