This looks like it could be the year of the anti-incumbent on both the Tuolumne County and Calaveras County Board of Supervisors. Three incumbents stood for re-election and three, according to the convincing results so far, were defeated. In a fourth race, a political newcomer outdistanced a former supervisor.
A case could be made that this reflects a new mood among voters. This seems especially true in the Randy Hanvelt-Ryan Campbell race in Tuolumne County, where Campbell will likely hold onto the lead he’s had since the Elections Office started counting votes Tuesday night.
Hanvelt, who served in the District 2 seat for two terms and had achieved an enviable and high-level position on the advocacy group Rural County Representatives of California, outspent Campbell 5-1, most of it on advertising. He was supported by the political establishment, including many of his fellow supervisors, and the owners and management of most of the county’s largest businesses.
It seemed improbable that the 37-year-old Campbell could unseat the venerable 75-year-old Hanvelt. He jokes he was the only one not surprised by this result.
Campbell attributes his success to the thousand or more homes he visited to talk with voters in District 2, which is located in northwest Tuolumne County, by and large a collection of subdivisions with little commercial and business development.
He said he learned better roads was the most important issue, as it was to him. Support for law enforcement and fire insurance came next.
And he learned something else.
“People felt they didn’t have a voice, didn’t have ownership in county government,” he said.
Taking care of business at home — rather than trying to affect change on a national level — resonated with them.
Also in Tuolumne County, first-time candidate Anaiah Kirk defeated former supervisor Laurie Sylwester in District 3, an open seat because Evan Royce did not seek re-election. That’s two of five seats occupied now by newcomers to government.
In Calaveras County, Ben Stopper unseated Clyde Clapp, who earned his seat after staging a recall effort against Steve Kearney over the development of an asphalt plant. Stopper is another political newcomer.
It also seems likely that Merita Callaway will unseat Michael Oliveira since she’s leading by more than 400 votes. Those two have gone back and forth in holding the seat. Oliveira defeated her in the last election by 66 votes.
It will be next week before all the votes are counted and the results certified. But as of now, county government looks — and will feel — quite different.
Sonora Union High School District’s attempt to ram through the sale of the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch with a majority of the board going out of office is certainly within their right but appears suspect.
Moreover, the board’s blatant violation of the state’s open-meeting law in trying to get the sale done was, simply, inexcusable. If they didn’t know better, they should have.
Board members told The Union Democrat this sale was a project they had been working on for years and they wanted to see it through. Well, they had years to do so, and a last-minute sale looked, frankly, fishy.
They met in a closed session with representatives of The Park Foundation, a violation of the Brown Act. Public boards cannot invite some members of the public into their closed-door meetings and not others. Negotiations should have been between lawyers or the superintendent and the foundation. Then the board would meet in closed session to say yes or no, reporting the action afterward to the public. Real estate negotiations are one of the few reasons a public body does not have to meet in the public eye.
This situation also serves to taint The Park Foundation and its outstanding project to build a first-class park in Tuolumne County.
The school board has one more meeting scheduled — Nov. 27 — before the three new board members take office Dec. 11. The three new members have all expressed a desire to be part of the conversation about selling what was supposed to be the heart of the school’s agriculture program, but which has never come about it any substantial way.
What will the lame duck board do?