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What was he thinking?



If Tim Stoen isn't kicking himself, he should.

Last Thursday, as just about everybody in Humboldt who reads a newspaper or gets their news electronically knows, the assistant district attorney filed papers with the Humboldt County Elections Office stating his intention to run for the U.S. Senate. On Friday, he said he was running to counter the "powerful forces of evil" arrayed against his boss, District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who will undergo a recall vote in March. He said he was also seeking the seat occupied by Sen. Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, to raise awareness, both statewide and nationally, of the misdeeds of the Pacific Lumber Co.

Stoen, of course, is handling the county's fraud lawsuit against PL. In other words, it was the allegations contained in the suit, allegations of deceit committed by the company during the negotiations with state and federal regulators leading to the 1999 Headwaters deal, that Stoen said deserved a brighter spotlight.

In a written statement he made available that day to the media, he gave a broader sense for what kind of candidate he would be. He said President Bush's attempt to democratize the Middle East was a "moral imperative;" he expressed support for the president's vow to use preemptive force against states and groups that could threaten the country; he called for policies that would better protect the environment and investors; and he said he would work for corporate reforms.

This last brought him back to the PL suit. It seems company attorneys are arguing that even if PL did mislead the government, it's shielded by a "right to lie" legal doctrine. Stoen also blasted agreements PL has reached with state and federal regulators that force the agencies to side with PL when disputes erupt as "fraud pacts." If elected to the Senate, Stoen said he would work to change the laws so that PL wouldn't be in a position to mount the kind of legal defense it has.

By the time I learned of this last wrinkle, on Saturday morning, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Old Town with my wife and daughter. Referring to Stoen's vow to reform corporate statutes, I asked my wife: Does that mean the law is on PL's side in the fraud case, and that the DA's litigation is going to tank? Is that why he's running, because he's given up on the suit and is turning to the legislative branch? And another thing, I said between mouthfuls of bagel, where is he going to get the time to litigate a highly complex, highly controversial lawsuit against a powerful corporation and at the same time run for the U.S. Senate? And doesn't "powerful forces of evil" seem a bit, well, hyperbolic? And, beyond everything else, doesn't he know he doesn't have a chance of winning?

You get the picture. I was skeptical. More than skeptical. Incredulous. I overheard a woman at a grocery store that evening saying she thought the whole thing was "kooky." And that's precisely why Stoen's decision to run for Senate was such a spectacularly bad idea. Just as the nasty rumor campaign against him because of his affiliation with Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones in the 1970s was beginning to lose its oomph, Stoen takes this rash step and all of a sudden questions about his judgment, his ability to "separate fact from fiction," as PL President Robert Manne put it, have currency again.

To his credit, Stoen quickly recognized he'd made a misstep. On that very Saturday when I was raising objections in the coffee shop, Stoen decided to bag out. He said he was withdrawing from the race to devote all his energies to the PL suit. OK, that seemed sound, but then on Monday, unable evidently to keep his mouth shut, he said that what really caused him to get out was that former Secretary of State Bill Jones, who's pro-life, had entered the race.

"I believe abortion is the moral issue of our time," Stoen said, claiming that the main reason he'd gotten in the race in the first place was because none of the other Republican candidates were pro-life.

Well, the fact of the matter is that while he did mention abortion to a Journal reporter last week, he didn't emphasize it, and he definitely didn't say that was why he was running.

But in a way I'm glad he did make that last stumble, because it allowed me to see a solution: Mr. Assistant District Attorney, get a press secretary.




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