by Rosemary Edmiston
For the two men challenging Bonnie Neely for her seat on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, it's about jobs good-paying jobs.
The county, they say, just isn't doing enough to bolster the economy so that working people can afford to support their families.
Competitive wages don't exist here, materials that could create manufacturing jobs are exported out of the county in raw form and jobs that do pay well are being lost at an alarming rate, said Richard Marks, a pulp mill worker.
"When I went to work in the timber industry in the '70s I started out at $7.76 an hour. You can be hired off the street now to pull green chain for about $6.50 an hour," he said. "We must provide greater opportunities for families to live generation after generation in Humboldt County."
Lance Madsen, a Eureka city councilman and retired police officer, says the problem is Neely and her colleagues have failed to take on the kind of economic development aimed at luring industry to the North Coast.
"I'm a strong advocate of the redevelopment process as a tool that the county has ignored to this point," Madsen said.
In her bid for a fourth term, Neely also talks a lot about jobs -- how many she's helped create and what she plans to do for the economy in the future.
As a member of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, Neely said she played a part in creating nearly 600 jobs by providing low-interest loans to small businesses and helping secure funding for community projects. In addition, she has helped such businesses as Sierra Pacific Industries obtain coastal development permits, in this case to process paper pulp and ship it out of Humboldt Bay.
At the invitation of Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, Neely recently testified in Washington, before a congressional subcommittee on the economic impacts on Humboldt County of the proposed Headwaters Forest buyout. As a result, she said, an added $10 million has been included in the agreement specifically for Humboldt County to offset economic losses.
The county library and jail construction projects also created good-paying temporary jobs, she said. And the Redwood Coast Dixieland Jazz Festival and Blues by the Bay help the economy by bringing tourists to the area, Neely said.
Like Madsen, the incumbent also believes the county should get involved in redevelopment projects. And she's doing something about that, she said.
In 1992 Neely pushed for creation of a county redevelopment agency. A study to identify blighted areas was initiated but never completed. Neely has reintroduced the idea, she said, and is also working on establishing what she calls a "red team" to assist through the permit process projects that would bring jobs to the county.
"The county moves slowly," she said. "I personally try to involve myself in economic development activities because it's something I can do -- partnering myself with the private sector on projects."
From his seat on the Eureka City Council, Madsen said he has seen the supervisors make poor decisions on the budget and construction projects such as the library.
"They lose money, then they find money. There's a real perception that the budget procedures are just not working right," he said.
When the county library in Eureka was under construction, Madsen said there was concern over whether Humboldt County could afford to run the facility. At the time, he said, the supervisors assured the public the money was there and that taxes would not be raised.
"And here we are coming back for a quarter-cent tax," he said.
Marks says the county's decision to pick the Fireside Inn as a possible site for a proposed homeless assistance center was misguided. Located on U.S. Highway 101 at the intersection of state Highway 255, the site couldn't be worse for tourism, Marks said.
"There's three other sites, but this is the only one that's viable as far as I can tell," he said.
Neely, 49, won her seat in 1986, becoming the third elected woman supervisor in the board's 100-year history. She has served as the county's representative on the California Coastal Commission and the state Board of Forestry, but is best known for her role in promoting and organizing the yearly Dixieland Jazz Festival that drew nearly 14,000 celebrants this year.
Neely ran for the state Assembly two years ago but lost in the primary. She was asked to run for Congress this year, she said, but decided she'd rather stick to local politics and turned around and endorsed her would-be competitor, state Sen. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
She is married to District Attorney Terry Farmer.
Madsen, 49, has been on the Eureka City Council for eight years and works for the Eureka Housing Authority, a job he has held for 11 years. Prior to that he was a Eureka police officer, medically retiring in 1986 after injuring his back.
He and his wife own Allure Jewelers in Old Town Eureka.
Marks, 40, has worked for Louisiana-Pacific Corp. for nearly 20 years. He also ran for state Assembly in 1996, but did not make it through the primary. He entered that race, he said, "so I would not have to go blindly into this election. I had my sights set on the county supervisor seat for a number of years and this is my shot at it."
He is a volunteer basketball coach and the Pulp and Paper Workers Union shop steward at the Samoa mill.
Marks is the only Democrat running for the nonpartisan 4th District seat, which he points out because, he said, in order to win the race he must gain the support of party members.
His wife is employed at the Peninsula Union School District.
While Marks says he speaks for the working class and Madsen maintains a change is needed on the board, defeating Neely in the June 2 primary could prove difficult considering the influential supporters she has amassed during her 12 years in office.
She has been endorsed by Thompson as well as Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming and three Eureka City Council members -- Jim Gupton, Jack McKellar and Connie Miller. Business owners Bill Pierson, owner of Pierson Building Co., and Harvey Harper, Harper Motors, are in her camp and she is backed by Simpson Timber Co. and members of the Barnum lumber family, among others.
But that hasn't deterred either challenger.
"I'm hoping to take it," Madsen said of the primary vote next month. "I think we'll get 50 percent plus one. It feels good out there."
Acknowledging he is "the dark horse in this race," Marks said he's gaining in popularity, hoping to survive the primary in June and -- by election day in November -- he expects to be running "one-to-one" with Neely.
Neely also exudes confidence when asked about her chances come June 2. With a trace of a smile crossing her lips, she said she hopes the race will end at the primary.