Four-term incumbent Bruce Gibson tussles with challenger Bruce Jones in race for a swing seat on the SLO County Board of Supervisors



Jeers rained down on 2nd District San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson at a Sept. 29 candidate forum in Atascadero.


While answering a moderator's question about election integrity, Gibson scolded his Nov. 8 opponent, Bruce Jones, for "enabling" election conspiracy theories by endorsing, in Jones' words, "paper ballots and voter ID verification" as solutions to voter fraud concerns.

"What we hear from Mr. Jones is right out of the songbook of the national Republican Party," Gibson said, "trying to sow doubt, sow uncertainty about the integrity of our elections. These 'concerns' people have voiced to us are completely vague, completely unsubstantiated. We use paper ballots right now, folks. And voter ID is a classic voter suppression technique."

That's when shouts and groans erupted from the bleachers of the Atascadero High School gym, causing Gibson to pause. It wouldn't be the only time that night that the progressive incumbent would elicit such a response from Jones' conservative supporters, and the outbursts underscored the tension that's boiling beneath the surface of a pivotal county race.


The "Battle of the Bruces," as many have dubbed it, pits two very different candidates against one another for a swing seat on a divided Board of Supervisors: one is a 16-year elected official from Cayucos, and the other is a retired doctor from Templeton, whose quiet demeanor and pad of speaking notes he refers to hint at an admitted lack of political experience.

"I'm not a career politician; I'm a retired surgeon," Jones said at the Atascadero forum.

If it were any previous election year, these two Bruces would not be squaring off. Templeton, historically, was not part of the 2nd District, which used to span the North Coast from Los Osos to the Monterey County line. That is, until last year's redistricting.

Redrawn county districts have shifted the 2nd District boundaries "over the grade" into the city of Atascadero and the communities of Templeton, San Miguel, and Lake Nacimiento, dropping Los Osos and Morro Bay while keeping Cayucos, Harmony, Cambria, and San Simeon.

The resulting "purple" district has the Bruces and their supporters vying for not just a seat, but political control of the Board of Supervisors. A 3-2 Republican majority has governed the board and steered county policy since 2016, but change is in the air after Jimmy Paulding's victory over incumbent 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton earlier this year.

"There is an absolute clear difference between myself and Mr. Jones," Gibson told New Times. "Jones is aligned with our old board majority and is just not the supervisor the county needs at this time. With my reelection, the majority of the board shifts to three supervisors who actually want to solve problems and get stuff done."

Different people, different ideas

Jones, a retired orthopedic surgeon, said he's quite comfortable with his lack of political experience in SLO County.

While he moved to Templeton from Chesterfield, Missouri, just five years ago, he noted that Gibson has had four four-year terms to solve county issues like homelessness, water security, and affordable housing.

"If Mr. Gibson's priority is homelessness, he was one of the principal authors of the '10-Year Plan to End Homelessness' ... written and prepared in October 2008. It doesn't look like his 10-year plan worked very well," Jones said during the Atascadero forum.

In making the case for his candidacy, Jones highlighted his experience serving on the board of St. Luke's Hospital in Missouri, which has "a larger budget than our county government," he said. He also spent three years on the Templeton Area Advisory Group (TAAG), a board that gives recommendations to SLO County on projects affecting Templeton.

"Largely my decision to run [for supervisor] had to do with my feeling that when land-use applications were appealed to the Board of Supervisors from TAAG, Gibson was not sensitive to the local issues in the North County," Jones told New Times.

Temperament is one issue that Jones highlights about Gibson, and says that he'll be "more polite and won't belittle people." Gibson, meanwhile, said that "civil discourse is more than just speaking politely and calmly."

"Being civil is also to make our decisions based on facts. It's also to engage each other in substantive conversations on the merits of the issues," Gibson said at the forum.

On those issues, the candidates differ in their priorities and ideas. Gibson named homelessness as his top priority, while Jones pointed to "streamlining and improving" the SLO County Planning and Building Department as his.

"Our failure to make this system better, faster, and cheaper has added to the cost and frustration of the folks who are trying to supply housing," Jones told New Times about building applications.

Gibson said he was "astounded" by Jones' emphasis on the Planning and Building Department and claimed it showed that he's out of touch.

"Has he not driven down our streets and seen homeless encampments? Has he not looked into our reservoirs to see how low they are? Does he not understand what the cost of housing is?" Gibson asked New Times.

Jones added that public safety is another top issue for him. He said he supports Diablo Canyon's continued operation, approves of offshore wind energy but "prefers to see it on land," hopes to lower fees, and wants to bring more water to North County via recycled water projects and retention basins, while also promoting irrigation technology that can reduce agriculture's water use.

Gibson said that he strongly supports offshore wind energy, is optimistic about the county's new five-year plan for homelessness, and is excited to take on a leadership role over the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin ("the posterchild of a basin in crisis," he said). He emphasized that he has solid relationships with local and state officials, which can help SLO County make progress on all those fronts.

Battle lines drawn

Neither Gibson nor Jones wanted to talk much about the larger political stakes of their race.

"I think the board's become too partisan," Jones said.

"People want to put labels on everything," added Gibson. "Liberal vs. conservative is a one-dimensional line that isn't useful at a local level."

But a look at their campaigns—and where their support is coming from—lays bare where the lines are.

In one of Gibson's TV ads, it freeze-frames a photograph of Jones seated in a room containing a large cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. A nearby flyer reads: "Ultra MAGA."

"This man from Missouri is running for SLO County supervisor," the ad narrator says. "Ultra MAGA? Seriously? Haven't we had enough of this foolishness?"

Similarly, a radio ad for Jones ponders: "Why is Bruce Gibson the worst Bruce for Board of Supervisors District 2?"

"His values are way too progressive," it answers. "He's soft on crime, parental rights, clean and abundant energy, and homelessness. At the same time, Gibson is all for raising your taxes."

Both local political parties are investing their resources into the race. The Republican Party of SLO County endorsed Jones, hosts him at its Atascadero office for weekly office hours, and asked voters in a recent Facebook post to "stop the Progressive Socialist takeover of our county government."

The Democrats of SLO Club, on the other hand, is Gibson's top donor, contributing $24,685 to his campaign, which is just shy of the maximum amount allowed in the county.

Jones has earned endorsements from local Republican officials like District Attorney Dan Dow, state Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, and SLO County 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold and 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, while Gibson has the support of U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, and more than a dozen local city council members.

Gibson holds the fundraising lead on Jones, having raised $405,934 compared to Jones' $279,573 as of Oct. 7.

With ballots starting to appear in voters' mailboxes, Gibson promised that if he can defend his seat, the Board of Supervisors will "go back to making decisions based on facts and govern in a way that's to benefit all residents of this county, not to narrow ideological interests."

Jones also noted that he's a "reasonable" person who can work with and will listen to anyone.

"JFK said—and I wish I could get the quote right—that there's not a Republican solution or a Democratic solution, there's an American solution," Jones said. "To translate that into our county, we have to look at each issue in as much of a nonpartisan way as possible. And hopefully I can bring that." Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at [email protected].


Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment