Election night was a blast at northcoastjournal.com, and on the air with our friends at KHUM radio. For one, the occasion was the debut of the Journal's electronic intern, who was tasked with bringing home all the latest results so participants in our online chat room never had to leave the page. Visitors to our website will be hearing much more from this zippy little robot wunderkind in the near future.
Biggest surprises of the night? It was strange to see the electorate give the thumbs-down to two-term Arcata City Councilmember Michael Machi's reelection bid. Machi, the current Council's longest-serving member, had become something of a brand name. A faction of the city's progressive majority nurses a special loathing for him, which by itself gives him a solid constituency on the other side of the aisle. But most Arcata elections are split between a dozen candidates, meaning that Machi's 20 percent or so amounts to an easy victory. This time around the field was thinner.
But Eureka provided the evening's strangest returns, and in doing so reinforced its reputation of having the most interesting polity on the North Coast. How to explain the results in the City Council race, where the candidates on the progressive "slate" ticket met with such different results? Newcomer Linda Atkins, one of the slate candidates, nudged aside incumbent Polly Endert (by a margin of 53-47); Atkins' co-candidate, former long time Old Town restaurateur George Clark, was handily defeated by County Coroner (and former Councilmember) Frank Jager (63-37).
Why the split result? "It certainly says that Eurekans are as independent-minded as Humboldt County," says termed-out Councilmember Chris Kerrigan, whose political consultancy managed the joint Clark/Atkins campaign. He credited Jager's huge name recognition and general likeability as obstacles that were hard to overcome.
Still: Atkins has only been in town a few years, and she had almost no money. How'd she do it? Well, everyone seems to agree that she had a remarkable grasp of the issues and presented a compelling case for her candidacy. She acquitted herself very well in the debates, and people who met her when she knocked on their doors seem generally to have impressed. And that was enough. In Eureka, anyway, it wasn't the ad campaigns or the endorsements or the GOTV strategy -- it was the person.
Future candidates, take note.
We don't hold any special brief for Measure T, the 2006 Humboldt County citizen's initiative that banned "out-of-town" corporations from donating to county political campaigns. The measure was always more about "corporations" and their rights than elections and good government, which are issues that aren't really appropriately tackled at the level of local government. It wasn't at all surprising when the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit to have it overturned a few months ago.
Still, the voters voted for Measure T in large numbers, and last week we were surprised to see county government cave after a few unfavorable preliminary rulings. The settlement reached with Pacific Legal throws away the measure, and the will of the people, before it receives a trial.
"We did step up to the plate, and we extended the funds to defend it, but the language [in the initiative] was not strong enough to carry the case forward," said Supervisor Jimmy Smith Tuesday. Smith said he hoped that supporters of campaign finance reform could come back to the electorate with a new and reworded measure, one more likely to meet the courts' constitutional test.
It's hard to fault fiscal prudence, especially at a time when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is floating some truly fantastic proposals, such as an emergency 1.5 percent sales tax increase, just to keep California afloat. But we think that abandoning Measure T before the court issued a final ruling in the case showed contempt for the electorate, and was wrong. We believe voters figured on a court challenge when they cast their ballot for T -- they would have if they had been reading the papers, anyway -- and voted for it nonetheless. The cost to date hasn't been so crippling as to warrant surrender.
And yes, it's likely that Measures F and J, which Arcata and Eureka (respectively) approved last week, will be next. The groundbreaking local citizens' initiatives ban military recruiters from initiating contact with minors in each city, and they passed by overwhelming margins -- 56 percent in favor in Eureka, a crushing 72 percent in Arcata.
Very reputable legal scholars have already raised eyebrows at the F and J -- see our story "First to Contact, First to Contract," April 17 -- and it's likely only a matter of when the feds get around to filing the papers. Don't imagine your cool new president is going to give you a pass.