Local Politics

Saturday, May 15 2010 12:00 PM

32nd District race awash in controversy

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Drama has swirled around the 32nd Assembly District race for months, before the final slate of candidates was set.

Ken Mettler was an early candidate. When local psychologist Dean Haddock jumped in, Mettler friend and supporter Paul Stine filed claims Haddock broke county campaign spending laws, first with the Kern County District Attorney's office, then with a county campaign finance panel. He later pulled the complaint.

When Haddock dropped out of the race and was replaced by local businesswoman Shannon Grove, who shared Haddock's campaign consultant, Mark Abernathy, Mettler filed charges against Grove claiming she was not a legal resident of the 32nd District.

The Kern County DA's office has declined to file charges against Grove.

At the same time, reporters uncovered evidence Grove voted in the 32nd Assembly District in 2008 while living in the 30th. Grove, who'd remarried in 2007, said she didn't realize her husband's home was in a new district.

Just days later the Republican Assembly of Kern County filed a complaint against Stine with the Bakersfield Police Department claiming he embezzled thousands of dollars while group treasurer.

Stine, through his attorney, said he committed a "terrible mistake." Police have since submitted reports to the Kern County district attorney for possible charges.

A week later the RAKC governing board also levelled charges against Mettler, releasing documents that showed he spent hundreds of dollars to investigate votes by potential rival Zack Scrivner, a Bakersfield City Council member, and used group money to pay for a criminal background check of a man he kicked and punched during a Proposition 8 rally.

Mettler distanced himself from Stine and called the RAKC claims a political ploy by the opposing campaign. Police have since declined to bring charges against Mettler in the situation.

That's not all.

Leaked e-mails from Mettler's private accounts revealed inside details of his campaign strategy.

Mettler decried the release of e-mails as criminal computer hacking and said that some of the material had been altered.

But 32nd Assembly candidate Shannon Holloway, whose name will appear next to Grove and Mettler's on the Republican ballot in June, responded to e-mails about her by admitting on a radio show that Mettler had encouraged her to run and told her she would help his campaign.

It was apparently an attempt to confuse voters into voting for the wrong Shannon.

Mettler now admits he was out-of-line when he talked to Holloway about their campaigns. People were being recruited to run for the seat and he was thinking about strategy, he said.

"I made an error in judgment in the heat of battle," he said. "Never before. Never again. I will always take the high road."

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