Local News

Friday, Dec 28 2012 04:12 PM

Politics 2012: Board of Supervisors gets extreme makeover, pot wars brew, voters ditch parties

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Leticia Perez was recently sworn in as 5th District Kern County supervisor by state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter.

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    Felix Adamo/ The Californian Rudy Salas has plenty of support in the neighborhood he grew up in south of the fairgrounds.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    KBAK Channel 29 reporter Jose Gaspar, left, interviews Assembly candidate Rudy Salas on election night while Salas is surrounded by supporters at the labor hall.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    In this file photo from the 2012 campaign, no party preference candidate and challenger Terry Phillips gestures while making a point in a debate with incumbent Congressman Kevin McCarthy at KGET Channel 17 studios.

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BY JAMES BURGER AND ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL, Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Radical change came to the Kern County Board of Supervisors, new pot laws came and went — a couple times — and voters continued showing their disillusionment with the major parties.

Those were some of the big political storylines locally in 2012.

SUPERVISOR SHUFFLE

The retirement of the Kern County Board of Supervisors' two most senior members, and the defeat of Supervisor Karen Goh by challenger Leticia Perez, has set up the board for huge change in tone and practices.

Three of the five members will be freshmen getting offices up and running, establishing policy stances, learning the ins and outs of the county's complicated bureaucracies and bonding with each other and the two veteran supervisors.

The last time the board saw three freshmen take seats -- a voting majority -- was in 1917.

Longtime Bakersfield City Councilman David Couch defeated oil industry attorney Harley Pinson handily in June to succeed retiring Supervisor Ray Watson.

Perez, aided by state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, ousted Goh in the three-person primary in June.

And retired Navy aviator Mick Gleason, a political newbie backed by GOP consultant Mark Abernathy, beat veteran Republican lawmaker Roy Ashburn.

Political observers say it will be hard to predict how the five board members will mesh and where they will take the county.

 

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

The June primary brought a partial defeat to a coalition of medical marijuana cooperatives and collectives that through signature-gathering, stopped Kern County supervisors from banning their existence in unincorporated areas altogether.

But then supervisors outflanked the coalition by repealing the ban and sending to the voters an ordinance severely limiting where storefront shops for the associations could be located.

Voters passed it in June.

A large number of the shops closed or moved to locations inside the limits of cities -- where the county rule couldn't touch them. Lawyers sued the county to block the rule from taking effect, a case that is still pending.

Still, supervisors, late in the year, started punishing some of the storefront operators that remained with $50,000 fines and ongoing penalties of $1,000 for every day they stayed open. Supervisors also continued to fine people who allowed the cultivation of more than 12 marijuana plants on a parcel of property under another county ordinance.

 

SALAS VS. RIOS

From attack ads to the disclosure of illegal entry into the United States, the race for the 32nd Assembly District seat provided plenty of action to follow.

Democrat Rudy Salas unleashed a series of radio spots questioning Republican Pedro Rios' patriotism and, separately, his judgment based on a 1994 misdemeanor Rios pleaded guilty to after selling alcohol to an underage patron in the convenience store where he worked. Later, Rios' illegal entry into the United States when he was a boy became a campaign issue and given that background, so did his opposition to the DREAM Act, generally a policy to allow young people who came to the country illegally and have stayed out of trouble to apply for legal residency status.

Rios called Salas' attacks "bogus," but in the end, Salas won a close race and added to the Democrats' supermajority in the Assembly.

 

PARTY AFFILIATION

Republican voters still outnumber Democrats in Kern County, but a recent trend in voter registration became even more evident this time around: the rise in those registering without a party affiliation.

In the last four years, voters registering as "no party preference" rose in number by almost 13,600 in Kern County, twice the increase in Democratic voter registration. Republican registration actually fell in Kern County, by about 2,500.

Newsman Terry Phillips aimed to capitalize on that trend by running without a party affiliation against three-term Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy. Phillips was vastly outspent, but he did get about 27 percent of the vote, nearly as much as McCarthy's 2006 Democratic opponent in his first congressional race. And the growth of no-party preference voters is happening statewide, rising from 14 percent of California's registered voters in 2000 to 21 percent in 2012.

 

ONLINE REGISTRATION

Online registration came to California in October, when the California secretary of state's office launched Web-enabled registration just a month and a half before the deadline to register for the November election. But in that short time, nearly 1 million people registered, 60 percent of them online, the other 40 percent on paper. Online registration may even have boosted voter turnout. By one count, more than 780,000 Californians used the online voter registration system, the majority of them registering for the first time.

 

NEW COUNCIL MEMBERS

The Bakersfield City Council saw some changes in 2012 as longtime members Sue Benham of Ward 2 and Couch of Ward 4 stepped down or moved on.

Couch was replaced by civil engineer Bob Smith, who won handily after his main opponent, oil industry lawyer Harley Pinson, dropped out of the race. The contest between restaurant owner Terry Maxwell and city Planning Commissioner Elliott Kirschenmann was more competitive, though Maxwell won in the end, his second attempt at the seat.

 

SETTING RECORDS

Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall easily won reelection to his fourth term, running unopposed. That makes him the longest-serving mayor in the city's history.

Ward 6 City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan also ran unopposed and won her fifth full term. If she serves all four years, that will make her the longest-serving council member in Bakersfield's history.

 

WARD 1

Still unresolved is how the city council will fill the Ward 1 seat now that Salas has left for the state Assembly. A special election wouldn't be cheap, but if Ward 1 voters gather enough signatures, the city will be required to hold a special election to fill the seat for the rest of Salas' term, which would've ended in 2014. Efforts have already started to get the 1,220 needed signatures. And if there is an election, the field could be crowded. At last count, seven Ward 1 residents said they would be interested in running for the seat.

-- Staff writers Antonie Boessenkool and James Burger

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