Steve Pappas, who has spent the better part of the last three years embroiled in legal battles related to his loss in the 2008 election, announced his intention to run for the 3rd District Supervisor seat for the third consecutive election cycle. The diverse 3rd District encompasses the Santa Ynez Valley, Guadalupe, and most of Goleta.
Pappas, 52, lost to Doreen Farr in the November 2008 election 51.0 percent to 48.73 percent. After a ballot recount funded by Santa Ynez Valley Journal owner and Pappas supporter Nancy Crawford-Hall, Pappas filed a contest to the election in Superior Court alleging improprieties in the gathering of registration forms throughout 18 precincts in Isla Vista and UCSB where the turnout was strongly in Farr’s favor.
But at every turn since then he has lost, most recently when the Secretary of State’s office recommended no criminal election fraud charges be filed. The DA’s office agreed with the state’s conclusion.
Pappas has been telling people for a few weeks he was 99 percent sure he was entering the race. On Wednesday, he made it official. His entrance into the race — with presumed strong financial backing from Crawford-Hall (who dropped $400,500 into Pappas’s 2008 campaign account) and the Herthel family — makes him a formidable opponent both for Farr, who has already declared her intention to run for reelection, and anyone else thinking of entering — like Solvang Planning Commissioner Aaron Petersen, whose name has been tossed around valley circles in recent weeks.
Petersen, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara County and owns The Greenhouse Cafe in Solvang, said he was approached a while back by a group of supporters and has been mulling over the decision to enter the race or not. He said he’d make up his mind in the next week or so after talking to his family and weighing the potential effects of a campaign. Brooks Firestone, who preceded Farr in the 3rd District seat, said Petersen would be the perfect man for the job. “He probably should run for president,” Firestone quipped Wednesday.
So, while Petersen thinks over his decision, the big unknown is whether 3rd District voters are suffering from Pappas fatigue or still supporting the three-time candidate at a level where he can seriously compete with a strong incumbent in Farr. In 2004, Pappas was trounced in the primary by both John Buttny and Firestone who won the election outright with more than 50 percent of the vote. Pappas came in with only 6.5 percent. Refusing to give up, Pappas entered the fray for the 2008 race and finished second out of five candidates in the primary, leading to the November runoff against Farr.
But, since that November loss, he hasn’t done much to endear himself to voters. What started as a quest to right perceived wrongs in the 2008 election has seemingly lost steam as judge after judge and public official after public official have found no evidence of voter fraud in the race despite Pappas’s claims. While support for the contest was at one point high, the drawn-out nature of Pappas’s battle has cost him supporters throughout the county. He also has not been very visible at county board meetings or other community events since losing in 2008, something Farr is quick to point out. “He hasn’t been involved in county issues, community issues, or even valley issues,” she said, “other than his pursuits of lawsuits against me.”
Even the UCSB student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, which endorsed Pappas in both the primary and general elections, later turned on him in a March 2009 editorial titled “Turds and Tulips.” “Unrelenting, conniving turds to Steve Pappas for refusing to know when enough is enough,” the piece read. “In life, there are winners and losers. Then there are assholes.”
But Pappas hasn’t been swayed by those hoping he will step aside for another candidate to take on Farr. “Anybody who knows Steve Pappas knows he’s not subject to persuasion,” Firestone said.
Pappas himself did not return a phone call or email Wednesday. A public relations spokesperson said he was on a plane for a short family vacation and would be available to talk in depth next week. He did release a statement Wednesday that said, “Transparency in the way the 3rd District and the County is run is something that every voter should be concerned with. I am running for 3rd District Supervisor because I firmly believe in the public’s right to participate in the decision-making that impacts all of us in the 3rd District. The purpose of our government is to represent the people and to do so honestly, ethically and with sound principles. The more involved I continue to be with community and political issues, the more I see a growing need to change how our government works or in fact doesn’t work.”
Currently, Pappas is appealing a decision on attorney’s fees related to his failed litigation. A judge ordered Pappas to pay in excess of $525,000 to Farr for the legal trouble. But his appeal means the money will stay out of Farr’s pockets for at least several months, most likely until after the primary election. In the last reported financial statements on June 30, Farr had $27,111 on hand while Pappas reported $90.65 along with $18,550 in outstanding debt. The next period ends December 31, but the numbers won’t be available until January 31.
If Pappas stands any chance of upsetting Farr, it would likely happen in the June primary. There will be fewer students in Isla Vista during the summer session, and there will be no Democratic presidential primary — two harmful factors for a left-leaning candidate. If no one can upset her in the summer, she will be tough to beat in November’s race, which will accompany a presidential general election as well as important Congressional and State Senate races. And students — a population that generally votes more progressive — will be back in the UCSB college town of Isla Vista.
Farr, for her part, is already easing into campaign mode. She has hired a campaign consultant, Nick Caston, who worked on the successful Measure A (half-percent highway transportation sales tax) campaign in 2008. She has hosted a number of fundraisers and sent out a fundraising letter just last week.
She also brings to the table a pretty strong record. One of the most important issues to residents of the Santa Ynez Valley is the Chumash plan for Camp 4, a 1,400-acre plot of land the tribe bought from Fess Parker in 2010. The Chumash want to bring the land into their reservation through a legislative process, a move Farr — and much of the valley — is opposed to. If it became part of the reservation, the county would no longer have control over land-use issues within its boundary. The Chumash have said they plan to use the land to build additional housing for tribe members.
While not necessarily making big splashes in her four years on the board, Farr — who is set to become board chair next year — has shown herself to be a strong proponent for the environment, most recently during the county’s discussions on fracking. Farr brought to the surface the fact that the controversial procedure for extracting oil and natural gas from rock formations was taking place within the county, and, after several hearings on the issue, the board voted to strengthen regulations policing fracking.
“I do have a record and I am proud of it,” said Farr, who has come under fire for the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has received from public employee groups during the last election. But she points to concessions made by all employee groups during her time on the board. She also voted to impose a contract on SEIU 721 after an impasse between the union and the county despite pleas from union members to keep negotiating. The contract, Farr said, was similar to contracts agreed to by other union groups. It was a decision she believed was in the best interest of everyone in the county, she said.
The primary is scheduled for Tuesday, June 5.