June 30, 2005
by HANK SIMS
It rarely pays for a newspaper to argue with its readers, and that's doubly true when those readers are thoughtful souls who take the time to write letters intended for publication. But this week's letter from Terry L. Clark, who critiques Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman's decision to run against DA Paul Gallegos in next year's election, is perhaps representative of a gathering school of thought that strikes us as wrongheaded.
First things first: One benefit of Dikeman's announcement last week is that by election time, one year hence, local headline writers will have long since exhausted their boilerplate stock of goofs on his given name. Last week brought us "Worth the wait?" and "Dikeman says he's worthy," two variations on a shopworn theme. Let the wordsmiths move on to tortuous invocations of Dutch boys and leaky dams, then let's be done with it. (Though it's hard to argue with Sean Borhman's memorable Lumberjack column last year -- "Worth Dikeman" is indeed a "great f--ing name").
So much for our correspondent's claim that Dikeman's early entry into the race serves no useful purpose. His more substantial error is that he assumes -- or wishes to assume -- that Dikeman's campaign will be a repeat of last season's divisive, dirty and ultimately failed attempt to recall Gallegos. Anything can happen in a year, but there is no indication that this will be the case.
To recap, timber industry supporters started the recall just weeks after Gallegos took office and filed the recently dismissed suit against the Pacific Lumber Co. Timber money -- specifically, Pacific Lumber money -- then bankrolled the recall every step of the way: from the last-minute signature drive, in which the company paid out-of-towners $8 per name the weekend before petitions were due, to the glossy mailers and spookily lit TV ads put out by a Sacramento consultant, who turned out to be working out of Scotia. At every turn, Pacific Lumber denied its involvement until it was no longer possible to do so.
But Dikeman has never been about timber. He is a law enforcement candidate, with 20 years of experience in the District Attorney's Office -- the top law enforcement agency in the county. And he has serious concerns about how the office has been run since Gallegos took over.
Many talented senior prosecutors with years of experience -- including Rob Wade and Nandor Vadas -- have left the office for other jobs since Gallegos became DA. Allison Jackson, a specialist in prosecuting child abuse, was fired, apparently for political reasons. As we reported earlier this year ("One year later," March 3), the loss of Jackson was an "incredible, monumental" blow to the county, in the words of a manager at the North Coast Rape Crisis Team. Unlike in previous days, the District Attorney's Office has no prosecutor permanently assigned to domestic violence cases, and only a part-time liaison to the county's multi-agency Child Abuse Services Team, according to Dikeman.
These charges were given added weight Tuesday, with the release of a grand jury report sharply critical of Gallegos (see "Weekly Wrap," p. 8). They are charges that can't be answered with a sneer about "Maxxam" or a "good old boys network," and Gallegos supporters would be well advised not to try that dodge. It won't fly.
Humboldt County's "progressive" population took great satisfaction in the decisive, 60-40 defeat of the recall. Some of them took it to mean that the county's political winds had turned their way -- that they now had a perhaps permanent 60 percent majority at the polls for any left-leaning candidate or initiative up for countywide vote.
They will soon be disabused of that notion. A great many county voters -- it is impossible to know how many, exactly -- voted "no" on the recall solely because they considered Pacific Lumber's tactics an insult to democracy. These voters are not diehard Gallegos supporters, and it's likely that many of them have reservations about his tenure as district attorney.
Dikeman, too, will have to answer some hard questions in the coming months. Last time around, when he ran as a replacement candidate in the recall, some faulted him for what they considered an overly zealous attitude toward prosecuting non-violent, relatively minor marijuana possession cases. In the coming months, details of those cases and others will surface, and they will help the county pick a district attorney who best reflects its idea of effective, appropriate law enforcement.
In any case, Mr. Clark -- dear reader, valued correspondent -- we are far from omniscient, but we heartily believe it isn't going to be about Maxxam this time. Not unless Maxxam makes it so.
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