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March 4, 2004





Who would'a thunk it?

Paul Gallegos didn't just survive. He kicked butt.

In a stunning vindication for the district attorney, and a humiliating defeat for his opponents, 61 percent of voters rejected the recall. Only 39 percent voted for it. Making the victory even more emphatic, a whopping 63 percent of registered voters -- about 50,000 people -- went to the polls. That compares to 33,000 who voted in the contest two years ago between Gallegos and Terry Farmer.

Gallegos won then by a 52 to 48 percent margin -- hardly a mandate. He's got a mandate now.

"This is a referendum," one supporter exulted during Gallegos' victory celebration at the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka Tuesday night.

The landslide is a clear repudiation of the big money campaign mounted against Gallegos by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz, owner of Maxxam, the parent corporation of Pacific Lumber. Of the more than $300,000 raised by the Safety Yes! Recall Gallegos committee, nearly $250,000 came from Maxxam, the target of a fraud suit filed by Gallegos last year.

That's not to say that the anti-recall effort was poorly funded. The Friends of Paul Gallegos raised an impressive $220,000. The difference was that that money came from more than 1,500 people.

From a business perspective, it's hard to second-guess what Hurwitz did: Spending a quarter-of-a-million dollars to head off a $250 million lawsuit was certainly worth the risk. But from a political perspective, it obviously backfired. Whatever doubts voters had about Gallegos, whether they thought he was soft on crime or simply too liberal, were overwhelmed by revulsion that the defendant in a lawsuit was seeking his ouster before he could take them to trial. It might not have been illegal, but it sure seemed like it should have been.

We were disappointed, but not surprised, that Worth Dikeman did not make an appearance at Gallegos' victory celebration. It was a perfect opportunity for a show of solidarity with his boss, whom he repeatedly damned with faint praise during his 10-week campaign as a replacement candidate. Perhaps he figured he wouldn't be welcome. Whatever the case, it is our hope that the two men will resolve whatever differences they might have. It's in the best interests of the district attorney's office, and Humboldt County, that they do so.

Which brings us to what triggered the recall, the suit against Pacific Lumber. It's been an open secret from day one that Dikeman and some of the other veteran prosecutors at the DA's office are not enthusiastic backers. It's not so much that they're pro-timber, necessarily, just that they don't believe Gallegos had any business filing the suit. "This is something EPIC could have done. Why'd we do it?" one of them said recently, referring to the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center.

It's a fair question given that district attorneys typically confine themselves to criminal matters. But they also undertake civil actions, sometimes major ones, which is precisely what the fraud suit against PL is. So we don't really understand the objection -- unless it's simply a manifestation of a pro-PL bias. In any event, their boss did what he did, and Tuesday's vote can certainly be read as a ringing endorsement of the suit from the public.

Judge Christopher Wilson may dismiss the action, as Pacific Lumber's attorneys are demanding, but chances are he won't, and either it will go to trial or PL will bite the bullet and settle. Gallegos and the deputy DAs did a good job staying focused on their jobs through last year's recall madness -- felony convictions were up from 2002 -- and we're confident they will do so again in coming months when the PL suit is likely to heat up.

Referring to the deputy DAs, Gallegos said not long ago: "After I'm elected I need to pull this office together. I really want to work with those guys." Well, Gallegos has now been "elected" -- for the second time now -- and the obvious rift in the office between the DA and Terry Farmer loyalists needs to heal, fast. Gallegos deserves people under him who he trusts and who are loyal. Anyone who feels they still can't accept him as the leader should consider leaving. The transition from the old regime, artificially extended by the recall, is over.

It's been a long and polarizing fight, but one with a surprisingly decisive outcome. Contrary to the predictions of pundits, including yours truly, the people have spoken loudly. Paul Gallegos, at last, is now truly Humboldt County's district attorney.




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