The reluctant politician

Sacramento-sized politicking enters the tiny race for Yolo County supervisor

At work in Sacramento, Matt Rexroad is a well-connected political consultant. At home in Woodland, he’s mayor.

At work in Sacramento, Matt Rexroad is a well-connected political consultant. At home in Woodland, he’s mayor.

Photo By Larry Dalton

It’s easy to tell that the mayor takes this stuff seriously.

He’s standing there, with his feet shoulder-width apart in a semi-military pose he must have picked up while in the Marines, speaking to a fellow Woodlander and making eye contact while he does. He’s manning his booth at the Yolo County Fair on a recent Sunday afternoon, in front of a sign that reads “Matt Rexroad: County Supervisor.” The “x” in Rexroad strikes energetically through a ballot box.

In the next booth over sits Rexroad’s competitor, incumbent Yolo County Supervisor Frank Sieferman Jr., sucking on a lollipop. On a banner above his head, the words “The Listening Post” accompany a sketch of a man, leaning, his hand cupped to his ear.

A starker distinction between the two men is apparent in the tables each has set up in front of himself.

Sieferman’s is piled high with vote-for-me swag—notepads with the supervisor’s mug on them, pencils with his name printed on them, lollipops marked with the word “vote,” drink coasters, pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution, guitar picks that read “PICK Frank Sieferman Jr.” There are even Sieferman-branded nail files—“for the gals,” he says.

Rexroad’s table is comparatively bare. Just a small stack of bumper stickers, some mail-in endorsement postcards and a stack of 8.5-by-11-inch fliers containing quotes from community members who support him.

“I choose to spend my money differently,” Rexroad says.

And there’s the distinction. Rexroad knows how to campaign. He served as chief of staff to several state legislators, as a California point man during President George W. Bush’s election, and as legal council to Republicans in the state Assembly during the most recent redistricting. The 37-year-old is also part owner of Meridian Pacific, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that counts among its clients Hawaii’s Republican governor and Citizens to Save California, the fund-raising group that worked to put Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reform agenda on November’s special-election ballot.

In contrast, Sieferman, 55, is a former farmer and millwright. When he won his seat to the five-member board of supervisors in 2002—by just 288 votes—he’d spent just $7,000 campaigning, he says.

Rexroad has said he plans to raise $100,000 and acknowledges that with his know-how and connections, he can make that money work double time. Vendors he routinely works with might offer him cut rates. And where the average candidate might need to hire an expert, Rexroad can do the work himself.

Plus, he has uncommon streams of support and money coming out of Sacramento. For example, among those sponsoring Rexroad’s September 1 campaign-kickoff party are former state Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte and current Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy—names not usually linked to small-tomatoes county races.

“It’s definitely an advantage,” Rexroad said of his connections and experience. “But it’s not an unfair advantage.”

About 15,000 registered voters live in the county’s 3rd supervisorial district, which means Rexroad could raise nearly $7 per voter.

“People been talkin’ about buyin’ an election because of how much money he’s raised,” Sieferman said. “They’re seein’ what I’m seein’—all the bigwig connections of Sacramento running for a county job.”

That leads to speculation about whether Rexroad’s bid for supervisor signals a desire to run for a legislative seat. Rexroad quashes that rumor immediately.

“I’ll make a pledge right now not to run for higher office. If you want me to sign something, I’ll sign it,” he said.

If that were his goal, he points out, he would have relocated years ago to a more conservative stronghold such as Roseville, not remained in a region where legislative districts are locked up for Democrats.

In fact, Rexroad says he’d rather remain on the council, where he feels he can have a dramatic effect on his city.

“He didn’t really want to run for supervisor,” said Dudley Holman, a former Woodland mayor who now heads the watchdog group Yolo County Taxpayers Association. “But when he saw that Woodland was getting the short end of the stick in more ways than one, he decided he needed to get in there and show that somebody cared about Woodland.”

Rexroad says Sieferman isn’t doing the job.

“He thinks he represents the entire county, not the people in Woodland [which the 3rd District includes],” Rexroad said. “He thinks he represents Davis and West Sacramento. Davis already has two supervisors, so now they have three and we have … a half.”

Rexroad says simply that Sieferman has not advocated effectively for the city of Woodland.

To which Sieferman replied, “Sorry, that’s not my job description. Look at the job descriptions. You’re the mayor. I’m not the mayor. I’m not the city councilman.” Sieferman explains quite simply that, yes, he does believe that he represents every person in the county, not just those who cast ballots in his name.

The first red flag sent up in Rexroad’s mind was a county plan to put a human-services office in a vacant Kmart building smack in the middle of downtown Woodland. Rexroad opposed the plan with a knee jerk, as did the other four city-council members.

Sieferman voted against them.

And Rexroad said Sieferman went against the city’s interests in other ways. There was Assemblywoman Lois Wolk’s “Wild and Scenic” bill, which Sieferman expressed support for, though it was opposed by Woodland city leaders. Rexroad also criticized Sieferman for supporting a lawsuit the county brought against Woodland over a commercial development that’s no longer being built.

Rexroad acknowledges that the money and high-profile endorsements won’t be the motivating factors that convince some Woodlanders to strike that “x” next to his name in June.

“A lot of these people are voting for me because I made a really cool catch in center field when I was in high school, or because they know my dad, or because I was nice to their kid once,” Rexroad said.

Campaign consultant Andrew Acosta agrees. “It’s all local politics. He lives in Woodland. People there know him.”

People also know Sieferman, who’s been in the community his whole life and whose dad was also a supervisor. Asked why he first chose to run for office several years ago, Sieferman’s answer echoed Rexroad’s: “The man that had the job was not representing the people.”