Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

The Schizophrenic Second



As expected, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week appointed Stafford resident Johanna Rodoni to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. Rodoni takes the seat formerly occupied by her husband, the late Roger Rodoni, whose tragic and sudden death in an automobile accident late last month shot a hole through the county's heart (see "Roger Rodoni, 1940-2008," May 1). Schwarzenegger wasted no time in making the appointment, and this seems right — as we stated a couple of weeks ago, Johanna Rodoni is a very capable woman and there's no doubt she'll continue her husband's legacy on behalf of the people who voted for him four years ago. She takes office this Tuesday, and will serve at least until the end of this year, when her husband's term is up.

The question is what happens next. Rodoni was killed while he was in the middle of a reelection campaign, and because the accident happened so soon before the election his name will stay on the ballot. He'll have two challengers on the ballot — Clif Clendenen of Fortuna and Estelle Fennell of Redway. Both of them can be politically located somewhere to the left of Rodoni, and both signed up to challenge him because they believed he had been less than responsive to the needs of citizens of the Second District. Now they're in the uncomfortable position of running against a memory rather than a live, and therefore fallible, human being.

The state law that pertains to elections is minutely detailed, and can account for any number of situations involving the death of a candidate, depending on the office, the timing and the state of affairs that existed before the death. In the present case, the law is quite clear. The June election will go forward with Clendenen, Fennell and Roger Rodoni on the ballot. If Rodoni wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the governor will appoint someone to the position when the new supervisorial term begins next year. That someone would almost certainly be Johanna Rodoni. (Likewise, if Fennell or Clendenen wins more than 50 percent, they would win the seat outright. Given Rodoni's strong margins of victory in previous elections, as well as the fact that the two challengers will be splitting votes to some degree, this outcome seems unlikely.)

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in June, there will be a November runoff election between Fennell and Clendenen. This happens even if Rodoni finishes in first place but fails to achieve a majority. Since Clendenen and Fennell are both fairly strong candidates, there was at least a decent chance of this outcome before Rodoni's death. So it suddenly becomes absolutely imperative for Rodoni's supporters — who in the past have frequently found themselves on the small end of a 4-1 vote on the board — to win it all in June.

On Monday, Johanna Rodoni sent a letter to the press urging her husband's constituency to turn out at the polls and vote Rodoni. (See a copy of the letter at the North Coast Journal Blogthing — ncjournal.wordpress.com.) The Rodoni campaign is back in full swing, as are the campaigns of his challengers.

The Second District stretches from Fortuna down to Benbow, and stretches east along Highway 36 to the Trinity County line. It is a nominally Democratic district, though a large number of voters are unafilliated with a political party. But the district is sharply split, demographically. Around 70 percent is in the conservative north end, in Fortuna, Hydesville, Rio Dell and Scotia. A Democrat in this area doesn't necessarily line up with a Democrat in lefty Southern Humboldt, and Rodoni has easily won these areas in the past. And Rodoni has in the past won the support of many radicals in Southen Humboldt with his support of marijuana decriminalization.

On the other hand, it must be stated plainly that the vicissitudes of election law make a Rodoni defeat more possible than it had been. It's now two against one, with no possibility of a mano a mano contest in November. Much will depend on whether the memory of Rodoni, and the people at work on its behalf, can be gotten to the polls one more time.

Just as this paperwas going to press — too late for inclusion in the "No Confidence" story that appears elsewhere in this paper — we received a response to the faculty revolt against the administration of HSU President Rollin Richmond. In a letter to the Faculty Senate dated Sunday, May 11, Richmond agreed with the idea that "shared governance," a system that would ideally guarantee that faculty, staff, students and administrators would all have their say in the operations of the campus, was broken. He denied, however, that he was solely to blame, and cited the very "no confidence" movement itself as a prime piece of evidence.

"It seems to me that a failure of trust is at the basis of the dysfunction of shared governance at HSU that has persisted for many years," Richmond wrote. "[...] The actions of the Senate this year to survey faculty with a notion of identifying areas that might support a vote of no confidence in the President without attempting to determine if the concerns were legitimate is a violation of shared governance trust. ... I believe in shared governance and will work with the Senate to devise an agreed definition, but there must be honesty and willingness to assume accountability by all parties for any such agreement to be effective."

Richmond goes on to argue that he has worked with an all-campus budget committee to deal with very painful financial times at the university and the state of California at large, and has improved communication between campus stakeholders.

Perhaps somewhat ill-advisedly, he concludes his defense by quoting from Niccolo Machiavelli. "One should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer than to introduce a new system of things: for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old system as his enemies, and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new system," he writes.

Though more than a little self-congratulatory, this isn't as cringeworthy as it sounds. Borrowing from Machiavelli to construct your apologia may be a strict no-no when you have a popular audience; when you're talking to scholars, it's not nearly as bad. Still, one has to wonder how comforted the faculty will be to learn that Richmond keeps Old Nick on the bedstand.

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