Who we watched

Welcome to our annual “Who to Watch” issue. Here’s who we pegged to watch last year: Chico City Councilmember Rick Keene, Butte County Supervisors Kim Yamaguchi and Mary Anne Houx, Chico State University Associated Student President Amber Johnsen, Butte College President Sandra Acebo, the Butte County CAO seat, local developer lobbyist Jim Mann and attorney Dale Rasmussen. Here’s what happened: Keene was elected to the Assembly; Yamaguchi, after his odd 2001 freshman year that was defined by his Plan 5 to redistrict the county and oust Houx and Supervisor Jane Dolan, kept a low profile as his plan was rejected by the voters; Houx was re-elected and had little toleration for shenanigans from the board’s male members; Johnsen proved an effective and charming leader who now works for In Motion Fitness; Acebo announced her retirement; Paul McIntosh moved from Florida to Butte County to become CAO; Mann flew below the radar; and Rasmussen lost in his bid to unseat Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

Who we should have pegged: former Police Chief Mike Efford, who retired/quit/got squeezed out of the department and took over a similar post at Butte College; Ramsey, who encountered some serious (and for the most part media-manufactured) image problems toward the end of the year; and Steve Bertagna, the normally jovial city councilmember who stunned almost everyone—except perhaps his closest friends—when he uttered an ethnic slur (although he was morose and sullen for a few weeks after his unfortunate slip, he seems to have recovered his charisma and plucky boyish charm); the Chico Heat, mainly because we’ll never get another chance to see the now-defunct local baseball club.

Keene, by the way, has chosen a 2003 GMC Yukon as his official state-subsidized vehicle that serves as transportation to legislators. In fairness, the state gives only $350 a month toward the leasing of the vehicle; Keene has to kick in the extra $100 or so it costs to lease the big SUV he’s chosen. Those babies don’t come cheap, costing between $32,292 and $36,905, depending on the extras. The Yukon, named for the rugged icy wilderness region of Alaska, is the cousin to the ever-popular Chevy Suburban, carries up to nine passengers and, according to autos.yahoo.com, “achieves 14 mph in the city and 18 mph on the highway.” That means that Keene, assuming he goes to work every day while the Assembly is in session, drives about 900 miles a week (180 miles round trip from Chico). Let’s say gas is $1.40 a gallon. That means Keene is spending about $280 a month on gas getting back and forth to work. But don’t worry, that is not coming from Keene’s pocket. The state issues legislators a credit card, which means you and I, as taxpayers, pick up the tab. If this sounds nit-picky, maybe it is. Keene serves a rural district that has inclement weather, rough foothills and plenty of back roads. But does he need room enough to carry a baseball team wherever he goes? I would like to think a fiscal conservative like Keene would at least make a symbolic effort to save money as the state deficit balloons to $34 billion by choosing a vehicle a bit less conspicuous and a little more economical.

I got a nice nine-word letter this week from former Chico City Council candidate Ross Bradford, who came in fourth out of six candidates. Only the top three finishers got to claim council seats. "Thank you for your fairness in the recent election," Bradford wrote. I appreciate the sentiment, but then again maybe he’s just trying to use up the rest of his "Ross Bradford for Chico City Council" letterhead stationery. If he’d asked me for some advice during the campaign, I would have suggested he liven up those TV commercials. Instead of sitting in a chair, ruminating about his life in Chico, Bradford should have been skydiving, snowboarding and mosh-pit jumping like a teen all hopped up on Mountain Dew. Maybe next time.