I think the last time Roger Rodoni and I talked was almost a year ago. We bumped into each other at the Courthouse Market, where he was a regular. The Tamara Falor matter was the big thing in the news at the time. Everyone was trying to figure out why the county had signed a confidentiality agreement and handed $300,000 to its chief legal counsel to get rid of her. (No one's figured it out yet.) So what's the deal? I asked Roger, knowing that he couldn't answer. Was it that the county lost the Tooby Ranch case? The "Pepper Spray 8" case? What's going on? Eh?
Roger saw an opportunity to bust out with his cowboy Zen routine. His eyes lit up as he prepared to make mischief. He took up his umbrella and grandiosely pointed off to the left, into the imaginary distance. "Everyone's lookin' over there," he said. He swooped over to the right: "They're lookin' over there." Then he tapped the tip of the umbrella on the ground in front of him. "Right here," he concluded. And then he may have allowed himself to smile, pleased to have befuddled me further while at the same time, no doubt, telling me some version of the truth.
Friday morning, the morning after the horrifying car crash that took his life, a group of five or six Arcata political activists was gathered around a table at Cafe Brio to plan some kind of campaign. I didn't quite catch what it was, and I didn't bother to go up and ask. They had blank forms out on the table. One mentioned that his website gets x number of hits per day. The phrase "guerrilla marketing" floated into the air. I imagined that Roger would be regally amused at such a spectacle, at the earnest folks whose politics were served up in these bloodless terms — statistics, messaging, interest groups. Run through an up-to-date dictionary of political campaign jargon. See if you can find anything in that vocabulary that carries the stench of humanity: love, struggle, glory, death. You won't.
Roger, I guessed, would have recognized that this is the way things are headed, and that in this world honor and handshakes and horsemanship will come to mean less and less. But since the ornery son-of-a-bitch was always so sure he was right, he'd just keep on doing things his way, pausing once in a while to cackle at the fools who won the county but lost their souls.
We've filledthis week's paper with tributes and memories of a unique, historical figure in Humboldt County. But we can't ignore the fact that this tragedy takes place at a time when Rodoni was running for re-election. People are confused about what happens next, and we believe that we finally have the answers.
First of all, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has the power to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Rodoni's term. He could also choose to fill the seat only until the results of the next election are certified, and a clear winner is chosen. Schwarzenegger is currently accepting applications from Second District residents interested in filling the seat, and Johanna Rodoni, Roger's wife, has applied. (And we will say that if Schwarzenegger does wish to appoint someone, there is no better candidate to fill out Rodoni's term. She is right alongside Roger in every policy particular, and she's an eminently capable woman.)
In the matter of the upcoming election, things get sticky. But several county staffers held a meeting to hash things out Tuesday afternoon, and County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich, under whose bailiwick the Elections Department lies, sorted out the Journal shortly after this meeting.
Rodoni's name will stay on the June ballot. There will be three candidates: Rodoni and challengers Estelle Fennell and Clif Clendenen. If either Fennell or Clendenen takes over 50 percent of the June vote — unlikely — they will be the next Second District Supervisor. Depending on whether and how Schwarzenegger arranges an interim appointment, the winner could take office either shortly after the election or when Rodoni's term expires in January.
If Rodoni wins over 50 percent in June, the Governor will have to appoint someone to take Rodoni's seat. That appointment would be effective until 2010, the time of the next countywide general election.
There's a third scenario — perhaps none of the three candidates will win a majority in June. In that case, there will be a runoff election in November between Fennell and Clendenen. Rodoni's name will not appear on the ballot, no matter whether he places among the top two candidates or not. This contingency, which is sure to mightily piss off Rodoni supporters, is spelled out in California Elections Code Section 8807.
There may be another scenario or two out there, possibly involving last-minute write-in candidates who may wish to assume the Rodoni mantle, but this is what's on the table right now.
Roger Rodoniwas an artist. He was also a libertarian. And he was also a graduate of Eureka High School (Class of '58). Those three facts of his biography came back to us on Monday when we heard that Eureka High Principal Bob Steffenlast week confiscated newsstand copies of the EHS student newspaper, the Redwood Bark, and ordered them pulped. Why did he do this? Because the paper included a drawing by Eureka High senior Natalie Gonzalesthat happened to include the nude female form.
To hear Steffen tell it, he began receiving complaints about the April issue of the Barkalmost as soon as it was published, last Tuesday. The complaints continued for several days. But on Friday afternoon, Steffen said, he came across some students who were removing the papers from racks and moving to throw them away. At that point, Steffen said, he intervened, talking with the offended students about the Barkstaff's First Amendment rights. At that point, he said, he ordered the custodial staff to recover all remaining copies of the Barkon campus and recycle them.
"I was averting a conflict between students," Steffen said. "I did not totally ban the newspaper, I simply relocated the paper." He said that the paper had been on the street for three days, during which time anyone could pick up a copy.
That wasn't good enough for Barkeditor-in-chief Drew Ross, an EHS senior. He and his staff put together a month's worth of work, and now they're out an estimated 1,100 copies of their April edition. He said that negotiations with Steffen have been unsuccessful. "He came in and addressed all the reporters and editors, and we got nowhere," Ross said. All confiscated copies have apparently been sent to the trash.
The censorship of his paper and his staff is obviously Ross' first concern, but there are other considerations as well. The Barkis printed with advertising money, and now it has not been able to deliver on the circulation promises made by the businesses good enough to support it. Ross fears that he will have to find some other way to pay for his print bill.
To put it bluntly, there's no excuse for this. The drawing, a fantasy of the elves-and-fairies variety, was not lewd. It was far tamer than the average PG-13 movie. Steffen said Tuesday that he hoped that the administration and the newspaper staff could together work out some guidelines for material going forward. We suggest that he start — and end — with the First Amendment, which he says he cited to the offended students but apparently did not have the courage to defend. This is a ghastly example for a school administrator to set.
If you'd like to read the work of the Bark, you can get the paper online. Go to redwoodbark.net. The April issue wasn't yet up at the time of this writing, but Ross said that it should be there soon.