Hey, remember "term limits"? That was the quaint little theory proposed and approved by California voters back in 1990. The idea was that the business of government would be wrested from sharpies and placed in the hands of a new breed of "citizen-legislator." These wholesome, Jimmy Stewart-esque superhumans would rise from the tilled soil to reclaim Sacramento on behalf of good, honest, hard-working people. And after six or eight years of service, just as his replacement became ready for harvest, the "citizen-legislator" would gracefully dissolve into thin air.
That was the theory, anyway. Things turned out a bit differently in practice. Last year, Tamara Keith of National Public Radio documented six separate cases in which a termed-out legislator sought to hand over his or her chair in the legislature to an immediate family member. And that was just in one election.
As anthropologists have long noted, here on the North Coast the Democratic Party apparatus serves as a ready substitute for flesh-and-blood kinship ties. The guillotine falls on Eureka's Assemblymember Patty Berg next year, but arrangements have already been made to pass her crown to former State Senator Wes Chesbro, who was termie-termed out of his seat in 2006. And Chesbro's seat, you'll recall, was given to Santa Rosa's Pat Wiggins, who was herself termie-termed from the Assembly in 2004.
You'll notice there's a wallflower at this waltz — Wiggins has the Senate seat locked up until 2014, denying Berg her patrimony. What's she to do? Well, it looks like homegirl is going for the big brass ring. That's right: She's going statewide. California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi terms out in 2010, and the hard-smoking Berg believes she has her opening. To that end, she's put together a little somethin'-somethin' called "Patty Berg for Insurance Commissioner," coming soon to a fundraiser near you.
The election may be three years away, but you've gotta start early if you want to muscle aside potential competitors. They may not be from the North Coast, and would therefore have limited understanding of the way public offices are traditionally inherited. Berg's war chest is looking pretty good right now, all things considered. In the first half of 2007, she's collected over $42,000, most of it in $500-$1,000 chunks from various medical groups and associations. (No dollars from any insurance companies yet.) Once she becomes the presumptive nominee, that small trickle of cash will come to dwarf the mighty Eel.
But Berg is out in 2008, unless a term-limit-busting measure making the rounds actually qualifies for the February ballot and passes. What's Berg going to do between 2008 and 2010? Here's a suggestion: How about the California Integrated Waste Management Board, a meat locker used by the powers-that-be in Sacramento to store politicos in transition. A seat on the board pays about $120,000 a year. Chesbro's not going to need his much longer.
Closer to the horizon: The campaigns that are seeking to shift or maintain the balance of power on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District have all come sputtering to life, only two months before the Nov. 6 election date. The issue is port development, and the idea that Humboldt Bay could be rebuilt as a container shipping facility and a waypoint on U.S. trade with Asia. The project faces massive, monstrously expensive hurdles, but the pro-port people (in this race, the two incumbents) have every faith those hurdles can be overcome. The anti-port faction — or the "pro-reality" faction, as some of them like to say — think that there's better things to do with our money and time.
Second District (Fortuna to SoHum) challenger Carlos Quilez was first out of the gate, with a press conference on the Eureka Boardwalk last Wednesday. Quilez pumped his credentials — sport fisherman, Army veteran, retired California State University administrator. He played up his endorsements — Humboldt-Del Norte Central Labor Council, Operating Engineers Local No. 3. He spoke of his vision — "good stewardship for our resources and fiscal responsibility."
Meanwhile, across the aisle and on the other side of the county, the campaign apparatus of McKinleyville incumbent Charles Ollivier exited the gate strong, with a press release touting his endorsements — Congressman Mike Thompson, three of the five county supervisors, three of the sitting Harbor District members, businessmen, union members, a tribal member, various McKinleyville-area elected officials. The press release didn't shrink from Ollivier's raison d'être as a district commissioner: the development of Humboldt Bay's shipping facilities, and the return of the long-dormant railroad line (see "The Squeeze," July 5).
Not much yet from Ollivier's challenger, fisheries biologist Pat Higgins, or from the incumbent Quilez is challenging, Fortuna's Roy Curless. Unless they pick up the pace soon, it could be a one-sided race in each of the districts. If the challengers gain only one seat, they'd still be left with the butt end of a 3-2 majority.
Welcometo North Coast Journal version 2.52, Service Pack 6. Let's take a moment to get acquainted with the three new features we're introducing in this issue.
First up: As a convocation to the proceedings, we will now offer a poem. Said poem will usually be from a Humboldt County poet. Its subject will almost always pertain to matters of local interest. Preferably, it will be somewhat topical in nature.
A statistically significant percentage of our readership has long clamored for poetry, so we are pleased to finally quiet their bloodthirsty howls. And we are especially excited to introduce what we believe to be a brand-new innovation in the poetry trade: payment. That is, poets selected for publication will receive a very small amount of money in return. Get scribbling, rhymesters! Send your cinquains, kyrielles and ottava rimas to either Heidi Walters or Japhet Weeks, depending on which you think will give you a more sympathetic reading. Their e-mail addresses are to my left.
Second: "In Review." Each week, our cold-blooded critics will dissect new cultural artifacts — books, CDs, DVDs, live concerts, web sites, household products. Their deep, exegetical analyses will unlock the hidden meanings of such texts, deftly limning their aporia and ultimately determining whether or not they are worth your $15. Imagine the bastard love-child of James Huneker and Roland Barthes writing for Consumer Reports.That's what we're aiming for.
Finally, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Don Garlick to our pages in a little feature we will call "Garlick's Notebook," despite his objections. The North Coast is home to infinite unique natural phenomena, wondrous to the eye and nourishing to the spirit, but we layfolk often lack an understanding of why things are the way they are, and we are the poorer for it. In his Notebook, Dr. Garlick, an emeritus professor of geology at HSU and an immensely wise and humble man, will endeavor to answer questions on North Coast natural science, at times enlisting the help of his fellow savants. Why are there agates at Agate Beach? Why haven't we had a really good earthquake in a while? Why does my hand look so trippy? You have only to ask.