The 2010 California primary election is in the history books – with a page or two yet to be written.
Few of us will miss the political robo-calls, TV campaign commercials and the endless stream of political flyers in our mailboxes. Last week’s primary election did reinforce some political truisms: 1) Money is the mother’s milk of politics; 2) Every vote counts; 3) All politics is local.
Money and politics. Clearly, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s expenditure of $71 million of her own money was the decisive factor in her winning the Republican nomination for governor.
Whitman spent $90 per vote in her primary campaign to win 64 percent of the Republican vote. Her opponent in the upcoming November election, Attorney General Jerry Brown faced no real organized opposition. He won 84 percent of the vote from Democrats — with very little campaigning — and spent just 20 cents per vote. Those numbers will change dramatically this fall, as the former governor has amassed a considerable campaign war chest.
The power of political fundraising was also evident in the District 25 Assembly race. Kristin Olson, a smart and energetic Modesto city councilwoman, leveraged her considerable campaign contributions to build name recognition and visibility throughout the district and win that seat. Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison, a capable and respected opponent, was outspent 5 to 1 and was unable to get her message across effectively in the vast six-county assembly district.
In the heavily contested race for U.S. Congress, 19th district, both Jeff Denham and Richard Pombo amassed substantial contributions approaching a half-million dollars. Denham won going away. His campaign contributions and endorsement by Congressman George Radanovich helped seal the deal. He faces Democrat Loraine Goodwin in the fall.
Every vote counts. This primary reminded us of the importance of voter turnout and why every vote counts. Just ask the candidates for Sonora City Council about the impact of every voter in their campaign.
At this writing, three candidates are within seven votes of one another for the one still-contested council seat. A handful of votes also allowed Evan Royce to move into his seat as District 3 Supervisor in Tuolumne County without facing a runoff in the fall. The same was true for incumbent Supervisor Merita Callaway in Calaveras County.
A spirited sheriff’s race in Calaveras was also too close to call until newly elected Sheriff Gary Kuntz pulled away with 52 percent of the vote.
Sadly, voter turnout statewide was a lethargic and apathetic 25 percent. Voter participation by county ranged from a low of 16 percent in Riverside County to a high of 73 percent in tiny Sierra County. Tuolumne County’s voter turnout was 43 percent; Calaveras County was 34 percent.
With all the good candidates, important races and state propositions on the ballot, we’re surprised and disappointed more citizens don’t exercise their constitutional right to vote.
All politics is local. There has been much discussion about voter anger and resentment against incumbents in 2010. That may yet manifest itself in the fall — especially in the case of the U.S. House and Senate races nationwide. However, on the local level, many county officials were unopposed for re-election — and several incumbents were returned to office. Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele was supported by 56 percent of voters who believed in his leadership and were impressed with the reduction in crime despite a declining economy and budget cuts. County Assessor- Recorder Ken Caetano was also endorsed by 56 percent of the voters for a second term.
Some exceptions to returning incumbents to office: Randy Hanvelt will be the new District 2 Supervisor for Tuolumne County. He ran an energetic and effective campaign that resonated with voters and unseated two-term incumbent Paolo Maffei. In Calaveras, District 5 Supervisor Russ Thomas faces a tough challenge and run-off from Calaveras High School history teacher Darren Spellman.
We were pleased to see the strong support for and passage of Measures A and B (the TOT hotel-motel tax) in both Sonora and Tuolumne County. Much needed tax revenues generated by visitors will now be a reality. Also there will be a new influx of dollars invested in promoting tourism through the Tuolumne County’s Visitor Bureau.
Bottom line: If you didn’t vote in the primary, you missed out on making a difference. Be sure to cast your ballot this November.
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties