This is a test

Tuesday’s special election is a challenge to democracy

Readers’ devotion to democracy will be tested next week, and our guess is that it will fail because almost nobody will bother to vote. The special runoff election to be held Tuesday, Jan. 8, is a seriously underwhelming event. It’s safe to say that only a few people are excited about it, and most of them are friends of Mickey Harrington’s.

He’s the 73-year-old Democrat from Magalia who finds himself, to his own surprise, in a runoff with former Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, 67, a Republican, for the District 4 state Senate seat previously occupied by our newly elected congressman, Doug LaMalfa.

Harrington is in the race because Dan Logue, also a Republican, got greedy and decided to run for the seat even though he was already running for re-election to the Assembly. Then Logue’s doctor told him he had kidney problems, so he dropped out of the Senate race to focus on the Assembly race. But his name stayed on the ballot, and he drew enough Republican votes to keep Nielsen from getting a majority and forcing a runoff.

Harrington and Nielsen couldn’t be more dissimilar. Harrington is an old-school union man, a lunch-bucket Democrat who believes in government’s ability to do good but has never held office or done anything close to what’s required of a state senator. Nielsen is a slick professional politician who’s spent most of his adult life in and around the Capitol but has a history of ethically challenged actions, including lying about his residence in order to run for office.

This is the third race during which Nielsen has lied about his domicile. Although he has sworn under penalty of perjury, a felony, that he lives in a doublewide mobile home in the Gerber area, he actually lives in a gated community in Woodland, outside District 4. He gets away with flouting the law because the only man who can bring charges against him, Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen, is one of his biggest backers.

So which will it be, an inexperienced but honest and sincere former union rep or a cynical politician who’s chowed down at the public trough all his life while railing against evil government? Or will you just not vote? As we said, it’s a test.