In the race for 4th District supervisor, Eddie Ozeta, a Republican and labor union board president, is challenging incumbent Peter Adam, the blunt, Tea Party anti-politician in his first term on the Board of Supervisors.
The 4th District — encompassing Orcutt, Lompoc, and Santa Maria — is made up of 36,300 voters. Of those, 42 percent are Republicans, 30 percent are Democrats, and 22 percent are decline-to-state. As a general rule, Orcutt residents vote at a higher rate than Lompoc’s. Because just two people are in the race, it will be decided in the June 7 primary election.
Aside from the fact Ozeta and Adam are both Republicans, they could not be more different. Ozeta, 45, works in the county’s Social Services department and came to Santa Barbara in 2012. A Marine veteran, Ozeta said he applied that year for 99 different public sector jobs; he expressed gratitude he landed here.
Adam, 53, is a fifth-generation Santa Maria farmer who owns a giant commercial operation with his two younger brothers, Kerry and Dominic Adam. He entered office in 2012 after he surprisingly beat incumbent Joni Gray. He complains county employee salaries and benefits are too high, and he considers his private sector background essential to balance the budget “in a real way.”
Since entering office, Adam has grown more comfortable inside the structures of government. Last year, he attempted to push a proposal of much lower emissions standards as an alternative to the regulatory plan embraced by environmentalists by setting a special meeting of the Air Pollution Control District. The effort failed, but it demonstrated Adam’s willingness to use the procedural privileges available to him.
Adam is also famous for proposing Measure M, the controversial 2014 maintenance bill that would have set aside tens of millions of dollars to the repair and upkeep of county roads, parks, and buildings. After it failed by a narrow margin, Adam declined to back a plan to squirrel away 18 percent of revenue growth each year for a decade and has voted against the entire budget each year since. In fact, Adam is often the sole dissenting vote; he and moderate conservative supervisor Steve Lavagnino have clashed on occasion on the dais.
Asked if he’s evolved as a politician, Adam said he discovered issues, such as mental health, that he didn’t know he was interested in when he got there but that he “has a really firm internal compass.”
Ozeta said he entered the race because of Adam’s “arrogance” and “sense of entitlement.” He has launched a series of political attacks on Adam — calling him a hypocrite for being the sole vote opposing the 12 percent pay raise for the county supervisors but then taking the money. “They are fine cashing their checks,” he said. “That’s the inconsistency.” Likewise, Ozeta argued Adam dropped $47,000 of county funds on his Santa Maria office remodel and then forced the veterans and elections departments to relocate. Adam said his old office space was too small and functionally unviable for private discussions. Their net office square footage actually decreased, he added. “Clearly this guy knows nothing about luxury if he calls that a luxury remodel,” he said.
Adam, Ozeta acknowledged, is popular in North County — “He’s a farmer, a good old boy; he has his network” — but noted Adam started his term the same day he started working in the Social Services department. “I’ve probably served more people from my little cubical than he served the whole constituency,” he charged.
For his part, Adam is running again “because my work here is not done.” When he got elected, Adam said, “If I can’t piss everybody off before I leave this place, then I haven’t done my job.” The few he has pissed off, he said, are “coming out of the woodwork” to fund Ozeta’s campaign. Last week, the firefighters union and the county employees union gave Ozeta $35,000; the Chumash gave him $30,000.
This week, Ozeta sent out a mailer attacking Adam, charging, “We can’t fix illegal immigration until we talk about those who are making it worse.” Earlier this year, Adam made headlines after hundreds of undocumented farmworkers were terminated from Adam Brothers Farming as the result of an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) investigation. The mailer also suggests Adam is a hypocrite because of a comment at a Board of Supervisors hearing he made last fall: “… people shouldn’t be here without permission, that is, illegally.”
In an interview, Adam said he appreciated everyone who worked for him, noting some had for decades. He called the action by ICE “ridiculous” because the terminated employees were not deported, just forced to move to another farm. “The federal government has let us all down by not controlling the border,” he said.
When asked, Adam said the solution is at the federal level. “This is just not an issue that I’m going to get involved in,” he said. “I’m just being used. And I’m not playing. This is a county seat. It’s nonpartisan, and [Ozeta’s] trying to do whatever he can to make an issue that could potentially get him a couple votes.”