Power players

Meet the candidates for SMUD board

Mark Bahouth and Nancy Bui are on the ballot for SMUD’s Board of Directors in Ward 2.

Mark Bahouth and Nancy Bui are on the ballot for SMUD’s Board of Directors in Ward 2.

They are powerful elected officials, with hundreds of thousands of constituents. Their decisions affect businesses, families, even the climate. They control your electric bill. They are the mighty members of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Board of Directors, but many voters don’t even know their names.

In fact, one board member joked to SN&R that the biggest factor in determining who wins a seat on the SMUD board isn’t experience, it isn’t even money—it’s ballot order. The person whose name appears first on the ballot is more likely to win, so the conventional wisdom goes.

“I hope that’s true,” said Mark Bahouth, who happens to be first on the ballot for the election of SMUD’s Ward 2 race.

Ward 2 includes 100,000 registered voters and covers a vast swath of the county, starting from the northeast corner, draping down to the southwest, encompassing Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Galt. Bahouth, 40, is facing off against 29-year-old technology consultant Nancy Bui and a mystery candidate named John Buhl.

Bahouth served for four years as a member of the Folsom Utility Commission, and before that served four years on the Folsom Redevelopment Advisory Committee. He’s touting his business-management experience, most recently at the technology company Numonyx, a spinoff of the Intel Corporation.

This is Bui’s first shot at public office, but she’s worked as an energy and technology consultant for large firms like Deloitte and Accenture, and as an independent consultant for the California Independent System Operator—the agency that runs the state’s electrical-transmission grid.

“People love SMUD, they love their low rates, they love their free trees and their rebates. I want to continue the good work SMUD has been doing,” Bui said.

Like many local government races, this election is supposed to be nonpartisan. In reality, party divisions are clear. Bahouth is a “decline to state” voter who says he “leans Republican.” And local Republicans lean right back. He’s got the endorsements of state Assemblyman Roger Niello, state Sen. Dave Cox and County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan.

According to campaign reports, Bahouth has raised almost $25,000, including $500 from PG&E and $7,500 from the Sacramento Metro Chamber. Another $1,000 came from another SMUD board member, Renee Taylor, and $6,000 came from the Western Electrical Contractors Association.

According to Bui’s most recent campaign reports, she’s raised more than $57,000. Among her biggest donors were the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 447, which gave $15,000 to Bui’s campaign. She also garnered $2,000 donations from the Sacramento Building Trades Council and the Stonewall Democratic Club. Her endorsement list is also a who’s who of Democratic Party players, including U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg and state Assemblyman Dave Jones.

She’s also gathered support from many board members of the Environmental Council of Sacramento and the local Sierra Club chapter.

Both candidates talk the green talk. Bui said she wants to bolster SMUD’s reputation as an environmentally friendly utility.

“I really want to wean ourselves off of natural gas. There are some exciting new technologies coming down the pike,” Bui told SN&R.

Bahouth doesn’t argue against bringing more renewable power online, especially as California tries to scale back its greenhouse-gas emissions. But he stresses low rates.

“She wants to go green as fast as possible,” Bahouth said of his opponent. “I want to go green, too. But I think we need to be careful about how much it’s going to cost. I want to try a little harder to keep rates low.”

He’s also open to the idea of bringing nuclear power back to the county.

“I’m not saying we should go for it. Safety first. But I think we should look into it,” Bahouth said.

There is one other candidate on the ballot. John Buhl didn’t return SN&R’s calls, hasn’t shown up to voter forums or even filed a campaign statement with the county. It remains to be seen if appearing in the second spot on the ballot helps him on Election Day.