by Rosemary Edmiston

Republicans John Jordan, John Pinches.

Democrats Wesley Chesbro and Timothy Stoen.

The two front-runners for the state Senate -- Wesley Chesbro and John Jordan -- have been campaigning more against each other than their own party opponents.

Jordan, a political neophyte who is just 25 years old, is the favorite to win the Republican nomination to replace Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who is running for Congress.

Jordan has two important attributes working in his favor -- money and drive.

"I have to take the money very seriously," said Chesbro, a political veteran who has received Thompson's endorsement. "But I do have a tremendous amount of confidence in the voters of the district. I think they have made wise choices in these situations in the past."

Jordan, whose father owns a Healdsburg winery, dislikes that so much is being made of his age and personal finances, and says he is running to make a "positive and lasting difference."

When it comes down to issues, the two men often agree -- on education, returning property taxes to local government and strengthening the economy with business incentives. And both are pro-choice, although Jordan is opposed to partial birth abortions.

Chesbro -- a member of the state Solid Waste Management Board -- is a Democrat, someone Jordan refers to as an environmental extremist and newly reborn moderate. Jordan -- who owns two Sonoma County coffee houses -- tows the Republican Party line when it comes to crime and punishment. He supports the three strikes sentencing law and wants the death penalty appeals process shortened.

The candidates for the 2nd District also have 20 years separating them. Chesbro is 46 years old and Jordan turns 26 at the end of May.

Jordan, of Santa Rosa, sees his youth and lack of political experience as a plus, while Chesbro, who has lived in Sacramento the past eight years but maintains his home in Arcata, says his years in the capital and time spent on the Arcata City Council and Humboldt County Board of Supervisors has given him greater substance.

"Lord knows I have nothing against people in their 20s getting involved in politics. But I was in my 20s when I ran for City Council. The Senate is not an entry-level position," Chesbro said.

Jordan countered: "I like to see people get elected who are doing it because they want to make a contribution ... and then go back to private life. That's how the country was meant to be if you're really idealistic about it. We shouldn't have a separate class ... of professional politicians."

By Nov. 3, Chesbro estimates he will have spent $1 million, half of what he says Jordan plans to spend. He will raise most of it. Jordan, who has already put $300,000 of his own funds into the campaign, says he has no estimate of how much he'll spend.

"Campaigns are very expensive," said Jordan, who says he earned most of his money playing the stock market with an inheritance from his grandfather (which he says was less than $300,000). "The idea that Wes Chesbro will be outspent by me is ludicrous, it's absolutely ridiculous."

While money and political clout have all but sealed the open party June 2 primary, the two underdogs who will appear on the ballot against Chesbro and Jordan should not be ruled out. (Peace and Freedom candidate Brian Garay, of Mendocino County, is running a quiet campaign and is expected to receive few votes.)

Republican John Pinches is a popular Mendocino County supervisor who supports campaign reform -- he won't accept any donation greater than $49 -- and thinks marijuana should be legalized.

"Didn't we learn anything from Prohibition?" he asks.

Democrat Timothy Stoen, an attorney from Mendocino, also doesn't intend to spend much money. Like Pinches, he isn't entirely aligned with party politics -- he's pro-life, a "kiss of death for a Democrat," he said.

"What I tell people is give me a break. ... Yes, I will yield to the label pro-life, but I'm also pro-woman and abortion hurts women."

In his campaign, Chesbro advocates creating partnerships with private industry as a means of solving problems. An example, he said, is the reduction in waste going into landfills because of recycling.

"I've come to the conclusion that while government has a very important role to play, it doesn't have the solution to every problem," he said.

Founder of the Arcata Community Recycling Center and former director of the Northcoast Environmental Center in Arcata, Chesbro said he has matured since his days on the Arcata City Council.

"I have learned that laws and regulations are good at stopping the worst things from happening, but they don't make the best things happen," he said.

Chesbro's Democratic opponent, Stoen, 60, has a varied and colorful background. He once worked as an attorney for Mendocino County and was a special prosecutor handling voter fraud for the city and county of San Francisco. He practices law in the town of Mendocino, focusing on environmental law (he was the attorney of record in litigation that saved public access to Navarro Beach), estate planning and federal civil rights cases. He sits on the Mendocino City Community Services District board.

But Stoen still remains best known for the role he played in the People's Temple massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. A former attorney for Jim Jones and member of the temple, Stoen defected in 1978 and accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan on the ill-fated trip to Guyana in an attempt to rescue his 6-year-old son. The boy died in the mass suicide that followed.

Twenty years later the tragedy still haunts him. This is his third run for a major office, and each time it is his controversial past that makes headlines.

Stoen ran for Congress as a Republican in 1990, for the Mendocino Board of Supervisors in 1994 and now as a Democrat for state Senate. He said he changed parties when the Republican majority in Congress failed to support the Endangered Species Act.

"You find a sort of materialism that's just owning people now," Stoen said. He supports elimination of corporate subsidies and hidden tax entitlements.

Jordan, who has a degree in economics, said he will work to bring environmentally friendly businesses into the rural North Coast, such as computer firms and light manufacturing.

Jordan's opponent, Pinches, a cattle and sheep rancher who often sports a white cowboy hat, is running on an impressive record as a county supervisor. Eliminating a budget deficit and bringing environmentalists and timber workers together are among the accomplishments he boasts.

He's running for Senate because he is frustrated with inaction at the state level and the amount of taxpayer dollars he's seen wasted.

Like Jordan and Chesbro, he advocates returning "the $3.5 billion in annual local property taxes 'grabbed' by Sacramento in the early '90s" to county and city governments.

He supports taking education dollars out of "bloated administrations" so that money can be funneled directly to schools. His motto is, "People vote, money don't."

To that end, Pinches' biggest publicity stunt has been to have supporters hang old tires all over Mendocino County with "Pinches Senate" painted on them.

And while the supervisor doesn't advocate marijuana smoking, he wants to see an end to the "pot wars." Billions of dollars has been spent on eradication and prosecution, which has only driven the price of the weed up, making it as valuable as gold and creating further violence, he said.

"The time has come to treat pot the same as alcohol and tobacco, including taxing it," his campaign literature states. The money saved, he said, could be used for education.

The 2nd District is home to a Democratic majority which often proves to be fickle. Voters replaced moderate Democratic Congressman Doug Bosco with Republican Frank Riggs in 1990, only to elect liberal Dan Hamburg two years later, then Riggs again in '94 and '96.

So while some campaign watchdogs see the primary as an easy call, the November election is anyone's guess.

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