Calling All Dogs

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: It’s all over, I suppose, but the shouting. The June primaries have officially ended, meaning our telephones, mailboxes, and TV screens can enjoy a few moments of respite from political solicitations. The big story, as always, is who didn’t vote. That’s most of us. Presumably the democracy we are so eager to export to Iraq is the democracy we see fit not to exercise right here at home. But who needs a lecture?

Locally, the biggest dud was the much heralded county split vote. I’ve always thought the county split was an idiotic idea in search of a problem to make even worse. But after five-and-a-half long years of huffery and puffery — not to mention the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent studying the dumb idea to death — I would have enjoyed the satisfaction of righteously kicking the other side’s ass. But proponents never bothered to wage any kind campaign. They stayed home. Little wonder 80 percent of the voters told them to take a hike. But election night provided no moment of closure for county split foe Joyce Howerton, the former Lompoc mayor and longtime community activist. For a while Joyce tried hanging out at the county building in Santa Maria, where she had hoped to “smirk, smirk, smirk.” But that proved futile because there was no one there she could smirk at. So she packed her bags for Penelope’s Tea and Gift shop in Lompoc, where the Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown was tentatively celebrating the fact that he made the November playoffs against incumbent Sheriff Jim Anderson. Somehow, it seems suspiciously metrosexual for a burly, mustachioed cop like Brown to be hanging out at a tea and gift shop, much less celebrate there. But Brown is entitled to go wherever he wants. Barring a dramatic reversal of fortune once all the absentee ballots are counted, it appears Brown came out of the proverbial nowhere — Lompoc — to beat out Santa Barbara’s politically powerful former sheriff Jim Thomas for the honor of dethroning Anderson this fall. Despite Anderson’s protestations of victory — with 37 percent he was the top vote-getter — the sheriff finds himself in seriously hot water. About six weeks ago, his three challengers all but signed a notarized Anybody-but-Anderson pact, so angry were they over Anderson’s leadership problems. So expect challengers Thomas and Butch Arnoldi to be tossing their support behind Brown.

But the dud award of this election goes to Das Williams’s campaign for the 2nd District supervisor’s seat. Williams finished third out of a field of four candidates, barely beating Just-Say-No neighborhood preservationist Joe Guzzardi for last place. (Despite his showing, Guzzardi did twice as well as most handicappers thought he would.) Coming in first — though only by a smidgen — was Dr. Dan Secord, the sole Republican in the race, who comes across as a mix between Father-Knows-Best and Marcus Welby, MD. Facing Secord in November will be Janet Wolf, a longtime Goleta resident, former Goleta School Boardmember, and darling of the Democratic establishment. Williams, now serving his first term on the Santa Barbara City Council — is as smart, charismatic, hard-working, and impassioned a political player as Santa Barbara has seen in many moons. Few political animals anywhere radiate such comfort in their own skins, yet the TV commercials that Williams bought and paid for show him as just the opposite — stiff, awkward, and a little bit weird. Whoever made those commercials should be sued for malpractice, but as bad as they were, they constituted only a small portion of his woes. Williams’s main problem was that he was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. I always figured Goleta and Noleta were too white-bread and suburban for such a decidedly urban hep cat like Williams, a former I.V. surfer dude and progressive activist given to wearing born-again bling. To his enduring credit, Williams is one of the few lefty enviros who has actively sought to fuse neighborhood protection, open-space preservation, and social-justice agendas into one political package, however unwieldy it may be. In downtown Santa Barbara, that might sell. But in Goleta and Noleta — where NIMBY activists liken affordable-housing advocates to Nazis and affordable-housing advocates reciprocate by comparing the NIMBYs to Southern racists — that’s a trickier proposition. There, it’s more like riding two horses heading in opposite directions at full speed. Little wonder that both sides in this equation suspected Williams was trying too hard to be too many things to too many people. Nor did it help Williams’s case that he seemed to start checking out a 2nd District race almost within months of taking his seat on the City Council. That kind of itchy-pants ambition doesn’t sit well in Santa Barbara, no matter how freaking knowledgeable you might be on land-use issues.

The final nail was Williams’s effort to unseat fellow councilmember and Democrat Iya Falcone in last November’s City Council race by actively supporting and fundraising for anti-Iya candidate Dianne Channing. Williams was hardly the only Democrat to find Falcone’s high-handed style off-putting, but it wasn’t a fight Williams could hope to win and he didn’t come close. As a result, Iya’s friends in the politically influential police and firefighters unions have become Das’s enemies, and the guns-and-hoses power bloc came out strongly for Janet Wolf, Das’s chief Democratic rival in the 2nd District race. Likewise, Democratic Congressmember Lois Capps — who’d gotten involved in the Williams-Falcone fracas on Iya’s behalf — jumped in on Wolf’s behalf as she’s never jumped into a local primary before. Let’s hope Wolf’s supporters can be as gracious in their victory as Williams has been in defeat. In the first place, gloating’s never attractive. Besides, the two sides need each other if they hope to win in November. Certainly, they need each other if they hope to have a local Democratic Party that’s worth a damn. And when Das gets finished licking his wounds, let’s hope he can get focused on the here-and-now-of council business. He may not be right for Goleta, but he’s still got a whole lot to offer in Santa Barbara.

— Nick Welsh

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