Sacramento politics: Down ballot blues

There are scores of local political seats up for grabs this fall—but you wouldn’t know it

For a complete list of local government races and information on how to run for office, visit

Blink and you might miss it. The filing period to run for local elected office is open from July 14 to August 8. There are scores of elected offices in Sacramento County up for grabs. But many, many of those races won’t be competitive.

That doesn’t matter to Brad Buyse, campaign services manager for the Sacramento County elections department. Whether there are many candidates or just a few, his workload is about the same. “My job is to ensure that candidates get the best service possible.”

But as a guy who really digs democracy, he’s trying to get the word out: Sacramento wants you—to run for office.

“What I hope to see is more people being involved in their community and being an active voice.”

There are 148 positions up for election in Sacramento County in November, from hotly contested school board elections to tussles over sleepy little irrigation districts. Would-be candidates have from Monday, July 14, to 5 p.m. on Friday, August 8, to gather signatures and turn in all their nominating paperwork to have their name placed on the November ballot.

Many of the down-ballot races won’t be real races, and many of the contests will feature people you’ve never heard of. But there will be some familiar faces.

Political veteran Rob Kerth is running for the board of directors of SMUD, to fill a seat being vacated by longtime board member Peter Keat.

If elected, this would mark Kerth’s return to politics after a long hiatus. “Yeah, I fell off the wagon,” Kerth explained. He served two terms on the Sacramento City Council, but lost to Heather Fargo for mayor of Sacramento in 2000.

Aside from his time in City Hall, Kerth has been working for several years for the Sacramento Tree Foundation, as director of that organization’s Greenprint project, an effort to plant 4 million trees in the region over the next 40 years. One of the main themes he wants to get across in his campaign is that “we’ll get the biggest return from conservation.”

Three of the seven SMUD seats are up for election this year. And even a down-ballot race can command big bucks. In SMUD Ward 5, the seat Kerth hopes to win, there are about 90,000 likely voters. The territory covers Sacramento’s central city and stretches from the Pocket to the Sutter County line. That’s a lot of political mail pieces to get your message out. “A contested race could cost well north of $100,000,” Kerth explained.

Even then, many voters will find it tough to make an informed decision. “The single biggest correlation to winning on a down-ticket ballot is ballot order,” Kerth said. Meaning, if your name appears first among the list of candidates, you are more likely to come in first in the voting. And if you’re the first and only name on the ballot, even better.

Another political backslider running for election this fall is Bret Daniels, who’s hoping to win a seat on the Citrus Heights City Council. Daniels served as city councilman and mayor of Citrus Heights until resigning in 2005. He also worked for many years as a Sacramento County deputy sheriff and famously feuded with his old boss, Sheriff Lou Blanas. His last election effort was a lopsided loss to Undersheriff John McGinness to replace the retiring Blanas in 2006.

Daniels is running on a pro-public-safety platform and running against the creation of more low-income housing in the community. “We’ve been a city for 10 years now, but when I drive around, I just shake my head. It looks second-rate,” Daniels told SN&R.

He’s teaming up with Jim Remick—himself a Contra Costa County deputy sheriff—to form a two-man slate aimed at knocking out City Council members Jeff Slowey and Jayna Karpinski-Costa. Together, Daniels and Remick hope to raise and spend about $50,000 and pool campaign resources, following the (not-so-)old adage, “Two can run as cheaply as one.”

Farther down the ballot, there will be an array of taxes and bonds to choose from, depending on where you live. The city of Sacramento is poised to put a measure expanding the city’s utility tax to include cell phones on the November ballot. Similar measures are in the works in Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova. And Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson is looking to put a quarter-cent sales tax to fund anti-gang violence programs on the November ballot. Voters in Galt may have a similar measure before them in the fall.

And even farther down the ballot is the no man’s land of special districts, where only the wonkiest dare to tread. In all, there are 56 different districts represented on the November ballot and dozens of elected positions to be filled on bodies like the Carmichael Water District and the Florin Resource Conservation District. It seems the only position not up for election is dogcatcher. Dogcatchers aren’t elected.

But just because these districts, be they fire, flood or school districts, are small and little known, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, said Kerth. “All these little layers of local government, they tend to have a limited mission, but they have a pretty big impact on our quality of life.”