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Down to the Wire: The fisherman vs. the rancher


 Jimmy Smith

The candidate:
Jimmy Smith, 30-year commercial fisherman, third-generation Humboldter. Humboldt Bay Harbor Commission member and past president; Trinity River Task Force member; chair, California Salmon Stamp Committee; alternate member of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission; newly appointed to the Humboldt County Methamphetamine Task Force.

Top priorities: Return tax dollars from state to the county for roads, law enforcement and substance abuse programs. Continue fight for Eel, Trinity and Klamath river water increases. Retain quality of life while pursuing economic development.

Key endorsers: Congressman Mike Thompson; CPA John Fullerton and bookstore owner Carlos Benemann, who ran against him in the primary; Operating Engineers Local 3 and Carpenters Union Local 751; lots of fishermen, lots of Democrats.

Election effort: Plans to spend $55,000, which includes $25,000 spent in the primary.

 Walt Giacomini

The candidate: Walt Giacomini, rancher since 1980, fourth generation Humboldter. Former business management instructor; past member and president, Fortuna High School Board of Trustees; member, past president, Humboldt-Del Norte Cattlemen's Association.

Top priorities: Improving efficiency and responsiveness of county government. Protecting resource-based industries. Restoring water to Trinity and Eel. Infrasturcture.

Key endorsers: Ranching families of Hunt, McBride, Ford, Coppini, Rice, Russ and others; Lawrence Lazio (Lazio Tuna) and Internet-based consultant Chris Crawford, (both ran against him in the primary); lots of Republicans.

Election effort: Plans to spend $90,000, which includes $40,000 spent in the primary.

[MAP of 1ST DISTRICT]The First District's northern boundary includes the
Henderson Center area of Eureka, the hospitals on
Harrison and extends south almost to Shelter Cove.
In this large district, 80 percent of the vote comes from
Fields Landing north.


IT'S A TOUGH CHOICE FOR VOTERS IN THE RACE FOR 1ST DISTRICT SUPERVISOR. Shall it be the fourth-generation Humboldt County rancher or the third-generation Humboldt County fisherman -- both of whom genuinely like and respect each other while they politely disagree over political philosophy.

Here's what Jimmy Smith has to say about Walt Giacomini:

"Walt is a great guy. I've known him a long time, he's a man of character. I think we both want to do what's best for the community.

"I ran because I felt that I had experience at the level that we could accelerate some projects, whether it's economic development, working with other entities, public-private partnerships ... "

Smith points to his volunteer service over the last two decades on a dozen or more task forces, committees and commissions, including his current elected position on the Harbor Commission, where he is president. He mentions with pride the successful harbor deepening project as an example of his philosophy of being a team player and never giving up.

"Even though we went through some bumpy times [a harbor assessment measure that the commission first introduced was later abandoned when faced with fierce public resistance], ultimately we all came together and said, `Let's get it done.' And we did."

And here's what Giacomini has to say about Smith:

"Jimmy is a kind, gentle, good man. That's admirable. But Jimmy has more faith in government to solve the problems of the people than I do.

"He stresses the importance of compromise no matter which issue he is asked. Jimmy starts from a position of compromise. Compromise is where you end up, not where you begin," Giacomini said.

"I've heard that one a couple of times now," said the normally mild-mannered Smith.

"How do I answer it? With my very own quote: `Please don't mistake compassion for a willingness to compromise.'

"You need to go in with an open mind, as a team player, and get the best you can get not only for the people in your district, but also the county, to improve this region."

Although this race is supposed to be nonpartisan, Smith, a Democrat, and Giacomini, a Republican, have significantly different political philosophies along familiar party lines.

What should government do to help create jobs?

"Jobs are going to be the result of government doing its job better -- and being less intrusive," Giacomini said.

And what about economic development?

"That's the kind of thing chambers of commerce do best. Government needs to make sure that things are zoned appropriately. The general plan should be completed. The local plans need to be coordinated with the county plan. Infrastructure needs to be put in place. Those are the things government should do -- streets, utilities ..."

Giacomini said he takes issue with the report, "Prosperity," which was approved by the supervisors as a guide for future development.

"It's driven by government. I don't have a lot of faith in government. Business is always going to be driven by business," he said.

Regarding the county's financial woes, Giacomini said, "We need to totally restructure county government. I'm not talking about firing this employee or diminishing this department. Inefficiencies creep in. It happens. We need to create fewer, better (paying) jobs ... and many times the best ideas come from people within those departments.

"Once elected, I want to become as knowledgeable as I can about how the departments work. As a way to get started, I suggest a department be selected (to review). ... We've been living from hand to mouth, day to day. We need to step back and look at everything. Nothing is sacred."

Both candidates said they are very concerned with the low pay of county workers.

Echoing Giacomini, Smith said, "We're not able to maintain the type of longer-term employment for people here, to keep them over time, because we can't offer them the money. We're 49th in the state, so a lot of people are leaving ... not just public works, but also law enforcement. We need to get those people up to a level where we don't lose them."

While Giacomini would look within the county's budget for greater efficiencies and higher productivity, Smith said the long-term answer is to hammer the state for more money.

"The thing for department heads that is constantly on their desk is, how are you going to cut (another) 10 percent," Smith said.

"We worked for four years at the harbor commission to get the state to recognize that it had a stake in economic development, and by making things happen with basic infrastructure like the harbor deepening, they are going to generate a lot of tax dollars which is going to go back to the state," Smith said. "We worked on that for four years, first with [Rep.] Mike Thompson, then with [Assembly person] (Virginia) Strom-Martin and [state Sen.] Wesley Chesbro, and finally we got a bill signed, albeit a million short of what the request was for."

The mention of Thompson raises a few hackles on Giacomini's neck.

"I'm amazed the press hasn't talked about it, the partisan campaign," Giacomini said. "Our very powerful congressman pushed him (Smith) from the get-go to run. I think it's inappropriate, undue influence from above, in what's supposed to be a nonpartisan race."

Smith is not denying his initial reluctance to run.

"We now have two little granddaughters. Jacque and I bought property and wanted to build a house. We have our (fishing) business and I often travel and work with the supervisors (as a harbor commissioner)," said Smith. "I know how hard they work, what's required, how difficult it is. ..."

But "after long discussions with my wife" and Stan Dixon's decision not to run again Smith entered the race.

"Mike Thompson asked me the first time about three or four years ago (to consider a run for higher office) when we worked on some legislation together," Smith said. "There were some water quality issues on the upper Klamath. Later we worked on cleaning up the South Spit.

"After exhausting a lot of other possible solutions, he picked me up and we drove out (to the spit) to look at the problems. We talked about trying to meet the needs of different groups, not just a single focus. I don't know whether that's what he liked, the options that I presented to him, or if it was some tenacity in working on and on -- I have no idea. But he encouraged me to run for office a long time ago.

"He said, `You really have some skills and you should think about running and I want you to know I would support you.'"

If Thompson's involvement in the race is a question for voters to sort out, so is Giacomini's support from timber interests.

"I have been painted as a tool for big timber (but) I have received one donation from timber," he said. "My core constituency is the small landowner. `Small' is a relative term. It takes a lot of acreage to make it as a rancher. It may take several thousand acres. I'm talking about families with long histories and ties to Humboldt County.

"I represent small business owners, including landowners, who create jobs in Humboldt County. I have a real commitment to help make sure our resource-based jobs survive. I really want to promote diversification, whether it be technology, tourism or light manufacturing, we need that. But if our resource-based jobs went away, there is no way we'd survive."

And he bristles as the notion that landowners are not good stewards of the land.

"The environmental community doesn't get it. We are committed to saving and protecting our resources," Giacomini said.

The poor condition of the Eel River, he said, is due to a number of factors, including overfishing, weather patterns and past logging practices. But the real culprit is low water flow and the county should be more aggressive in getting increased flows.

"Right now environmental policies are being driven by politics, not science. I believe in science-based policy," he said.

Giacomini sees Thompson's support of his opponent as a Democrat supporting a Democrat and wants voters to look at the differences in approaches to problems facing the county, specifically the issues.

"The issues are still where we were all along since the primary -- the economy and jobs, and the effectiveness of county government" Giacomini said. "There's always a question about gas prices and such, but in terms of what a supervisor can influence, the economy and jobs is No. 1."

Smith said residents of the 1st District have been telling him the economy is important, but "one of the biggest issues is quality of life. Continue to work on economic development, but don't let up for one second on quality of life.

"The economy, gas prices, transportation, the railroad, traffic problems, roads" are all issues on the minds of voters, Smith said. But he was surprised going door to door to hear so many citizens concerned about hard drugs.

"The people in my district have told me it is important and we need to make a difference in the drug problem. We don't like our kids living near drugs, we don't like them in homes next to us."

He said he "has put aside some other projects" to join the new county methamphetamine task force headed by District Attorney Terry Farmer. He wants Humboldt to replicate a program started in Shasta County that attacks the problem on a regional basis backed by citizen support, neighborhood watch groups, strong law enforcement and maximum penalties.

"They have a slogan. `Not in my town.' People are very disgusted," Smith said, "We should replicate what Shasta is doing, adopt it, refine it and make it work."


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