Friday, October 5, 2012

Calaveras County Politics Reflect National Issues

People have written asking me why I don't write more about local politics. My answer is that what's happening across the country is what's happening here locally. Our local politics reflect national problems and trends. We all face the same problems.

Back in 1982, the former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill coined the phrase "All politics is local."

Today, the phrase is commonly used in U.S. politics to describe the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents.

We would hope that politicians would try to appeal to the simple everyday concerns of those who elect them into office. Those personal issues, rather than big intangible ideas, are often what voters care most about. And yes, that's just a fact of life.

Some say the concept is contrary to the notion that most people, who vote in local elections are casting votes to "send a message" to the highest levels. That isn't the case.

While it is true that "all politics is local," local elections are about local problems that we all share nationally. Usually these are problems such as high unemployment, high gas prices, increase in taxes, rising medical costs, and so on. They might be different in their severity locally, but we are all in the same boat across the nation.

National election are about the bigger picture that effects us locally. Policies on the national level by way of the EPA, the USDA, the Commerce Department, and so on, all effect us locally in that it may have everything to do with why we face the problems that we do.

In local elections, the idea that most people are somehow casting their votes to "send a message" to Washington is absurd. Most separate local elections from national and state elections.

Though maybe they should, most people will not vote for local politicians simply as a means to act on feelings about higher politicians such as concerns about our currents about getting Obama out of office.

Fact is that most people who vote, or debate issues, are focused on resolving their local problems. But there's the problem that many voters face, because in many cases the problems overlap. Local politics in many cases reflect national problems.

I live in Glencoe here in Calaveras County, California. As a matter of reference, it should be noted that Mark Twain set his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" here in this county.

The upcoming election for Calaveras County District 2 supervisor is as important as they come. This election reflects the choices that we have on a national level in so far as that we have a businessman versus a non-profit organization manager running for the position.

We also face the problems that face the nation. We have high unemployment, high gas prices, increased taxes, rising medical costs, and government intrusion into our lives, to name a few problems that we all share.

We are set to select between two people who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. It is important for Calaveras County that the right man be chosen.

For me, the right man is Bryce Randall.

Last Monday night, our District 2 supervisor candidates Bryce Randall and Chris Wright went head to head in an effort to talk directly to voters in a Question and Answer session.

A packed Mokelumne Hill Town Hall saw the pair debating the issues. Their approach to problems was noticeably different.

Of course, as in many counties, the number one issue is jobs and the economic development of our area.

The debate was hosted by the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce.

The differences were very apparent, but never more apparent than when one person in the audience asked a question about a proposed 4% increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax. It is a measure that could make a ballot appearance as early as next year.

The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is collected from hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and other lodging businesses on each room they rent.

Wright threw his wholehearted support for the TOT measure, which he said would give a revenue boost to budget-strained programs like the Calaveras County Library and the Humane Society.

Seemingly unconcerned about the burden that an additional tax would have on the business that has to pass along the tax increase, Wright said, "There’s been no record of (TOT increases) deterring tourists coming into your county. It’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned, and I hope everybody supports it.”

Randall urged a different approach, and explained that equal revenue gains could be had through cutting taxes and streamlining the county’s permitting process.

"It’s another tax," he said. "If we’re going to tax the hotels and stuff, let’s give the money back to them."

Here are most of the questions put to the two very different men. Notice the different answers. I can't help but question Wright's sincerity.

Question: What is the single most serious fiscal issue Calaveras County government will face in the next four years and how will you deal with it?

Bryce Randall:  "I believe the single most serious fiscal issue is local jobs. Not only is it the most serious issue for the next four years but it has been the issue for Calaveras County for at least the past decade. We need to adapt with our changing economy and take advantage of our strengths. We have to do more than say we are open for business, we have to prove it. Government should not be in the business of creating jobs but there to facilitate and encourage new business entrepreneurship."

Chris Wright:  "We must bring back jobs and build an economic base to serve the needs of our community. This can be done in a number of ways, from local food production to developing local industries. The CHIPS program provides a great example of how supervisorial and community efforts can lead to solid, lasting jobs and general economic growth. CHIPS is a program centered around West Point that provides forest jobs and promotes healthy public and private forests by clearing brush and harvesting smaller trees, then turning the harvested materials into commercial forest products. It was initially funded by a federal grant and is now being greatly supported by private contracts. In the future, CHIPS will produce more finished products in a plant that will be powered by a clean chips-burning generator. CHIPS is just one example of how we can build our own local economies."

Question: The 2011-2012 Grand Jury chastised some supervisors for “shouting at other board members and the public, refusing to abide structure … and making sarcastic, inappropriate remarks.” What should be done about this?

Bryce Randall: "The board members should act in a professional manner. Some of the board meetings I have attended over the past 10 months have been embarrassing. I believe in the ability of the public to censor board members on issues that affect them and our county. The board works for the citizens of the county and needs to be held accountable for their actions. They need to not respond in a negative manner but try to learn from the criticism."

Chris Wright: "Every supervisor should have the ability to separate emotion from logic and reason. If they can't do that, then they should not hold the title. Hostility has no place in this venue. Yes, we have problems and conflicts. These should be handled in a professional manner, focusing on the problems and the solutions. If we let hostility and emotion take hold, the whole system breaks down. Also, this is supposed to be a non-partisan position, yet we have influences in this county that want to bring partisan politics into the county chambers."

Question: The Grand Jury also said county employees complained of “hostile conditions as a result of being frequently pressured by current and former supervisors.” What should be done about this?

Bryce Randall:  "Board members should work through department heads and not put pressure on individual staff employees. They should strive to have a working relationship with staff and have a common goal of serving the county."

Chris Wright:  "Again, we all need to work with each other. That means we must all have the ability to separate emotion from logic and reason. We must all remember that our county employees make our county work. Pressure from current and former county supervisors is unacceptable. Our employees are providing public services while supporting themselves and their families. They are entitled to a workplace that does not give them undue pressure."

Question: If you could reform one aspect of county government, what would you change?

Bryce Randall:  "I would like to see a permanent agenda item where the board would talk about the economic and business climate of the county. Each member could discuss things going on in their district and ways the board as a whole could help to encourage and facilitate job creation. We have seen how a stagnant economy affects our crime rates, property values, school budgets and much more."

Chris Wright:  "I would work to make county government more efficient while growing revenue through economic development. If we create more jobs that will employ current residents and attract more employed residents to the county, we will be more able to fund essential services like public safety and road maintenance. We have many challenges, and we need to focus on long-term solutions to our local economy."

Question: Calaveras County taxpayers have a major investment in a new jail that because of staffing issues and costs will accommodate only half of its inmate capacity. Can supervisors do anything to improve this situation?

Bryce Randall:  "Let's take the approach any business would take and try to find ways to use the extra capacity to generate income. Some jails with extra capacity rent out extra space to jails that are over populated. Some of those jails rent the space to privatized inmate-handling companies in order to eliminate increasing the load on their own departments. We can find solutions if we are willing to be innovative."

Chris Wright:  "Dynamic economic development and a general economic recovery eventually will provide resources for such essential activities as jail staffing. As we have seen in the past, a jail that is too small leads to extra costs of housing prisoners elsewhere and criminals being released prematurely. We need to be tough on crime. At the same time, we need to look at the root of crime in our county and implement solutions through sound education and outreach programs."

Question: What are the top three needs in the district you hope to serve?

Bryce Randall:  "Jobs, education and crime. I believe they are all tied back into the creation of jobs. Without jobs our young families move out of the area in search of income which in turn has an effect on our local school’s enrollment and the ability of the school board to justify keeping them open. With the loss of jobs, property values decline taking with it the property tax revenue that in part is used to fund our schools and the Sheriff’s Department."

Chris Wright:  "The top three needs in District 2 are increasing jobs, keeping our schools open and fighting crime. We need to rebuild a strong, solid, self-sufficient local economy through added jobs and new local industries (including cottage industries); we must attract new residents to our communities to help grow our local economies and keep our rural schools open; and we must reduce crime so that residents never feel uneasy about what might be lurking out there."

Question: What can supervisors do to create more and better job opportunities in Calaveras?

Bryce Randall:  "We have to create a focus within the county on job creation. Each new business will have different circumstances and needs that should take precedence when the need arises. We can talk all we want about inviting in new business, but until we prove it through our hard work and innovation no one will listen. Let's get the general plan done and let construction get started.

Chris Wright:  "A dynamic, resourceful and innovative supervisor can play a key role in bringing employers and Calaveras employees together for everyone's benefit. For instance, Supervisor Steve Wilensky is facilitating negotiations between local machinists and a major aerospace company for contracts to produce maintenance tools for worldwide commercial airlines and government defense contractors. As supervisor, I shall capitalize on the strengths and skills of our local residents to attract other such businesses."

Question: What current county supervisor’s views do you most admire and why?

Bryce Randall:  "They each have qualities and views that I admire. I have great respect for Supervisor Wilensky for how hard he works for District 2 and his ability to bring people together; Supervisor Callaway for her strong defense of her district priorities; Supervisor Tofanelli for his current leadership of the board and desire to make it work; Supervisor Tryon for his length of service to our county, his record thus far has been enough to keep him in office for 28 years; and Supervisor Spellman for his desire to protect constitutional rights and for taking a stance on budget issues."

Chris Wright:  "I am running because Steve Wilensky is not running for re-election and his legacy must be preserved and built upon. Steve Wilensky has poured immeasurable time and energy into District 2 and Calaveras County as a whole. Calaveras County is a much better place today than it was eight years ago. Much of this is due to Steve's unrelenting focus, effort and commitment to making this county a better place for residents and visitors. Steve has never taken a partisan approach to anything he has done. He has always had the residents' needs in mind, first and foremost, above any political or personal ambitions. This is the philosophy I intend to carry forward in my time as supervisor. I am proud to be endorsed by Steve Wilensky."

Though Steve Wilensky is a very personable guy, that last item may get Chris Wright in trouble with conservative voters who have not seen eye to eye with Steve Wilensky in the past.

So who are they, and what makes them different?

Chris Wright, 40 years of age, is a non-profit manager. He is a former community planner and now executive director at the Foothill Conservancy which is a Environmentalist Group with a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization status.

Chris and his wife Ellen Davison and their 2 children live in Rail Road Flat.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Rail Road Flat, California. Chris has a BA in Natural Resource Communication from Humboldt State University.

He has worked for government and non-profit organization in that his professional and volunteer activities include being a Mendocino County planner, member of Resource Advisory Council in Amador County, board member of Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions (CHIPS), executive director for Foothill Conservancy, and as a member of Calaveras Planning Coalition.

In contrast:

Bryce Randall, 54 years of age, is a former computer software engineer and a small business owner.

Bryce and his wife Karin, and their 4 children, live in West Point. They own the West Point Trading Post, a local convenience store.

Randall says, "I decided to run (for supervisor) after seeing so many of my customers struggling to find work and feed their families".

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, he was raised in Rupert, Idaho. Bryce has a BS in Design Engineering Technology from BYU.

He worked in the Computer Chip industry for 27 years as a Mask Design Engineer doing the physical design of computer chips.

He says, "As a contributing Manager, I helped build two start-up companies into successful world leaders. While at these companies, I assembled and managed two world class design teams. At Nvidia, I contributed to the graphic processor physical designs for both the Xbox and Play Station 3."

Why I support Bryce Randall.

The reasons that I support Bryce Randall are simple really. I like the idea of putting business people in positions of bringing businesses to our area and making private sector jobs. They have the experience to do what they say they want to do.

I don't like the idea of asking a plumber with no experience as an electrician to wire my home for me and make sure it doesn't burn down when I flip a switch.

I admire anyone who can work as hard as Bryce has to make himself a success. In an area hard hit by unemployment, we need people who know how to built businesses that produce something and employ people in the process.

We do not need someone with the mentality of running a non-profit organization in the job of helping to make private sector jobs. They just don't understand how its done.

Another factor why I'm voting for Bryce Randall is that Chris Wright works for the same sort of organization that is believed to have caused much of the unemployment here. Many here blame Environmentalist Groups for attacking logging, agriculture, mining, and subsequently losing needed jobs.

Why I will not vote for Chris Wright.

First, I said that I can't help but question Wright's sincerity. To me, his answers seem misleading and rehearsed rather than sincere.

Second, to my knowledge he has never held a job in the private sector. He has been employed by non-profit organizations only. And yes, besides not being a people friendly organization, he is in fact the Executive Director of the Environmentalist Group Foothill Conservancy - which is a non-profit organization.

And yes, this association with that extremist Environmentalist Group goes to the heart of why I'm not voting for him.

Since his organization works against the rights of property owners in Calaveras and our neighbor Amador County, his association with them tells me that his agenda might be their agenda. And yes, I can't help but question his motives to run for county supervisor.

His in-depth involvement with that group goes to the heart of why I will not vote for Chris Wright. 

Property rights are an important issue here. And yes, the organization that Chris Wright and some of his friends support want to take over our property and regulate it through usage legislation and ordinances.

His organization, after all he manages it as its executive director, wants to regulate how we use our own property in excess of zoning restrictions. They want to impose their agenda into our county's general plan for zoning and such, they will try to tell property owners what they can and can't do on our own property.

The county general plan is the constitution of a county that defines how and where it will develop, and not develop, over the next 20 years.

This group is working to impose their radical environmentalist ideals on both Calaveras and our neighbor Amador County. Take a look at their agenda as put forth in the Foothill Conservancy's publication Tools for Protecting Open Space in Amador County.

In the section on Zoning, on page 9 of 20, there is a sub-section entitled "Clustering"

It states "Clustering is a term used for grouping homes and other permitted development in close proximity rather than scattered across a piece of property, usually to retain open space. There is no overall density increase.

For example, rather than creating four 5-acre lots on a 20-acre parcel, the four homes would be clustered together on the least environmentally sensitive portion of the property. Each home could include a 5-acre lot with building permitted only in the defined cluster area or alternately, a small lot with a remaining commonly owned open space.

Mandatory clustering of development in environmentally sensitive areas is a common tool. Most zoning ordinances allow clustering of farm homes on agricultural lands so that farmers and ranching families are not required to scatter family homes based on the minimum parcel size (often 40- to 160+-acre minimums). However, clustering can also be required of residential, commercial, and recreational developments. Development on certain parcel sizes can be required to cluster or specific areas can be selected and a zoning map, planned development-type overlay used. Examples of good clustering ordinances are numerous.

Amador County does not require clustering in any residential zones, though it would be allowed if requested. It would be appropriate to encourage or require clustering in any locations with sensitive features which are zoned for residential or other suburban or urban uses."

That is an extremist agenda, pure and simple. And yes, that is why I will not support nor vote for Chris Wright. He works for this group!

He is their Executive Director. As such, I would think he has to approve their organizational philosophy, content, and language expressed in their publications.

This stinks of big government intrusion that we don't want nor need in Calaveras County.

Our property is our property and we don't need a handful of environmentalist telling us what we can and can't do on our own property. We understand the law and zoning restrictions. We do not need an Environmentalist Group injecting their ideology into our county through legislation or agent.

This is not just a local problem, it is a national problem. And yes, this sort of thing needs to come out and looked at for what it is - government over-reaching into the lives of its citizens for no reason.

It needs to be nipped in the bud immediately!

Wright's participation in, and support for, such an organization as the Foothill Conservancy tells me that Chris Wright is not what Calaveras County needs -  now or ever.

Tom Correa

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