MATTHEW IN THE MIDDLE: The Triumph of the Middle

Matthew Owen / Tuesday, July 23, 2013 @ 8:21 a.m. / In the Middle , Op-Ed

There is an old saying in Eureka politics.  If I look at the mountains, I’ve got Fortuna on my right and Arcata on my left with Eureka in the middle, which is fairly accurate.  Fortuna is more conservative, while Arcata is more liberal and Eureka is a mixed bag of both.

There has been a cataclysmic shift here on our local politics over the past decade. First to one extreme and now back to the center.

Owen

It all began in 1985 with Charles Huritz, CEO of MAXXAM’s takeover of Pacific Lumber that started the Redwood Wars, the battle over Headwaters Forest that changed our local political scene and attracted environmental extremists to Humboldt County.

The environmental extremists got smart.  First they got organized. Then they got political. Then they got power.  Power is not about writing a Letter to the Editor or holding up a protest sign outside the County Courthouse. Power is about running for an elected office — and winning — so your vote shapes strategy.

1999 was the beginning of the “progressive” movement in Humboldt.  That year Wal-Mart spent over $250,000 on Measure J to change the zoning of the Eureka Balloon Track and failed by almost a 2-1 margin.

Politics at the local level used to be fairly tame.  My wife, Virginia Bass, told me when she first ran for office back in 2000, she shook hands with her opponent Peter La Vallee and said, “May the best candidate win.”  They both went out and put up yard signs, knocked on some doors, ran a couple of radio ads and then on election night, La Vallee congratulated Virginia on winning the Eureka City Council seat.

That all changed in 2002 when Peter LaVallee ran for Eureka Mayor and defeated Cherie Arkley by a mere 42 votes. Note that Jack McKellar pulled 404 votes from Cherie and was probably most responsible for La Vallee becoming Mayor. And let’s not forget the T. Great Razooly of the Tip Top Club fame who also received 378 votes for Mayor that year.

2002 was also the year that Dave Meserve of the Green Party was the largest vote getter in the Arcata City Council race.

Then came 2004, where our local politics turned to blood sport.

It started with CalPine’s proposal to build a LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) plant in Fairhaven. Over 1,000 people showed up at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium to protest this project, which ultimately went away.

Then Maxxam spent over $300,000 to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos and failed at the ballot box.

20-something Chris Kerrigan ran for Eureka City Council reelection against Rex Bohn. Richard Salzman chaired Kerrigan’s campaign, which most say was the sleaziest in Humboldt County history. While many in the political arena respect Salzman, most disagree on his “scorched earth” tactics to win elections by any means necessary. Salzman sent out emails calling Rex “a reactionary oilman out for revenge” and “the oil czar of Humboldt County” and blaming Rex for the high gas prices in Humboldt County. All this when Rex was just a W-2 employee.

The Times-Standard ran a couple of front page, above the fold articles with such news worthy stories as “Kerrigan to Bohn: Stop Stealing My Signs”. In the end Kerrigan defeated Rex 60-40% and to this day there is still bad blood between various parties.

In 2004, transplant David Cobb ran for President on the Green Party ticket.  Although he didn’t register on the national scale, garnering only 0.1% of the national vote, former Times-Standard Editor Charles Winkler actually paid Cobb to vent his extremist opinions in a weekly column beginning 2006. 

David Cobb’s former partner Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap upset an incumbent Republican for the non-partisan seat on the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District seat.

These local election victories emboldened the progressives to form political action committees such as Local Solutions, CREG (Citizens for Real Economic Growth), Alliance for Ethical Business, Redwood Progressive, and Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County to go with their political lobbying/lawsuit firms of EPIC, NEC, Baykeepers and Healthy Humboldt.

Next week: 2006 – battle lines are drawn and the decline of Humboldt’s progressives.

[Ed. note: Zeno’s Paradox, roughly stated, posits that for an arrow to travel from archer to target it must first pass through that line’s centerpoint — “the middle,” if you will. Not likely! For it would have to tear right through the iron guts of Matthew Owen, high priest of all things fair to middling, the Baby Bear of the Humboldt County political scene.]

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