March 4, 2004
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by KEITH EASTHOUSE
Who would'a thunk it?
Paul Gallegos didn't just survive.
He kicked butt.
In a stunning vindication for
the district attorney, and a humiliating defeat for his opponents,
61 percent of voters rejected the recall. Only 39 percent voted
for it. Making the victory even more emphatic, a whopping 63
percent of registered voters -- about 50,000 people -- went to
the polls. That compares to 33,000 who voted in the contest two
years ago between Gallegos and Terry Farmer.
Gallegos won then by a 52 to
48 percent margin -- hardly a mandate. He's got a mandate now.
"This is a referendum,"
one supporter exulted during Gallegos' victory celebration at
the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka Tuesday night.
The landslide is a clear repudiation
of the big money campaign mounted against Gallegos by Texas financier
Charles Hurwitz, owner of Maxxam, the parent corporation of Pacific
Lumber. Of the more than $300,000 raised by the Safety Yes! Recall
Gallegos committee, nearly $250,000 came from Maxxam, the target
of a fraud suit filed by Gallegos last year.
That's not to say that the anti-recall
effort was poorly funded. The Friends of Paul Gallegos raised
an impressive $220,000. The difference was that that money came
from more than 1,500 people.
From a business perspective,
it's hard to second-guess what Hurwitz did: Spending a quarter-of-a-million
dollars to head off a $250 million lawsuit was certainly worth
the risk. But from a political perspective, it obviously backfired.
Whatever doubts voters had about Gallegos, whether they thought
he was soft on crime or simply too liberal, were overwhelmed
by revulsion that the defendant in a lawsuit was seeking his
ouster before he could take them to trial. It might not have
been illegal, but it sure seemed like it should have been.
We were disappointed, but not
surprised, that Worth Dikeman did not make an appearance at Gallegos'
victory celebration. It was a perfect opportunity for a show
of solidarity with his boss, whom he repeatedly damned with faint
praise during his 10-week campaign as a replacement candidate.
Perhaps he figured he wouldn't be welcome. Whatever the case,
it is our hope that the two men will resolve whatever differences
they might have. It's in the best interests of the district attorney's
office, and Humboldt County, that they do so.
Which brings us to what triggered
the recall, the suit against Pacific Lumber. It's been an open
secret from day one that Dikeman and some of the other veteran
prosecutors at the DA's office are not enthusiastic backers.
It's not so much that they're pro-timber, necessarily, just that
they don't believe Gallegos had any business filing the suit.
"This is something EPIC could have done. Why'd we do it?"
one of them said recently, referring to the Garberville-based
Environmental Protection Information Center.
It's a fair question given that
district attorneys typically confine themselves to criminal matters.
But they also undertake civil actions, sometimes major ones,
which is precisely what the fraud suit against PL is. So we don't
really understand the objection -- unless it's simply a manifestation
of a pro-PL bias. In any event, their boss did what he did, and
Tuesday's vote can certainly be read as a ringing endorsement
of the suit from the public.
Judge Christopher Wilson may
dismiss the action, as Pacific Lumber's attorneys are demanding,
but chances are he won't, and either it will go to trial or PL
will bite the bullet and settle. Gallegos and the deputy DAs
did a good job staying focused on their jobs through last year's
recall madness -- felony convictions were up from 2002 -- and
we're confident they will do so again in coming months when the
PL suit is likely to heat up.
Referring to the deputy DAs,
Gallegos said not long ago: "After I'm elected I need to
pull this office together. I really want to work with those guys."
Well, Gallegos has now been "elected" -- for the second
time now -- and the obvious rift in the office between the DA
and Terry Farmer loyalists needs to heal, fast. Gallegos deserves
people under him who he trusts and who are loyal. Anyone who
feels they still can't accept him as the leader should consider
leaving. The transition from the old regime, artificially extended
by the recall, is over.
It's been a long and polarizing
fight, but one with a surprisingly decisive outcome. Contrary
to the predictions of pundits, including yours truly, the people
have spoken loudly. Paul Gallegos, at last, is now truly Humboldt
County's district attorney.
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