Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County's District 5 will soon have a new representative on the Board of Supervisors for the first time in 16 years, and it will either be Domenic Torchia or Karl Rodefer.

Longtime Supervisor Dick Pland announced last year that he was not seeking re-election to the board, and Rodefer and Torchia emerged as the top two vote getters from a five-person field after the June primary election.

The November runoff almost didn't happen, as Rodefer nearly received the 50-percent plus one threshold to win the seat outright.

The district covers a part of the county that includes Columbia and Jamestown. The winner will hold one of five votes on the county's highest governing body for a four-year term, voting to set budgets and policies for Tuolumne County's departments.

Rodefer comes to the voters with a lot of government experience, though much of it is outside of civilian life. He is a retired Air Force colonel and also worked for the Defense Department and a defense contractor after his service.

Rodefer's campaign so far has prioritized the economy, and much of his message has focused on cutting back regulations on agriculture, mining and timber harvesting, while attracting clean and low-profile industries to the county.

Torchia came to the county by way of the aviation field, and he has worked as an air-traffic controller, an aviation accident investigator and a representative for the international air-traffic controllers union. His professional background also includes diverse experiences like teaching and working as a stockbroker.

Torchia has been largely critical of recent board policies, and he regularly calls for stopping spending on projects like the Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road.

The two candidates also were at odds over endorsements. Torchia criticized Rodefer in an e-mail to The Union Democrat and multiple public officials for publishing the endorsements of several local public officials.

In a newspaper ad last week, Rodefer listed endorsements from Supervisors Pland, Evan Royce and Randy Hanvelt, as well as Sheriff James Mele. Torchia stated that such names "should never be viewed as part of what should be a free and fair election," and that including authority figures in endorsements could unfairly influence voters.

"This is unfair to the people, and unfair to me as a candidate," he said.

Rodefer said he contacted elections officials and others, and said he "did absolutely nothing wrong," pointing out that elected officials "have every right to endorse any candidate" they want.

"I don't have any integrity issues in my campaign," he said.

Both campaigns have seen active fundraising efforts. Financial forms filed with the county Elections Office show that Rodefer's total year-to-date contributions to $36,601. He has spent $36,601 overall, according to financial forms, and also has loaned a total of $5,000 to himself for the campaign to the most recent filing date.

Torchia raised a total in monetary and nonmonetary contributions for the year of $16,336, and has spent $8,980 overall up to the most recent filing period.

The winner will step into a position on a board that regularly focuses its energy on the economy, availability of jobs and economic development. The county also just initiated a search for a new chief legal counsel, to replace retiring counsel Gregory Oliver.

The next board will also likely face the task of deciding whether and how to fund a jail and other corrections and public safety projects in the wake of the statewide prison realignment known as AB 109 that moves the responsibility for many prior prison inmates over to local government.

The county is trying to secure some state funds to help pay for a new jail, though it is generally understood that the county will still need to put up funds in the millions even with a grant.