A third race, for the 5th District, remained tight as of press time, but with incumbent Jim Patterson ahead by 240 votes it appeared that the board would not only have new faces but a new direction, with at least three of the five supervisors dedicated to smart-growth principles.
If the vote tally wasn’t official, it was official enough for celebrations at Patterson’s election-night party, where supporters and environmentalists were toasting a return to a “progressive agenda” on the board.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
In all, more than $1.2 million was raised during the races, led by Patterson’s opponent Debbie Arnold, who harvested a quarter million dollars, largely from ranching and development interests, in her bid. Voter turnout was low, about 43 percent, according to County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.
As of press time, these were the latest figures available from the County Clerk-Recorder’s office, with all precincts reporting but 9,856 late mail-in ballots and provisional ballots remaining to be counted.
• County Supervisor, 1st District: Mecham won 64 percent of the vote over Ovitt’s 35 percent.
• County Supervisor, 3rd District: Hill garnered almost 59 percent of the vote to Lenthall’s 41 percent.
• County Supervisor, 5th District: Patterson had 51 percent of the vote to Arnold’s 49 percent. In raw votes, Patterson won 5,042 to Debbie Arnold’s 4802. That left a 240-vote majority. There remained, however, 1,939 ballots from the district left to be counted from the mail-in and provisional ballots, but Arnold would have to win a solid majority—about 57 percent—of those to overcome Patterson’s lead.
In other races on the ballot around the county:
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
• Pismo Beach will see a higher city sales tax after voters approved a half-cent hike to 7.75 percent under Measure C, which passed with 56 percent of the vote. A similar effort failed in 2006.
• In Morro Bay, George Leage earned enough votes to challenge Mayor Janice Peters for her job in a Nov. 4 election. League won 36 percent of the vote, to Peters’ 30 percent, but because he didn’t win more than 50 percent, it will go to a runoff. Similarly, four candidates for Morro Bay City Council will compete for two spots. Carla Borchard, Noah Smukler, Bill Peirce, and Roger Ewing will compete. Borchard and Smukler were the top vote-getters, with 23 percent and 20 percent of the vote, respectively.
• County voters followed statewide patterns in their response to two propositions that were ostensibly aimed at limiting the right of local governments to seize land from private property owners. They voted down Proposition 98 by 53 percent but approved Proposition 99, a more narrowly targeted version, by 65 percent.
These were the scenes as they played out at the campaign parties on election eve:
Ovitt seemed perfectly at home tucked away among a small crowd of cowboy-hat-clad folks in a musty room behind the Cattlemen's Lounge at the Paso Robles Inn. Watching his future unfold on a giant projector screen, Ovitt greeted his supporters as they arrived at his election party, each with a kind word and friendly handshake for the incumbent San Luis Obispo County Supervisor.
At 8:30 p.m., however, prospects were already looking grim for his return to the board for a sixth term, and the group was bashfully aware of that. Running for re-election against Paso Robles Mayor Mecham in a race for the 1st District, Ovitt was already behind by nearly 30 percent. Surprised and disappointed, Ovitt was nonetheless congenial, and not without a bit of hope that things might turn around.
“You always expect to win,” he said. “You work to win.”
With the possibility of retirement nearing by the moment, however, Ovitt was beginning to think about plans for both himself and the Board of Supervisors. His retirement, he said, will include some travel and “whatever else I want to do!” He won't relinquish his position on the board for another six months, though, and Ovitt says he’s got plenty to do in that time. Getting the budget together for Mecham is a priority, he said: “He's gonna have it rough by the way these votes are going ... I think he's gonna end up with Adam Hill and the rest of ’em!”
If you live in Paso Robles but weren't in the ballroom above McLintocks on election night, consider yourself out of the loop. That place was hopping! Men and women of all ages and even a few children talked and laughed all night to the sounds of a funky live band and the sight of a projector screen showing promising results for the 1st District County Supervisor candidate. Early in the night, Mecham was looking like a winner, and his supporters weren't holding back on their victory dance.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Mecham, absent from the festivities until after 9 p.m. because of a Paso Robles City Council meeting, was greeted upon arrival by a cheering crowd eager to congratulate its hero. He made the rounds, shaking hands with every supporter in reach and offering words of thanks. Balloons filled the air and wine flowed freely, as did kind commentary on Mecham.
"He's a great guy. He's got that special thing," said longtime supporter Dan Burrell.
Mecham, all smiles and charisma, said that he's ready for a place on the board. He said he has big plans for his district, and looks forward to taking over for Ovitt in about six months.
"Ovitt has done some great things," he said. "I'm just hoping to take it to the next level."
Die-hard Jerry Lenthall supporters gathered around a black laptop computer most of the night, unrelentingly optimistic, waiting for an 11th hour miracle at the upstairs balcony of Mother’s Tavern. Lenthall’s large stature was amplified in the posh deck of the bar as he moved between clusters of supporters, telling stories and cracking jokes at his own apparent firing.
Slacks and Wranglers mingled at the polished bar, with their wearers forming and re-forming tight clusters, gripping light beers in their left hands and shaking hands with their rights. After securing a drink from the downstairs bar I was promptly “pinned” by one of Lenthall’s biggest fans, who was quick to hand out advice for living in America: To be born into freedom is an accident; to live in freedom is a privilege; to die in freedom is a responsibility.
“Obama won’t wear a flag on his lapel,” he said, while pinning one to mine.
Lenthall was stoic and matter-of-fact about Hill’s lead, which started out more than 10 points ahead of Lenthall when the polls closed at 8. The incumbent lamented over the handful of projects and developments he helped put into motion over the last three-and-a-half years, projects he wouldn’t see to fruition. He specifically mentioned the completion of the county’s airport expansion project and the Bob Jones bike trail.
Supporters—including Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, who made an early evening appearance—stayed hopeful, but as Hill’s margin climbed past 15 points and the results became more concrete, the party-goers trickled out onto Higuera Street. By 9:30, the Lenthall camp was disbanding, exchanging shrugs and glances that seemed to say, “Well, we tried!”
Republican congressional nominee Matt Kokkonen arrived late and announced that he was winning in the race against himself.
By 10:30, the DJ was spinning Tina Turner downstairs, and Lenthall was heading for the doors. He left just as Turner asked, “What’s love got to do with it?”
Adam Hill’s cramped office and courtyard were stuffed with concerned Birkenstock-wearing citizens filling their faces with sushi, smelly cheeses, and organic cookies, and swilling micro-brewed beers and local wines when I arrived. By 8:50 p.m., Hill already had a healthy 10-point lead over incumbent Jerry Lenthall. A small golden retriever named Sandy milled about the crowd, looking hungrily at all the bare, sandal-clad ankles. I was as sober as a $20-a-trick hooker at midnight, so I headed straight for the buffet and helped myself to a beer.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
It was 9:07 p.m. when Hill arrived to a boisterous reception. By then, 28 percent of precincts gave him a 14-point lead. The two-piece band in the courtyard struck up a bass-heavy tune, and Hill took his wife Ginny on an awkward spin across the dance floor before wending his way through the crowd amid cheers, handshakes, and back pats.
As he made his way past me, I yelled out a clichéd question, loaded up to make a politician squirm. He smiled one of those special political smiles where daggers fly right into your special interests. The crowd pressed in on me. It was so packed I felt like a silverfish trying to escape from between sheaves of propaganda stuffed into Karl Rove’s bag of dirty tricks.
A cry rang from the back of the office. With 48 percent reporting, Hill’s lead remained a now impenetrable 17 percent. Dressed in his professorial tweed sport coat replete with elbow patches, dark slacks, and an elegant environmentally sensitive green dress shirt, Hill got within shouting distance of my next question: “Adam, why no flag pin?” He shot a glance down at his “I Voted” sticker and said, “That’s a flag.” Patriot? You decide.
By 9:52 p.m., his victory ostensibly sewn up, Hill made his way to the microphone and launched into a typical political acceptance speech, expressing cautious optimism about his impending win before thanking a long list of supporters beginning with the voters of District 3 and ending with possibly Shiva, the Hindu destroyer god, or maybe the band—I can’t quite remember because Hill’s victory party had a pretty well-stocked bar.
In the inner sanctum of the county clerk’s office in SLO, incumbent Supervisor Jim Patterson looked a bit crestfallen as he focused on the glowing computer screen displaying the first vote-by-mail tallies from the 5th District. Four years ago, he was ahead at that point, but this time challenger Debbie Arnold had a lead of 124 votes.
His tally was inching ahead, though, by the time he reached the crowded celebration at his campaign headquarters in an Atascadero strip mall, sandwiched between Uncle Ed’s Outfitters (“hand guns, long guns, ammo”) and Fast Fast Cash.
Huge maps of his sprawling district’s precincts were taped on the walls, next to a poster of trees. Patterson’s supporters—local activists, environmentalists, community leaders including Atascadero Mayor Mike Brennler, 1st District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, former 5th District supervisor David Blakely, former SLO city councilmember John Ewan—munched on crunchy salads and California rolls, staring anxiously at the results on the clerk-recorder’s web page projected on one wall. A container of chocolate-covered espresso beans—identified by his tireless supporters as the campaign’s “secret weapon”—was nearly empty.
For more than an hour, no new tallies were posted, and the atmosphere grew increasingly tense. But then the news came in that Adam Hill had already delivered his victory speech, and the crowd erupted into applause.
Just before 11 p.m., someone figured out how to access the latest results from the county website, and cheers and shrieks of delight rang out. Patterson was holding with 51.5 percent of the vote from what he called the “schizophrenic” district that includes downtown SLO and Cal Poly along with Atascadero and outlying rural areas.
“I was a little worried tonight,” Patterson told the group, looking distinctly relieved. He talked about “those mean, nasty ads” and a “campaign of misinformation and distortion,” adding, “I’m so proud of the voters in District Five because they didn’t succumb to the campaign that raised almost $300,000.”
Win or lose, implementing campaign finance reform is a top priority, he noted, to hearty applause.
“The kind of dirty tricks, the B.S., the money—we need to overcome that,” he said.
The air was charged with excitement as Patterson said, “For the first time in a dozen years, we can move a progressive agenda that considers the future of San Luis Obispo County. We do this because of you, and because of this place we love.”
Planning Commissioner Sarah Christie bubbled with joy, telling New Times, “It’s been 10 years of slogging through the fire swamp—finally coming out the other end to a long cool drink of water.”
Never was heard a discouraging word from Debbie Arnold’s faithful supporters all night, though their favorite trailed by a nose in a real horse race too close to call by 11 p.m. as they made tracks for home, clearly home on the range, from her campaign reception in what had been the Atascadero office of a land title company.
The men wore Stetsons, they wore Wranglers, they wore boots, they wore plaid prairie shirts with pearl-finished snaps; her strapping son-in-law even wore the gleaming champion buckle he won for double mugging at the rodeo two weeks earlier, where in 36 seconds he’d pinned a steer to the ground.
Arnold circulated among the crowd of 60 or so with such grace and warmth that her strident fliers that insinuated Patterson is a clandestine Green conspiring to build dope dispensaries seemed wildly incongruous with the woman herself. Were they penned by her young campaign manager Hans Porschman? He’s a Poly graduate student who was named in 2006 as the best field recruiter nationally for college Republicans. A highlight of the night was a fantastic Merlot from Pozo Valley winery, the Arnold family label, poured liberally.
One woman confided when results showed that Adam Hill defeated Jerry Lenthall: “If Debbie loses, we’re in real trouble.” I would like to know who baked the red, white, and blue cupcakes the uniformed Boy Scout was devouring.
For more information about the June 3 primary election results in California, visit the California Secretary of State website at www.sos.ca.gov.
SLO County 1st District Superior
Frank Mecham 64.3 percent
Harry Ovitt 35.3 percent
SLO County 3rd District Supervisor
Adam Hill 58.5 percent
Jerry Lenthall 41.3 percent
SLO County 5th District Supervisors
Jim Patterson 51.1 percent
Debbie Arnold 48.7 percent
Contact New Times staffers via Editor Ed Connolly at firstname.lastname@example.org.