The stakes are high in the race for the District 2 seat on the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.
A two-term incumbent is being challenged in the June 5 primary election by two political newcomers who each say they believe the county is headed down the wrong path, but have vastly differing approaches in how to fix it.
District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt, who was first elected in 2010, has outspent his opponents 5-to-1 in hopes of securing a third consecutive four-year term.
Ryan Campbell, an administrative analyst for the county, and Dave Titchenal, one of the founders of the local State of Jefferson chapter, are looking to shake up the status quo and bring new perspectives to the board.
The district, which has a population of roughly 10,300, is the third largest in terms of acreage and covers the northwestern corner of the county from Soulsbyville to the border of Alpine County.
All three candidates described the district as a bedroom community because it lacks a commercial core and is comprised largely of residential neighborhoods like Crystal Falls, Willow Springs, Cedar Ridge and Phoenix Lake Estates.
Unless one of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, the two who receive the most will advance to a runoff in the Nov. 6 general election.
Here’s some information about each of the candidates starting with the incumbent and following the order by which they formally entered the race.
Hanvelt, 74, characterizes the race as the most personal of his political career based on Letters to the Editor he’s read in The Union Democrat.
His main message to voters is that he has the experience and connections necessary to get things done that his opponents lack. He also believes his opponents, and others running for District 3 supervisor, don’t fully understand what the job entails.
“They don’t know where the funding comes from, they don’t know this budget issue, and we’re going to solve this budget issue,” he said, referring to a projected deficit of nearly $5 million in the next fiscal year. “We’re an extension of California state government, and most of them don’t understand that.”
Hanvelt was raised in Southern California and graduated from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont with a degree in engineering.
He worked for General Electric from 1965 to 2001, retiring as a global executive in charge of managing the commercial side of the multinational con
glomerate’s nuclear fuel division.
“I managed all of the customer relationships all over the world and supplied the fuel for their reactors,” he said. “It was all about making it happen and making things work safely, economically and productively.”
For the past 50-plus years, Hanvelt said the Central Sierra Nevada has served as his respite.
Hanvelt said he would often visit the region “to hide from the world” while working in San Jose. He and his wife, Gloria, lived in Bear Valley from 2002 to 2004 before moving to their current home in the Sonora area that borders Soulsbyville.
Hanvelt said he never wanted to run for supervisor, but shortly after moving to the area people began asking him to consider it.
His mind changed after he started attending board meetings following the 2006 election.
“I don’t know when this was exactly but I told my bride, Gloria, ‘This is awful, the people of this county deserve better’,” he said.
Hanvelt defeated then-incumbent Paolo Maffei with 63.8 percent of the vote in the 2010 primary. In the 2014 primary, he beat challenger Paul McNaul 64.8 percent to 34.8 percent, a difference of 625 votes.
According to campaign-finance documents, Hanvelt raised and spent more than $32,000 through May 19 in the current election. That’s twice as much as any supervisor candidate in the past eight years and five times more than both of his opponents combined.
The list of donors who have contributed $100 or more to his campaign reads like a who’s who of powerful and influential figures or entities in the county, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Sierra Pacific Industries, Pacific Ultrapower in Chinese Camp, Sheriff Jim Mele, former sheriffs Richard Nutting and Bob Coane, Dodge Ridge Ski Area owners Frank and Sally Helm, former District 5 Supervisor Dick Pland, District Attorney Laura Krieg, Black Oak Casino Resort CEO Ron Patel, and logger Mike Albrecht.
Hanvelt said the unprecedented amount of money that’s flowed into his campaign is sign of confidence in his job performance.
“It’s a clear indication there are a lot of people who want to support my election,” he said. “I get people calling me and telling me, ‘You’re doing a really good job, I wish I was in your district.’ “
Hanvelt has been criticized by his opponents for how much time he spends traveling to Sacramento, Washington, D.C., and out-of-state conferences as a ranking member on dozens of organizations, including the National Associations of Counties, Rural County Representatives of California and Gov. Jerry Brown’s State Tree Mortality Task Force.
The Rural County Representatives of California, a dues-funded association comprised of 35 California counties, paid for nearly $19,000 in travel expenses for Hanvelt in 2017.
He was in Blaine County, Idaho, for several days this week to attend a meeting of the National Association of Counties’ western interstate region.
Hanvelt said the traveling is necessary to help give the county a voice in important decisions being made at the state and federal level, though he also spends a lot of time outside of normal business hours working at the County Administration Center in Sonora.
“Someone else on staff said, ‘Randy, you are gone more than anybody else,’ “ he said. “Then the same person said, ‘You’re also here more than anybody else. You’re more available than any other supervisor.’ “
Campbell wants to a shake up a political establishment that he believes is out of touch with the needs of young, working families in the county like his own.
The 37-year-old lives near Crystal Falls with his wife, Hallie Gorman, who works for the county as a deputy public defender, and their three daughters ages 5, 3 and 2.
He works for the county as an administrative analyst assigned to tree mortality projects, funded largely through grant money that Hanvelt takes credit for lobbying to receive.
Campbell said he’s grateful for the role Hanvelt has played in supporting the county’s tree mortality program, but he believes the need for a change of leadership is evident in the growing budget shortfalls, declining population and neglected roads.
“He’s been a supervisor for eight years, two terms, and the situation in our county is without question worse than when he took office,” Campbell said.
Campbell, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication, moved to the county in 2009 and got a job working as the deputy editor of The Union Democrat.
He grew up as the youngest of three on a corn farm in Isleton.
After spending more than 12 years working as a journalist, Campbell was laid off from the Sonora newspaper in 2013 due to company-mandated budget cuts as his wife was pregnant with their first child.
The turn of events prompted Campbell’s shift to the public sector. He got a job working for the county as a behavioral health analyst, which he says gave him a new perspective on the inner workings of government.
“I’ve been on the outside of government as a critic and watchdog, and now I’m on the inside and know how to get things done,” he said.
Campbell started working for the county Office of Emergency Services in 2016 and was assigned to oversee the program to remove trees that were dead or dying from a statewide epidemic of western pine bark beetle infestation.
He said the county had completed one project and removed about 300 trees when he started and has now completed 40 projects and removed 6,500 trees.
As the sole employee assigned to the program, Campbell said he designs the projects, writes contracts, hires contractors, fields concerns from residents, and has also had a hand in helping the county acquire millions of dollars in grants for the work.
Campbell said he decided to run for supervisor last year because he and people he knew felt a change in leadership was needed.
The county had recently opened a $20 million regional juvenile detention facility and was proposing cuts to library and recreation services to deal with a projected budget deficit at the time.
Campbell believes much of the county’s problems stem from a lack of planning for the future.
“While other parts of the state are thriving, we’re struggling,” he said. “What’s going to happen when the next recession comes? I don’t see the planning for 10 to 20 years in the future.”
Campbell’s top priorities if elected would be fixing the county’s crumbling roads system, expanding high-speed Internet availability and ensuring that libraries, recreation, and other public services benefiting youth remain funded.
He said the biggest concern he’s heard from people on the campaign trail is the condition of roads in the county, followed closely by the state of the local economy.
“I don’t necessarily have all of the solutions to these things right now, but they need to be priorities because they’re what people view as priorities,” he said.
Campbell said he’s spent most of his time canvassing neighborhoods in his district, knocking on doors and talking with people face to face.
According to Campbell’s latest campaign-finance disclosures, he spent $5,200 through May 24 largely on campaign signs, ads, and an event at the Sonora Opera Hall.
He said the wide gap in funding between him and Hanvelt is an example of the “David and Goliath” nature of the race, though he believes his grassroots approach can prevail.
“The interests he represents are clearly defined, whereas I feel like I’m trying to represent everybody,” Campbell said.
Titchenal describes running for supervisor as the “biggest job I never wanted.”
The 59-year-old Willow Springs resident decided to run for office last year after the board declined to formally support the State of Jefferson’s lawsuit against California that’s seeking greater legislative representation for rural counties.
He said that he met with each of the supervisors individually and all except District 4 Supervisor John Gray privately expressed support for the State of Jefferson’s concept to split from California and form a 51st state with 20 other rural counties.
Titchenal says they told him they would back the movement if Jefferson supporters could “pack the board room” because they needed political cover.
In March, the board held a special meeting in a building at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds that was attended by more than 400 people who were mostly State of Jefferson supporters.
The board decided at the meeting that further analysis was needed on the proposed new state’s economic viability.
“They failed to live up to their promises,” Titchenal said. “It was really at that time I decided I have to throw my hat in the ring and change the way things are being done.”
Titchenal remembers the exact day when he was formally introduced to the State of Jefferson — Oct. 27, 2015 — when he went to see one of the movement’s founders, Steve Baird, speak in San Andreas.
Titchenal said he and his friends Mark Banks and Joe Bick formed the State of Jefferson’s local chapter after meeting with Baird at the Best Western Sonora Oaks Hotel and Conference Center in East Sonora.
Titchenal is a third generation Tuolumne County native who graduated from Sonora High School and spent the late-1970s and early-1980s working for a local company that did sound and lighting for major musical acts when they came to California.
He later became a contractor for the U.S. government making videos of nuclear testing and traveled the world shooting training videos of elite units in the Navy.
While living in Washington, D.C., from 1983 to 1990, Titchenal said his conservative views began to take root.
“I didn’t go to college so I wasn’t brainwashed by a liberal system, but I was just uninterested in the whole thing,” Titchenal said of his political views when he was younger. “Life experiences made me more and more conservative over the years.”
Titchenal moved back to Tuolumne County in 1990 after growing tired of urban life. He started several businesses over the ensuing decades related to videography and advertising.
In 2001, Titchenal married his wife, Darleen, and the couple began fostering youth in the county.
The couple also volunteer at a shelter for children in Mono Vista.
“I made a choice when I was younger and immature that I didn’t want to have kids and live this full life and do all these great things,” he said. “Once I met Darleen and we started doing the foster thing, I was and still am able to enjoy most of the joys of fatherhood through children who need my help.”
Titchenal worked on Hanvelt’s 2010 campaign but believes that he’s changed after eight years in office. He also doesn’t believe the two-term incumbent has been effective despite his political connections.
“He’s ran on that he’s the most connected supervisor and can walk the halls of Washington and talk to politicians, but all of that hasn’t changed Tuolumne County,” Titchenal said. “Our economic outlook is still very bleak.”
If elected, Titchenal vows to stick to his conservative principles regardless of who comes to the podium to complain at public meetings.
Titchenal believes the board has compromised too much because of pressure from a vocal minority of more liberal citizens.
“There are retired teachers who come in and take known liberal positions on almost every issue,” he said. “It’s the squeaky wheels that get the grease in this county.”
Detailed campaign-finance disclosures are unavailable for Titchenal because he filed a form pledging not to raise or spend more $2,000 or more throughout the campaign.
He said he’s raised nearly $1,400 and spent about $1,500 at this point.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.