Rico shoots, Richie scores

Oller upstaging Jones? Call it the elephant in Placer County’s living room. Late last week, state Senator Rico Oller’s move to file paperwork to begin fund-raising for the 4th District Assembly seat in 2006 sparked attention—and, in some cases, ire—from local GOP players.

Staunch conservative Oller is now in the Assembly primary race against Placer County Supervisor Ted Gaines, who has secured coveted Republican endorsements in advance from party players like Assemblymen Dave Cox and 4th District incumbent Tim Leslie.

Still, party loyalties are driven by the currency of dues and, on that score, Oller is paid in full. Serving as a point man on controversial issues such as illegal aliens getting driver’s licenses, Oller has functioned as a right-wing lightning rod, taking criticism that otherwise might have been shifted to Representative John Doolittle or other GOP officials. Oller’s election in Placer County would keep him in the limelight—his Senate term ends this year. Gaines, meanwhile, is a relative novice, and suddenly his easy acquisition of the 4th District seat in 2006 is no gimme.

Bites hears that Doolittle, the GOP quasi-éminence grise to the party machinery, likely will endorse Oller, just not now. Doolittle has backed both men in the past and faces a delicate situation that, according to one GOP insider, “will shake itself out eventually.” Translation: Big elephant Oller displaces little elephant at the water hole, but little elephant is encouraged to stick around for his eventual turn.

Subplots should run deep at the August 14 Placer County Republicans’ family picnic in bucolic Lincoln. Hosted by Senator Jim Brulte, the picnic will feature U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones and also will include a tribute to Oller—according to one GOP county committee member, some members are “furious” at what they feel is the Oller tribute upstaging the Jones function. Talk-show personality Eric Hogue will be at the picnic, also, and may be eyeing a run at the Assembly seat himself.

The Republican fund-raiser/ family-values jamboree will include a silent auction, kids’ games, a petting zoo and a celebration of Second Amendment rights as legislators shoot it out on the gun range. Rumors that the event will culminate in the ritual shotgun blasting of a petting-zoo donkey are, as yet, unconfirmed.

Arena wars: Wasn’t that Richie Ross giving hand signals to all his pro-arena clients during last week’s public hearing on the downtown arena? Mayor Heather Fargo, Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy and Kings entrepreneurs the Brothers Maloof all have lined up behind the idea that a publicly financed arena is surely the cure to all that ails downtown Sacramento. According to one councilmember, the Maloofs even had their own “owners’ box” at City Hall; a private room that’s normally reserved for councilmembers and their staff apparently was turned over to the Kings’ owners so that they’d have a private suite from which to wheel and deal while the hearing droned on. A security guard escorted them past the restricted-access sign so that the brothers could conduct their business behind closed doors.

In the end, the after-midnight decision by Heather Fargo and company to postpone an arena ballot initiative until next March was, in retrospect, a no-brainer. Market-savvy politicians remind us that you don’t roll out a new war before Labor Day, and it now appears that arenas are also subject to seasonal marketing fluctuations. Timing is everything, and the Kings are still reeling from the sucker punch of losing a large Serbian center to the Lakers. Much better to “let the people decide” during the height of spring Kings fever.

Meanwhile, Bites looks forward to even more council fun between now and August 5, when the city council will formally decide whether to move ahead with the ballot proposition and possibly request a facilitator, effectively cutting City Manager Bob Thomas out of the process. Who knows? Maybe we’ll soon see Ross and Thomas giving each other hand signals as well, albeit of a less-friendly variety.