SILENCE AIN’T GOLDEN: With all the hubbub about the presidential primaries-the half-life of which has already exceeded that of plutonium-a lot of serious regional politics have gotten lost in the shuffle. The race for the 3rd Supervisorial District, for example, has yet to penetrate most of our personal radar screens, even though the stakes involved could not be more dire.
At issue, as always, is the balance of power for the entire county, given that the 3rd-which includes I.V., much of Goleta, and the Santa Ynez Valley-has constituted the board’s key swing vote since the last great Ice Age 12,000 years ago. But the outcome of this race will also determine the balance of power for the next 10 years-practically an eternity-given that the winners will get to redraw the district boundaries based on the Census Bureau’s new population stats.
Little wonder a bunch of out-of-town business types no one has ever heard of-and fewer should ever trust-want to pour thousands of not-so-discreet dollars into the campaign war chest of David Smyser, the heir apparent to current 3rd District Jefe Brooks Firestone. It was Firestone’s last-minute decision to pull the ripcord on his political parachute earlier this year-after having so emphatically declared his intent to run just months before-that has left the pro-business Republican side of the political equation scrambling for a suitable successor.
Let’s face it, Smyser is no Firestone. Firestone has patrician charm, vast wealth, a long political history, an impressive network of personal connections, even more money, an intergalactic wine empire, a famous celebrity son, and a decent lager that bears his last name. Smyser, on the other hand, has a political resume that smacks of wanderlust and attention deficit disorder. One moment, he’s looking for a job in San Francisco; the next he’s moving to Colorado to be with his wife. I get whiplash just trying to keep track. On the other hand, the enviros and Dems have hitched their wagon to the star of Doreen Farr, whose skills as a smart, diligent planning wonk and worker bee are said to be beyond reproach. But, likewise, when it comes to working a room, kissing babies, and hitting the rubber-chicken circuit, Farr has nowhere to go but up.
As exciting as all this is, I must confess I will miss the incessant din generated by the Hillary-Obama showdown. When it’s over-and I’m told by the most impeccable of sources that Clinton will officially step down next Tuesday-I’ll be checking myself into a 12-step recovery program. I’m hoping that once that deed is did, the national media will start shining a serious light on the insane and incendiary remarks made by John McCain‘s personal pastor, John Hagee. Or maybe we don’t think it’s weird and extreme to blame a gay pride parade for the violent fury unleashed on the City of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. And maybe everybody refers to the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon-otherwise known as WOB for short.
Meanwhile, farther up the road, 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray-who boasts 10 years of supervisorial experience-is facing what could become a serious race to maintain her seat, representing the underrepresented people of Lompoc and Orcutt. Smart money says the Republican Gray-whose glad-handing skills have never been suspect-should be a shoo-in. But the guy running against her, John Sterling, also a Republican, happens to be the former police chief of Santa Maria. By all accounts, Sterling was a most exceptional chief during his four-year tenure between 1999 and 2003. On one hand, he was a cop’s cop, unusually popular with rank-and-file officers. When he was in charge, other departments constantly lost cops to Santa Maria and it wasn’t because of the money. But Sterling also knew how to work the community, and reached out to Santa Maria’s large Latino population the way few North County politicians have before or since. Sterling proved just as adept at walking the walk as he was at talking the talk, and, as a result, Latino activists not inclined to trust anyone wearing a police uniform could not say enough good things about Sterling. Maybe all this community collaboration distracted Sterling from certain essential tasks, such as keeping his boss-Santa Maria City Manager Tim Ness-happy. It remains uncertain exactly what happened, but in 2003 Sterling was forced to retire at Ness’s instigation. The new chief, Dan Macagni, enjoys the enthusiastic support of Ness and the City Council, despite complaints that he’d use such terms as “niggers,” “spics,” and “wetbacks” when describing the ethnic origins of various individuals with whom his officers have come in contact. Little wonder, then, that the Santa Maria Police Officers’ Association, as well as the Latino Peace Officers Association, have endorsed Sterling.
A Lompoc native, Sterling worked briefly as an investigator in the District Attorney’s office, where he was remembered by the not very shy but soon to be retiring Patrick McKinley-the office’s prominent second-in-command-as “first rate” and “top notch.” (These quotes, while uncannily accurate, should not, however, be construed as a formal political endorsement.) Sterling also worked as police chief of Ridgecrest Police Department, located east of Bakersfield. His skills were such that the city fathers saw fit to make him city manager and redevelopment czar as well. Given the tragic meltdown now consuming the county’s long-languishing Mental Health Department-with $8.4 million in cuts looming-maybe Sterling’s people skills might actually prove useful in working out an accord with the many community-based organizations that provide the mentally ill with much of the service they actually receive. People in the mental health community say Sterling is unusually fluent-and supportive-when it comes to their issues. By contrast, they claim they have not been able to get the time of day with Gray, who has reportedly refused all their entreaties to schedule a sit-down meet ‘n’ greet.
In the meantime, no matter what actually happens, you read it here first.