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What? Is it election time already?

Hallelujah, it’s election time again! Actually, the campaigning has been going on for months – heck, the Democratic presidential candidates have had about 26 debates at last count. But it’s only after the holidays, with the Iowa caucuses looming in about a week, that it really feels like election time.

So far here in Nevada County, the campaign climate seems considerably less caustic than during the months leading up to last November’s supervisor elections. Even old-timers said they had never seen anything to compare with the warfare that went on between the supporters of Bruce Conklin and Drew Bedwell in District 3 and Izzy Martin and Robin Sutherland in District 4. In retrospect, it felt like one of the battle scenes in “Braveheart” or “Gangs of New York” – combatants clubbing each other into bloody pulps till only one was standing.

In the supes race, that was Sutherland, who shocked Martin by about a thousand votes, and Bedwell, who squeaked out a paper-thin, 19-vote victory after a mind-numbing recount.



The county races are officially “nonpartisan,” meaning candidates are not nominated by political parties. Ideologically, however, the political alignments are easy to see by observing who coughs up the campaign money and provides the shoe leather: contractors, environmentalists, “property rights advocates” (whatever that may mean), peace people, veterans, horse fanciers, truck farmers and truck owners

Somehow, all these categories get lumped simplistically into “liberal” and “conservative,” although my observation is that there are as many different types of liberals and conservatives in Nevada County as there are types of religions.




Whatever you want to call ’em, the outcome last November really upset the applecart, power-wise. The Board of Supervisors went from a 4-1 “liberal” majority to a 3-2 “conservative” majority. That set up the scene for another battle royal in 2004 until the two remaining liberals, Peter van Zant and Barbara Green, decided not to run for re-election.

Now we have a different kettle of fish.

Liberals were unable to drum up a candidate to run for Green’s District 5 seat, so contractor and former mayor Ted Owens is unopposed and has only to wait till next year to take office – if he can stand the suspense.

In District 2, incumbent Sue Horne from Lake of the Pines – who just stepped down after a year as board chair – is running against Steve O’Rourke, a business consultant from Alta Sierra. Except for the odd bump, such as the “Nudes at the Rood” art controversy, Horne spent the last year as peacemaker, building her power base. The key battle in this race may be over whether a proposed “Super Sewer” from Lincoln should be extended to South County.

The most interesting race, without a doubt, is taking place in District 1, which primarily encompasses Nevada City and wooded environs. Olivia Diaz of Cascade Shores, who has had a successful business career, is vying to be the liberal successor to Van Zant. Her main opponent is retired naval officer Nate Beason of Nevada City, now a local businessman. He seems to have staked out a conservative position – but not too conservative. After all, this is Nevada City.

Helping to keep things lively in that contest is a late contender and political unknown, Josh Ramey from Chicago Park, who is in the construction business and is a firefighter.

At this point, both Beason and Diaz seem prepared to do battle over ideas, not with war clubs, which will be refreshing. We’ll see if their supporters feel the same way.

The other local races on the March 2 ballot will be four people playing musical chairs for three seats on the city council in Nevada City. Artist and photographer David McKay and Steve Cottrell – historian, raconteur and the Man Who Would Not Be Mayor – are up for re-election. (Tom Balch is stepping down after two terms.) Challenging them are Planning Commissioner Ruth Poulter and Sally Harris, a member of the city’s finance committee.

Harris offers an interesting challenge for The Union’s election coverage, since she recently was hired as the business manager for Nevada County Publishing Co., The Union’s parent company. When she was being interviewed for the job, she said she was going to run for the council and asked if that could be a problem. The answer was that when it came to her activities in the public sphere, she would be given the same respect (or, some would say, lack of it) as any other candidate or officeholder. She said that was good enough for her.

Here at The Union, the news staff is gearing up for comprehensive campaign coverage over the next couple of months, with in-depth looks at issues, candidate profiles and wide-ranging interviews. We’ll also be covering campaign events, such as the Nevada City Rotary’s forum Thursday, and the Jan. 23 appearance of all the supervisor candidates. (That public lunch forum is jointly sponsored by the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber, the Nevada County Business Association and the Nevada County Contractor’s Association. Contact one of those groups for details.)

Also, word is that there will be a debate under the auspices of Project Vote Smart near the end of February. Details to come soon.

Meanwhile, anticipating what happened last fall when we were inundated with hundreds of letters to the editor supporting candidates, we have again limited election letters to 100 words (see details in the accompanying box). A hundred words may not seem like much, but it provides plenty of room to get your view across.

It may be that we won’t see such a huge volume of letters this year, but we felt it would not be fair to impose length restrictions in mid-campaign – or take the chance of not having room for all submissions.

I wanted to tell some stories about the Iowa caucuses, but we’ll save them till next Saturday.

Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears each Saturday.


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