Lopsided battles

Sam Dehne, running for county commissioner, is a well known community activist. Here he speaks to the county commission during a September meeting.

Sam Dehne, running for county commissioner, is a well known community activist. Here he speaks to the county commission during a September meeting.

Photo By David Robert

Don’t look for a lot of surprises in the races for Washoe County Commission, Districts 2 and 5. It’s the usual situation of well-funded incumbents taking on well-intentioned but underfunded challengers. But what are the substantive issues? Depends on whom you ask.

In the District 2 race, incumbent Republican David Humke faces off against Democrat Sam Dehne.

Humke, 57, is surprisingly erudite on the telephone, particularly for those who’ve received most of their exposure to him on SNCAT. He’s running for his second term on the commission (preceded by 22 years in the state legislature). It’s possible to envision him ticking off campaign issues on his hands as he talks on the phone. Forgive the long quotation, but this is straight off the tape:

“I think the big issues are regional planning, the settlement and amendments. The major issue for my district is annexation, how much annexation by the city. Next is water, and the main issue is consolidation of water purveyors, the issue there being whether that’s existing resources or future acquired resources. Next is transportation, how to build the roads to keep up with the growth that we have had. Fourth one is concurrency, which is related to all land-use issues, and that’s causing all of the services to keep up with the growth, and specifically directing those services to where all the growth is taking place—such things as water, transportation, building schools, sewers, etcetera. Final thing I see is fire services. It’s a two-part issue for my district: One is basic coverage, how to get the fire stations into the newly built areas and to have adequate coverage for all citizens. Second is an issue for my district, which is both urban and rural, how to work with volunteer firefighters productively and how volunteers can work with the career fire service.”

Nobody’s buying a pig in a poke with this candidate. Voters who like the way things are going in Washoe County will know whether to vote for him. It’s pretty much his race to lose. His war chest sounds pretty full, and he plans on full-scale warfare for the remaining days until the election.

“We’ll come in with a full arsenal and march through and present our message.”

His challenger, Sam Dehne, 65, carries an arsenal of his own, although (politically) it’s mostly a verbal one as exhibited on public access television and his Web site, www.renocitizen.com.

Turnabout is fair play, and the best person to represent Sam Dehne is Sam Dehne:

“One of the main issues in the race is Sam Dehne’s record of his phenomenal accomplishments through the community. Just to name a few: He was instrumental in changing the Air National Guard mission to a C-130 airplane. He instigated—I’m sorry I’m speaking in third person like I like to do—he instigated and championed the Downtown Convention Center, a $100 million project. He singlehandedly saved the parking meters from a 24-hour fee structure; I’m going back a couple of years. An obvious issue is his 4,300 public testimonies, exposing corruption and problems about the community. But I think one of the real issues that is totally ignored by virtually all of the local politicians and most people don’t talk about, including the media, is the ubiquitous, never-ending violations of the law relative to how meetings are supposed to be conducted so that citizens can be treated with respect, according to the law. They don’t know or they refuse to honor the Open Meeting Law.”

You’ve got to hand it to Dehne, he’s been fighting the good fight at the city halls, commission chambers, convention and visitors authority, airport authority and other government meetings for more than a decade. But he’s a fighter, and if elected, his ability to work with people he’s called corrupt, ignorant and indifferent might become an issue.

A couple of things are for sure: He’s right about the violations of open-meeting laws, and he’s right that many people believe Washoe County Commissioners don’t listen well-enough or long-enough to what people have to say to them.

In the District 5 race, it’s incumbent Republican Bonnie Weber against Democrat Tom Noblett and American Independent party member Gary Feero. Weber says when she’s pressing the flesh, voters want to talk about issues like public safety, graffiti, vandalism, growth, water, and improbably, illegal immigration.

“People are telling me that I’m crazy, but that’s what people are telling me when I go to the door,” says Weber, 52, who is running for her second term on the commission.

“People have concerns about growth, good and bad. Especially in the north valleys, they want more services and more amenities out there. Then you also have the folks further out who don’t want anything to happen. They chose to live out there for that lifestyle. That’s an issue both pro and con. The same issue with folks wanting more services and others not.”

She says her record shows that she’s already working to solve the problems, and people who’ve watched her on the commission know what they can expect from her. “I absolutely love serving the people of Washoe County. … It’s great working with the other elected officials in the county and Reno and Sparks. We have a great team, and we’re working hard for the public.”

Noblett, 69, who says he’s previously run for office four times, lists an understaffed sheriff’s office, understaffed fire department, water, and too much development as his most important issues. But while he’s long on complaints, he’s a bit short on solutions. He says the county has plenty of surface water, but not enough groundwater, but he’s not sure what to do about it.

“I’m not a wizard, partner,” says the owner of a small trucking company. “I’m not a wizard. I’m just saying I’m aware of it, and I’ll be looking at it very hard to see if we can’t come up with a little better plan than what we got right now.”

Noblett, a jovial man, doesn’t seem particularly happy about some things that have happened in this campaign. For example, one of his trucks, which held a 4-foot-by-8-foot campaign billboard, was vandalized, with the windshield, side windows, fog lights and mirrors broken out. He’s a positive guy, though, noting that the creeps didn’t get his headlights.

“I think I got Weber beat, to be honest about it. I’m not even worried about her. I’ve got 20 signs out; I’m running three trucks with 4-by-8 signs on them—moving them around from freeway to freeway. Things are working out real well.”

Gary Feero, 55, is the dark horse in this race. He’s worked within the county political system serving on such boards as the North Valley Citizen Advisory Board, the Washoe County Board of Adjustment, and other appointments.

Running as the candidate of the far-right Independent American candidate, he says he’s having a tough time getting respect from media. He’s a smart guy with a good grasp of the issues, including sprawl, water, taxes, the Ballardini ranch fiasco, and regional planning, but he comes at them from a different vantage point.

“The biggest thing going on right now is that Washoe County, particularly District 5, is disconnected from the citizens. For the first time in my memory, we’re having sheriffs telling citizens that they have to leave the county chambers when they’re trying to voice their opinions—although probably a little bit raucously and a little bit raunchy—but I’ve never seen that happen before. They’re cutting down on the amount of time that people get to speak, and all the while, they’re increasing taxes, they’re extending the service boundaries without the resources or services online to cover them.”

The painting contractor says if commissioners treated the people and their tax money with respect, a lot of the problems at the county complex down on Ninth Street could be straightened out.

“I believe that the commission needs somebody like me who will stand up and say, ‘We gotta do this thing right. We gotta do this fair, and we should definitely spend the money in this county like we’re having to work for it every single day of our lives to get it. And that way, we can understand how hard the people who have to give up in their taxes are working to get that money.”