Jeff Ackerman: Strange bedfellows on both sides of Treasurer/Tax Collector race
nteresting and more than a little odd that the most hotly-contested local race this election season is for a position that up until this year nobody gave a second thought to.
Dai Meagher and Tina Vernon both want to be Nevada County’s next Treasurer/Tax Collector, a position held over two decades by Chris Dabis (she served seven terms).
Both candidates spent close to $30,000 through Sept. 30 for the position that pays roughly $138,000 per year.
The local Democratic Central Committee endorsed Meagher (who was registered Republican from 2002-2008 before registering as a Democrat in 2008 and then a Decline To State) early in the campaign, a move that ruffled some party feathers after it was learned that Meagher is aligned to some pretty conservative people and causes.
For some hard-core Democrats and Republicans there is no place for middle-of-the-roaders, which is why our country and state are in the shape they are in today. It might also explain why Independents and Decline To State registered voter numbers are growing faster than both major parties.
As a result, the Nevada County Democratic Central Committee is slated to meet Oct. 21 to consider withdrawing its support of Meagher.
Meagher acknowledged signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is being promoted by the conservative Americans For Tax Reform group in Washington, D.C. In that pledge, Meagher promised to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
That organization was founded by Grover Norquist, a well-known Republican anti-tax crusader who worked with former House speaker Newt Gingrich to co-author the Republican’s Contract With America.
Norquist believes, as I do, in the notion of smaller government and was credited with one of my favorite all-time quotes: “I don’t want to abolish government,” he said. “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
When called on his association to Norquist and his movement, Meagher said he simply signed the pledge and that he did not know it was connected to Norquist.
“I am not a political junkie,” he e-mailed me last week. “I don’t have the leisure to keep up with people like Gordon Norquist.”
Meagher could be the first local candidate ever endorsed by both the Democratic Central Committee and CABPRO (California Association of Business, Property and Resources Owners), a conservative movement supporting private property rights and other conservative issues. With the exception of Meagher, CABPRO and the Democratic Central Committee are on opposite sides of almost every other election issue and candidate.
A few weeks ago someone dropped an anonymous envelope on my desk detailing how Tina Vernon had filed bankruptcy when she lived in Nevada. I assume that envelop was dropped on my desk by someone who supports Meagher, which is probably why there was nothing in the envelope detailing Meagher’s own financial problems.
In 1995 the California Franchise Tax Board filed a $2,500 lien against Meagher’s accounting firm and in 1996 Vernon filed for bankruptcy in Reno. Some wondered how either candidate can be expected to manage the county’s $120 million in investments when they can’t seem to manage their own finances.
Meagher said he paid off the Franchise Tax Board lien a month after it was filed, saying it came as he was trying to build his business.
“We were in the early phases of business and made some capital investments,” he explained when the story surfaced. “Our business didn’t grow at the same rate, and we didn’t have the cash flow we needed at the time.”
Vernon said her bankruptcy came after she was left to raise two small children alone.
“I was the sole support for my children and was unable to overcome the debt left to me from my separation,” she explained. “I had just completed my degree and was working full-time, running the household, providing for my children and was unable to overcome the debt left to me from my separation.”
Anyone who has ever run a business can probably relate to Meagher’s reasons and anyone who has ever divorced can certainly understand how Vernon found herself in a financial bind.
We can only hope they both learned from those mistakes before we hand over the county’s checkbook.
While Meagher has the support of the Democratic Central Committee and CABPRO, Vernon (who is a registered Republican) is being backed by all five members of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors (who are also Republicans) and by a couple of former county supervisors (Peter Van Zant and Barbara Green) who are Democrats.
Both candidates tout their qualifications for the job, with Meagher saying it was time that Nevada County finally had a Certified Public Accountant managing its money, while Vernon boasts an MBA in Business Administration and experience working under former Tax Collector Chris Dabis, who also supports her.
Vernon had a little fun last week with her opponent when she scored 100 percent on a test for a certificate that Meagher prominently boasts on his list of credentials.
Meagher said he has a degree in business administration from the University of Southern California’s School of Business and, beneath that, he lists, “Treasury Management, from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.”
Vernon said she decided to look into her opponent’s qualifications a bit more and discovered that she could take the Treasury Management Course offered by the University of Georgia online, so she paid the $219 and enrolled. She said she was able to start the course on a Tuesday evening and finish it Thursday night, scoring 100 percent on the final exam.
“I thought the program was very simple,” she said, estimating that she spent a total of six hours on the course. “I hope I have illuminated how easy it is to mislead voters when speaking of qualifications.”
Not that it’s difficult to mislead voters, mind you. Happens every election year. And given the strange bedfellows on both sides of this Vernon/Meagher race, chances are great that there is no shortage of dupes to be had this year.
Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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