- Protest at Humboldt County Courthouse Thursday. Photo by Hank Sims
Follow the Money
Twenty-five people or so came out for a rally at the Humboldt County Courthouse Thursday at noon for a campaign finance reform rally. Their signs were sharply worded: "For The People or For The Money?" "Had Enough Humboldt County?" "The 4th District Deserves Better." "Bonnie's Bought & Paid For." "Neely and the Political Machine."
If there had been any doubt, these messages made it plain enough that this wasn't your standard-issue reform rally. It had a particular target: Supervisor Bonnie Neely, the Fourth District incumbent currently defending her office against challenges from Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass and Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard. The protesters had been summoned by Eureka businessman Chris Crawford, a Bass supporter, to stand up against the large sums of cash that Neely has collected from outside the county to fund her reelection bid. Their gathering was less about asserting high-falutin' moral principles than opening up a new campaign front in the Fourth District race. But they did have a point to make.
When the time came, Crawford -- a Bass supporter -- talked about a pricey shindig that Neely had held in Sacramento the day previous. (Tickets ranged from $250 to $2,000). This, he said, was a betrayal of leftish Neely supporters who voted overwhelmingly for the stricken-down local campaign finance reform law known as Measure T in 2006. Back then, the mantra was "local control" -- and now Neely, a Measure T supporter, was betraying that idea.
"Those who lined up to pass Measure T and cried all those crocodile tears over undue influences on local elections are now getting in a car and driving 200 miles away to peddle influence to Sacramento lobbyists in order to fund local campaigns for reelection to the county Board of Supervisors. That person is county Supervisor Bonnie Neely," Crawford said, to a round of boos. He called for a new campaign finance reform initiative that would place overall caps on the amount that individuals or organizations could donate to local candidates and issues.
Since Neely serves as the chair of the California Coastal Commission, the Fourth District race essentially a statewide election fought out on local turf. In addition to the Sacramento fundraiser, Neely has garnered large donations from fellow Coastal Commissioners and from a Southern California developer who has had business before the commission. Meanwhile, Bass has raised much more money that Neely, much of it in chunks of $1,000 or over. But since these donations came from local developers and business interests, one might paint them as cleaner than Neely's non-Humboldt developers and business interests.
Neely's campaign sent the Journal an e-mail response to Crawford's charges Tuesday. "As for keeping the faith with voters -- whether they supported Measure T or not -- the voters support sustainable jobs, put a clean and safe environment over the interests of developers, and want more seniors and children to have healthcare," Neely wrote, adding that she "abhors" raising money and also supports a Crawford-style cap on individual donations. "For them, this is an important election because they don't have confidence other candidates will focus on these priorities. They understand that in order to defend our shared beliefs in this election, I need help from friendships I've developed throughout the state."
-- Hank Sims
Sundberg and Spaghetti
The piquant aroma of fresh garlic bread and marinara greeted those who went to the Orick Community Center last Saturday to hear just what this Ryan Sundberg, candidate for Humboldt County Supervisor from the Fifth District, was all about. And while diners scarfed down cake and spaghetti, Sundberg, who speaks softy yet confidently, talked with them one by one, the same theme surfacing in each conversation. Jobs.
The topic touched home for many who were there, especially Orick residents who just recently lost their mill and survive, barely, on the whim of curious tourists. They were concerned over the lack of good-paying jobs and the notorious "brain drain" -- talented residents leaving for "greener" pastures -- and they were frustrated with the obstacles that blocked the way. Sundberg agreed.
"You either have to get lucky," Sundberg said of those wanting to stay in the county, "or you have to have a family member that has a business."
For Sundberg, jobs are a top priority, and he believes the county could host many businesses that pay well, including Internet-based entrepreneurial gigs or green-oriented core industries, if it weren't for three barriers: lack of broadband access in many areas of the county, an underutilized and expensive shipping infrastructure, and expensive ground transportation for goods.
"In my opinion, Humboldt County is not business-friendly right now," he said. "Businesses out there are scared to death about what could happen to Humboldt County."
It's not to say that Sundberg wants to open the floodgates of development without any concern about the consequences. But he does want growth. He wants local talent to be able to stay local. He wants to see broadband reach communities as far as Orleans and Hoopa. He wants there to be more affordable housing available to those who need it. And he believes in a balanced approach to addressing these issues, one that allows for growth but not at the expense of the environment.
"A steady amount of growth -- smart growth -- is fine by me," he said.
His pro-business-and-growth position on issues has earned him substantial financial backing from business bigwigs in the community. However, he asserted that he was nobody's lackey and is supported by a "broad spectrum" of the community, including environmentalists.
"If you only listen to one circle of people," he said, "you probably only get half the story."
As Sundberg made his rounds, a man feasting at one of tables called him over: "I want talk about the mill closing."
-- John Osborn