There’s much to decide on election day |

There’s much to decide on election day

It seems like every time we turn around there’s another election in California. If you feel yourself succumbing to election fatigue, please dip your head into a bucket of cool water or do whatever it takes to get your mind into this election. There’s plenty at stake in western Nevada County.

On June 6, we will have the opportunity to vote for a district attorney, a judge, city councilors, an elections clerk, a city clerk, county supervisors and congressional candidates.

Some of these races have intriguing elements.

Let’s start in Nevada City, which features two of the more interesting races.

Incumbent city councilors Conley Weaver, the current mayor, and Kerry Arnett are facing formidable challenges from Sheila Stein, who sits on the Planning Commission, and Barbara Coffman, a longtime resident and attorney.

This race could serve as referendum on the performance of the entire City Council. Weaver and Arnett are pointing to their accomplishments for a council that often votes 4-1, while Stein and Coffman say the city needs a more defined vision.

If both challengers win, we would likely see a different type of City Council there.

Another question is what impact the city clerk’s race might have on the City Council election. Cathy Wilcox-Barnes was recently placed on paid administrative leave from her non-elected position as the city’s operations supervisor while the city investigates her office.

Wilcox-Barnes is seeking re-election as the city clerk. She is being challenged by Yolanda Bachtell and Niel Locke, the outgoing city treasurer who is running as a write-in candidate.

City Manager Mark Miller’s decision to remove Wilcox-Barnes from her non-elected position has opened a chasm in the community. Some have accused the city of trying to influence the race by putting Wilcox-Barnes on administrative leave on the eve of the election.

That seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the city clerk’s position is part-time and only pays $100 a month. If it were politics, a more career-minded politician would have wanted to start the investigation after the election. No one wants to drop a bomb like this before an election.

The District 3 Board of Supervisors race presents a study in contrasts.

In one corner we have incumbent John Spencer, a land surveyor, the husband of Grass Valley City Councilor Patti Ingram and a man who speaks in measured tones.

The challenger is Terry Lamphier, who was booted from the Grass Valley Planning Commission last year after speaking out too much and some say after asking too many questions. Lamphier is a maverick candidate who can hardly restrain himself once he gets started on the topic of growth, the most divisive issue in Grass Valley.

Lamphier believes that new or expanding businesses should pay for growth, which largely means paying what he considers their fair share of costly traffic improvements. He would bring a distinctly unique voice to a Board that seems to speak largely as one these days.

The District 4 race features fresh faces on the political spectrum: Hank Weston, the retired Grass Valley fire chief, Penn Valley rancher Martin Harmon and Gordon Beatie of Rough and Ready. The winner will replace Robin Sutherland, who decided to not seek re-election.

Supervisors serve for four years and will soon earn $39,446 a year. The chairman will earn $41,419 a year.

The county’s clerk-recorder race offers a fascinating match-up. Kathleen Smith, who was appointed to the job after Lorraine Jewett-Burdick resigned in 2004, is being challenged by Gregory Diaz, a relative newcomer to the area. This race has been contentious from the start.

Diaz, a former clerk-recorder in San Francisco, wanted to be listed on the ballot as retired clerk-recorder. Smith rejected that description which led to conflict-of-interest charges and requests that she recuse herself from making that determination.

She held her ground, however. Diaz will be listed as recorder systems consultant, which likely won’t mean much to most voters. Smith is choosing to list herself as appointed incumbent. The clerk-recorder serves a four-year term and earns $88,619 annually, which is the second highest-paying job on the ballot.

The best-paying job on the ballot will belong to the winner of the 4th Congressional District race, which won’t be determined until November.

The primary races, however, will be held next week. Rep. John Doolittle is seeking his ninth term in Congress. Mike Holmes, the mayor of Auburn, is challenging him in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, Charles Brown, Lisa Rea and Michael Hamersley are vying for the nomination.

At this point, Doolittle remains the heavy favorite to defeat Holmes and then beat any Democrat in the November general election.

His fund-raising advantage is enormous. According to the Federal Elections Commission, he has raised $794,416 through March 31. Included in that amount is $299,324 from Political Action Committees, which translates into special-interest money.

His opponents have raised a total of $193,922 through March 31. The top fund-raiser is Brown, a retired Air Force pilot and former member of the Republican Party. He has raised $97,357, Holmes $70,810, Rea $20,318 and Hamersley a whopping $5,437.

Normally, money does all the talking in national elections, which is one reason why Doolittle and other incumbents in U.S. House races routinely trounce their opponents. Another reason is gerrymandering, a legal process that creates practically bullet-proof seats for incumbents whose allegiance then naturally shifts to the party that owns the district.

Doolittle might be more vulnerable than in past elections. He has acknowledged Jack Abramoff is a friend and a man he at least used to respect. Abramoff’s clients have contributed thousands of dollars to Doolittle’s campaign. In addition, Abramoff has steered work to Julie Doolittle’s firm, which has charged a 15 percent commission when fund-raising for the congressman.

Abramoff is now cooperating with a Department of Justice investigation into possible illegal activities in the nation’s capitol. At the very least, this adds an element of suspense to a congressional race that has elicited nothing but yawns for years.

House representatives have a base pay of $162,500 a year, which doesn’t include benefits like health care or a free vehicle.

We also have six candidates for a Nevada County Superior judge position. The defining feature of this race has revolved around campaign signs of all things. Ray Shine, in particular, has taken a lot of heat for displaying signs that apparently violate size standards in Grass Valley.

His opponents are Tom Anderson, Timothy Jensen, Bob Litchfield Jr, Kristen Smith and Michael Colantuono, who also found himself in a bit of controversy for running a picture of himself wearing a judge’s robe in his campaign literature even though he has not been a full-time judge in the past. Once he learned of this apparent transgression, he stopped distributing those campaign pamphlets.

Finally, there’s the district attorney’s race. It features two deputy district attorneys, Cliff Newell and Jim Phillips, and criminal defense attorney Dave Silber.

Nevada County residents love to exercise their right to free speech. However, it is important that we exercise something besides our vocal cords on June 6.


Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 477-4235.

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