Boom! Early Tuesday morning there was a blast heard 'round the Humboldt County Courthouse, that drab epicenter of local political life. The shock waves reverberated along the invisible tendrils that extend from the belly of the octopus, reaching into the homes and headquarters of various players and factions about the county. Measure T had been killed! Or just about! A federal judge had done the deed the night previous! The news inspired despondency in some, joyous I-told-you-so cackling in others.
Measure T was the anti-corporate citizen's initiative that Humboldt County voters passed by a pretty healthy margin (55-45) in June 2006. It banned most corporations -- "non-local" ones, inclusively defined -- from donating to Humboldt County political campaigns. There were plenty of questions about its constitutionality at the time, but backers assured the electorate that: a) it would most likely pass legal muster, and b) that slavery was once constitutionally okie dokie too, but brave people came along to challenge that.
So comes the Pacific Legal Foundation, the spunky conservative outfit out of Sacramento, sensing low-hanging fruit. Last month they filed suit against the county, seeking to have T overturned. And on Monday, the court obliged the foundation with an injunction, which bans the county from enforcing the initiative for the time being, and indicates a strong likelihood of T's defeat at trial. Judge Susan Illston deemed T to be strongly dubious on both First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. (Get a copy on the North Coast Journal Blogthing -- ncjournal.wordpress.com.)
Both Pacific Legal and the measure's proponents -- Democracy Unlimited, or Humboldt County Coalition for Human Rights -- issued press releases. Pacific Legal's was full of swagger, with attorney Damien Schiffcalling the ruling "a victory for fundamental constitutional rights." Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, speaking for the proponents, was a bit more morose. She insisted that the court had erred, and again compared the cause to the anti-slavery and suffragette movements.
As it happened, the news came right as the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors was about to convene its regular meeting. It is county government, of course, that must defend Measure T, and that raises a question to which no one seems to have an answer: How far must it go? No one would imagine that the county could simply jettison the will of the voters. But nor would it seem practical that the county should be honor-bound to fight the thing all the way up to the Supreme Court, at untold cost and expense.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Supervisor Jill Geist said that the board discussed the case in closed session that day. Since the session was closed, she could not disclose what was discussed. But her description of what generally happens during such sessions with legal counsel would seem to indicate that the county keeps its eye open for the exit sign. Generally speaking.
"When we go into closed session, we examine the risks and benefits of the various legal alternatives available to us, with an eye on what the fiscal impact could be," Geist said.
Last week we accused Supervisor-elect Mark Lovelace with making a "strange sort of locution" during the Board of Supervisors' discussion over pay raises. One could not tell by Lovelace's words, we said, whether he supported or opposed his future colleagues' effort to lift their own wages above and beyond the level of obscenity -- from $78,000 to around $90,000 per year. (See "Town Dandy," Sept. 18).
Lovelace rang Dandy HQ shortly after the issue hit the streets. Like a mensch, he quickly copped to the charge. He did not express himself well, he said. But he assured us that his lack of clarity was not the result of some conniving Clintonian triangulation on the pay raise question; rather, it was simple human tongue-tied failure to communicate, such as can beset us all from time to time. He could elaborate, if we liked.
Go on, we said.
Lovelace said that he opposed pay raises for members of the Board of Supervisors when he campaigned for office, and he opposes them now. He had no vote, but like Supervisor Jimmy Smith and interim Supervisor Johanna Rodoni, he vowed not to accept the raise when he assumes office at the end of the year. At least, he would not accept the raise into his personal account.
He said that he and his wife had long decided that if the raise were to pass, they would turn it over to some sort of worthwhile cause -- maybe a new scholarship fund for children of county employees, if that can be arranged. If it's bureaucratically feasible, Lovelace said, he'd prefer to arrange it so that the excess will never touch his own paycheck, but will instead flow direct from the county to the charitable fund, whatever fund that turns out to be.