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To the trenches 

There’s a little local election coming up in a couple of months — on Nov. 6 — though you wouldn’t exactly know it by reading the papers. Nominations for most offices up for vote closed on Friday, Aug. 10. The final candidates for most races are known. What’s needed is a fight-card-style preview of the races to watch. Unless we missed it, though, the Times-Standard has been AWOL, and the Eureka Reporter has only touched the surface, not going far beyond printing a list of candidates.

There are two possible explanations. One: The papers are waiting for the final, final lists. Nominations for some offices will stay open until this Friday (Aug. 17), depending on whether or not the incumbent has filed for reelection. Two: This election is simply too small-fry to justify flood-the-zone coverage. It’s an odd-year election, which means we’re mostly talking about school boards, fire districts, community service districts, etc.

But even though the days of screamingly nasty elections may be behind us (or a little farther ahead of us, perhaps), there’s a couple of races on the November ballot that promise to be pretty contentious. We’re talking about the two seats up for grabs on the Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, the entity charged with managing Humboldt Bay. There’s a lot on the line right now, what with the district’s expensive Hail Mary play to build a deep-water shipping port in the bay. No one knows how much it will cost — estimates seem to loom around $300 million, not including whatever hundreds of millions it will cost to fix the railroad. But the Bay District is betting a whole lot of money on the proposition that it’ll happen, and that Humboldt County will thenceforth serve as a waypoint for Asian goods making their way to the greater American marketplace.

There’s three seats on the Bay District up for grabs this time around. First District Commissioner Ronnie Pellegrini, representing the Eureka outskirts and greater Ferndale, is running unopposed. But the remaining two seats could sway the balance of power on the board, and both of them look like they’ll be pretty hot.

Up in the sprawling Fifth District — McKinleyville, Trinidad, Orick, Blue Lake, Willow Creek, Hoopa — you’ve got fisheries biologist Pat Higgins, a Democratic party kind of guy and something of a gadfly, challenging the incumbent, former longshoreman Charles Ollivier. Ollivier is one of the main backers of the deep water port and he also serves on the board of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), a key element and partner in the port’s plans (see “The Squeeze,” Aug. 3). Higgins, to put it bluntly, is a skeptic, and he’s far more likely to push the district away from goods movement and toward restoration.

Down in the equally sprawling Second District — Fortuna, Hydesville, Bridgeville, Garberville — you’ve got incumbent Roy Curless up against two aspirants to his throne. On the one hand is Steven Morris, owner of a computer business and a relatively new arrival to the county. Morris says that he favors a “managed approach” to the bay, that includes both deep-water port development and sensitivity to environmental concerns. On the other is Carlos Quilez, a Starvation Flats resident better known as the president of the Friends of Small Places, an environmental advocacy group focused on the downsides of gravel extraction. (For more on Quilez, see “Gravel operation draws opposition,” Aug. 25, 2005). Given that the NCRA’s plans include a massive new gravel mine on the banks of the Eel, it’s fairly safe to say that Quilez might be a thorn in the side of the Bay District powers-that-be.

Speaking of weed — how did it escape us that Humboldt County’s top toker had skipped town? For the n00bs out there, we’re talking about Arcata’s Bobby Harris, a man whose passion for the herb and strange but intermittent political savoir faire helped instigate his city’s groundbreaking medical marijuana implementation strategy. (That’s Bobby and his bong on the North Coast Journal’s Sept. 15, 2005, cover story, “Free the Weed.”) Back in the ’90s, his work with then-Arcata Police Chief Mel Brown in crafting the city’s Prop. 215 policy earned him headlines.

Not that he hadn’t been accustomed to headlines previously. Back in 1990 — in another life, it seems — Harris was in the middle of a city council race in the Central Valley town of Woodland when his house was raided and all his weed and growing gear confiscated. Then his prosecutors took his home from him. The late, great San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen got a chuckle out of it. Bobby fought back, though, moving to Sacramento, living in a car and lobbying at the Capitol to change the laws that allowed the law to confiscate his home. He actually got an Orange County Republican member of the legislature to introduce legislation on his behalf. (More headlines.) It failed.

You’d think that Bobby would have been perfectly content to bide his time here in Arcata, the closest stateside equivalent to Amsterdam or Vancouver, as least as far as his primary passion is concerned. He grew scads of weed and sold it to medical marijuana collectives. But it seems that in May he got it in his head to make his glorious return to Woodland. He sent out a 2,000-word press release — typical Bobby — announcing his comeback. He enlisted friends to help him make the move. And then those friends were pulled over on their drive into town, and the cops confiscated nine pounds of weed from their car (much of it shake or stem, apparently). They were arrested; Bobby, it appears, was elsewhere. Apparently he remains at large.

When it came out that the weed was Bobby’s, the Woodland blogosphere lit up, remembering the good old days when he could always be counted on for good copy. He joined the discussion — garrulously, the only way he knows how — and is now calling on Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig to abide state law, which allows him to possess his herb. Meanwhile, Reisig was quoted in the Woodland Daily Democrat as saying that he “prefers” federal law to state law, insofar as marijuana is concerned.

And so goes Bobby Harris, modern-day Don Quixote.

As a peace offering to the Humboldt County Grand Jury, which is apparently somewhat ticked at us right now (see “Twelve Inoffensive Men,” July 5), we’d like to pass along notice that the jury is desperately seeking people to serve as alternates.

Grand Jury Foreman Matt Morehouse, who stopped by the offices while out for a ride on the loudest motorcycle in existence, said that there are three main qualifications for service. One, you have to be in reasonably good health. Two, you have to have a basic working knowledge of computers (e-mail, word processing). Three, you have to have reliable personal transportation.

If you qualify and if you’ve got some time you’d like to give back to the community, there’s no greater service you could perform for your troubled democracy. Plus, it’s a really awesome social club for smart people. If you’ve got what it takes, give a ring to the county jury commissioner: 269-1270.

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Hank Sims

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