Harvey G. Harper in his office at Harper Motors earlier this year. He died Tuesday night.
... according to Humboldt County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich. That gives Patrick Cleary and other candidates still hanging on by a thread a tiny bit more cause to hope.
Here's a challenge for this week's newly elected politicians: Humboldt County has the highest drug-induced death rate in the state, according to a new study by the California Center for Rural Policy.
[... or, "How to Win an Election." Journal contributor John Osborn's thoughts below. -- Ed.]
The first reaction that came to mind after the initial absentee ballot results trickled in last night was this: It would suck to be Linda Atkins right now. That reaction didn't change as the night rolled on.
The moderate-conservative sweep across Humboldt County last night was part predicted, but also part shock and awe. The extent in which progressive candidates would be trounced by their counterparts was grossly underestimated by media and local pundits. But why did it happen? What led to this virtually all-encompassing victory last night?
Last night, progressives were denied representation on the Eureka City Council, save for Atkins. Bonnie Neely, a prog candidate with a 24-year record on the Board of Supes, was delivered her pink slip in a the form of a landslide defeat by Virginia Bass. District Attorney Paul Gallegos nearly lost his re-election bid to Allison Jackson, and still may. Ryan Sundberg commands a narrow lead over Pat Cleary for the Fifth District Supe seat.
Progressives should bust out a notebook and scribble down a lesson or two on politics, because the conservative elements in the county not only did their homework, they executed an amazingly effective campaign which hinged on harnessing a key central issue to rally voters, flooding campaign coffers with cash and ensuring a strong turnout.
Progressives should be kicking themselves in the backside for not taking the opportunity to counter the Measure N (Marina Center) machine, even though they opposed it every step of the way, whether publicly or in private. Their candidates' insistence on distancing themselves from the issue throughout the election, refusing to take a hard stand, only fed strength to the candidates who fully seized upon the issue to help shape their campaign. The tens of thousands of dollars doled out by Security National to launch a Get Out The Vote campaign for Measure N was also an indirect mobilization for the slate of candidates who rallied behind the issue: Bass, Marian Brady, Mike Newman and Frank Jager. They enjoyed, essentially, about a $30,000 campaign infusion of advertising each as a result.
This brings us to another major reason for the sweep this season: money. There is no doubt that a handful of business interests in Eureka colluded at some point in the election to pool their money together and financially prop up a slate of candidates that included the above-mentioned Jackson, Sundberg and Johanna Rodoni for Assessor. Much of the financial support came from allies of Rob McBeth, who has ownership interest in O&M Industries and the Humboldt Builder's Exchange non-profit. The hundreds of thousands of dollars injected into these candidates campaigns secured their financial superiority, and an effective propaganda campaign distracting their eye-widening fundraising habits by attacking the candidates receiving large donations from Bill Pierson worked to shield their own activities.
The "Marina Center Slate" had message and financial dominance; the Progressives, on the other hand, had little in an organized resistance to that bloc and gave their base little reason to rally. They remained fractured and relatively weak in their responses to the advertising blitz made by their opponents, deceptive as some ads were. Neely's response, perhaps miscalculated, was to launch a negative attack blitz on Bass which arguably backfired but might have worked if she targeted the Marina Center or Security National -- the foundation. Lack of solid response and the absence of a coordinated message to rally the progressive vote ultimately showed in the polls, as the conservative base, rallied by the Marina Center and general national fervor, prevailed. But the progressives always suffer from their support base - youth, liberals, the poor, all demographics that are more likely to not turnout during an election unless there is a damn good reason to.
Over the next two years, conservatives will enjoy power in Eureka and on the Board of Supes, and as a result the spotlight will be shining bright on them. In Eureka, with Larry Glass gone, conservatives lose their scapegoat for all the city's problems, and time will tell if Newman and Brady are more than Marina Center cheerleaders. And the unknown here is who Jager will appoint to take his seat. Sundberg and Bass will have to prove that they are truly independent politicians and not lackeys of the special interest money that filled their campaign coffers. These are tests that will shape the next election.
If they succeed, progressives should be equally worried in 2012 and be prepared to brace for more sweeping loses. Humboldt progressives can learn much from their massive defeat last night: Unifying under the flag of a divisive issue, tons of money, and turnout win the day. It should be a lesson remembered for 2012 and on; if you want to play the game, be prepared to get dirty.
It wasn't all that early when we hit the election night parties in the Fifth District, but only the mail-in absentee ballots were in. It was neck and neck, less than 100 votes separated candidates Patrick Cleary and Ryan Sundberg. Both were in McKinleyville with supporters: Cleary at Six Rivers Brewery, Sundberg across town at the airport restaurant/bar, the Silver Lining.
With the result uncertain, we asked both candidates to look to the future as hypothetical winners figuring we'd sort out who won in the morning.
Now the "final" results are in, but the race still seems too close to call: Sundberg has 8,765 3,765 votes to Cleary's 3,672 -- just 93 apart, this with an untold number of mail-ins and provisional ballots still uncounted.
As Cleary put it this morning, "Sounds like it could be 30 days before we know the official result of the 5th District election. Apparently there are many more votes to count."
Side note 1: As I finished my interview with Ryan Sundberg in the hallway outside the Silver Lining, a young gentleman who was waiting for a flight stopped on his way into the bar.
"So, you're running for office?" he asked Sundberg, who explained that he was indeed running for Supervisor.
"That's great," said the guy, who later identified himself as Zachariah. "I'll vote for you. What's your name? Give me your card. I'll get my friends to vote for you too."
Sundberg and I jointly explained that it was Election Day and the polls were closed. It was too late to vote.
"That's OK," said Zachariah. "I'm a felon, so I can't vote. And my friends are felons too, so no big deal."
With that he disappeared into the bar leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief.
Side note 2: You'll note that both candidates cited improving broadband access as something they're going to work on. In a separate conversation Cleary told me that Suddenlink Almega Cable has stopped supplying broadband in Willow Creek leaving residents no hard-wired Internet access, only satellite. He sees that as an important problem that must be sorted out quickly and suggested that the community services district could potentially take on the service.
We're still waiting to get through to the Elections Office, but several campaigns are reporting that there are 10,000 late absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted. This roughly jibes with what we've seen in the past. In the June primary, when turnout was much lower, there were 6,556 votes counted after the polls closed.
(UPDATE: Actually 12,960 ballots left, according to Carolyn Crnich. Adjust the figures below accordingly.)
So with a big pot of votes out there waiting to be counted, do any of last night's second-place finishers still have a chance?
My initial read of the numbers says that if anyone does, it's Patrick Cleary. Let's suppose, using rough division, that around 20 percent of the remaining ballots are from the Fifth District. (Such was the case in the primary.) That's 2,000 ballots. Cleary ended election night 93 votes behind Ryan Sundberg. To take over the lead, Cleary would need 1,047 of those hypothetical 2,000 ballots to go his way -- a little over 52.2 percent.
Is this out of the realm of possibility? No. As has been previously noted and reconfirmed again and again in Humboldt County election history, these late absentee ballots don't behave like your regular absentee ballots, which tend to skew conservative. If anything, the late absentees tend to skew left -- good news for Cleary. On the other hand, last night Sundberg barely led Cleary both in the absentee/vote-by-mail and the precinct counts. Cleary started the night looking for a boost from precinct voters; that didn't materialize.
Supporters of Allison Jackson, who led incumbent District Attorney Paul Gallegos throughout the night until the very last moment, are holding out hope. Jackson ended 1,054 votes behind, and so would need over 55.3 percent of the uncounted votes to win. Possible? Sure. Likely? I don't think so. Jackson supporters are counting on those ballots to break like the first absentee results, in which Jackson crushed Gallegos convincingly. But such is not usually the case -- the late absentees usually look a lot more like precinct votes, which Gallegos dominated all night long.
In Eureka, supporters of Ron Kuhnel might be thinking that their candidate has a shot, being only 171 votes behind Mike Newman. Unlikely. Let's say that there are about 1,600 city of Eureka votes out there. (The city accounted for about 16 percent of the vote last night.) The three-way race here makes the math head-splittingly hard, but Kuhnel would have to rack up about 10 percentage points over Newman in these final ballots to make up the difference -- i.e., Kuhnel, 48; Newman, 38; Manns, 14. Tough sell.
Or does Cleary still have a fighting chance in the Fifth?
NOTE! This report includes all Eureka precincts but one.
FOURTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR
FIFTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR
EUREKA FIRST WARD
EUREKA THIRD WARD
54 of 134 precincts reporting
FOURTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR
Bass -- 57.57%
Neely -- 41.75%
FIFTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR
Cleary -- 48.47%
Sundberg -- 51.24%
Rodoni -- 41.05%
Wilson -- 58.76%
Gallegos -- 44.37%
Jackson -- 55.44%
Jager -- 53.27%
LaVallee -- 41.72%
EUREKA FIRST WARD
Glass -- 41.09%
Brady -- 58.65%
EUREKA THIRD WARD
Kuhnel -- 41.49%
Newman -- 45.09%
Manns -- 13.24%
The Humboldt County Election Office was slammed at the lunch hour. Citizens were dropping off ballots as the phones rang and rang, while a beefed-up elections staff scurried from place to place carrying sheafs of papers. County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich was down in the basement with the tabulation equipment, fiddling with a computer in preparation for the count to come.
There had been a couple of minor snafus that morning. A school lockdown in McKinleyville interrupted voting at Morris Elementary for about 15 minutes at around 9 a.m. More seriously, it turned out that ballots for two precincts -- Loleta and the Ferndale outskirts -- had been printed upside-down. The tabulation machines would not accept them. Crnich estimated that around 100 votes were cast at these locations before the problem was corrected. Those votes would have to be transferred to new ballots before they could be counted.
At noon, the office had about 1,500 absentee and vote-by-mail ballots that would not be counted on election night. That compared with about 12,000 votes that had already been delivered and counted, and which would be released shortly after polls closed.
At around 7:30 p.m., Gallegos campaign strategist Richard Salzman led a dwindling team of phone-bankers still trying to get voters to the polls. The lights were out at Jackson H.Q. Earlier in the day, while rallying with her supporters at the courthouse, Jackson said that her people would not be conducting and extensive Get Out The Vote campaign. They had gotten their message to the people and that should have been enough, she said.
Then the first results were posted, and they brought ghastly news for area progressives. Absentee ballots always skew conservative, but these were particularly so. Jackson had opened up a 17-point lead over Gallegos; Bass a 29-point lead over Neely; every Eureka city race showed conservative candidates with very healthy leads.
The Eureka City Council meeting ran long during the night, continuing right on through the first round of results. Fourth District Supervisorial candidate Virginia Bass was presiding over the meeting as mayor; councilmembers Larry Glass and Frank Jager, both of them on the ballot, were trapped there as well. Candidates Ron Kuhnel and Marian Brady came through council chambers before moving out to their parties.
"It's election night -- I gotta see what's goin' on," Kuhnel said. To which Bass responded, "Let us know, will ya?"
About an hour later, the meeting was over and Glass was on his way out to the car. The absentee results showed him trailing challenger Marian Brady 64-36.
"Sounds pretty grim," Glass said.
"Is this surprising to you?" a reporter asked.
"I certainly didn't go into this expecting to lose."
"Is there still time to turn it around?"
"I dunno. That sounds pretty bad." He climbed into his car and took off.
The only person bucking the trend on the left side of the aisle was Fifth District Supervisorial candidate Patrick Cleary, who trailed his opponent, Ryan Sundberg, by about two and a half points -- a safe place to be at, given the absentees' typical conservative skew. "It's a good sign," Cleary said upon arriving to his campaign party at Six Rivers in McKinleyville.
Meanwhile, over at Eureka's Avalon, a crowd of about 40 celebrated their candidates' early leads. Richard Marks, Supervisorial candidate Virginia Bass' campaign manager, was ecstatic at the early returns. "This isn't a referendum, it's a demand," Marks said.
Bass herself was only cautiously optimistic, despite a nearly 30-point lead over incumbent Bonnie Neely. "It's a small percentage of votes, but it's looking good," she said. Likewise, Eureka Mayoral candidate Frank Jager didn't let his 25-point lead rile him too much. "It looks really positive," he said. "It's preliminary, but there's more and more people voting absentee. We won't really know anything until the second and third waves come in."
"I fucking hate politics," said Joan Gallegos, the incumbent district attorney's wife, at the candidate's Lost Coast Brewery shindig.
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