Update: Audio from KHUM interview here.
As the June 3 primary appears on the horizon, candidates for district attorney are beginning to speak publicly about their vision for the future. On Saturday, three of the four campaigns were represented at an event in Southern Humboldt. The occasion, a fundraiser for an anti-rodenticide crusade, featured the pro-pot bands Los Marijuanos and the Camo Cowboys. This allowed a glimpse of what at least one candidate, Arnie Klein, feels about the marijuana growing community and its issues.
Two candidates, Arnie Klein and Allan Dollison, were present, and Kathleen Bryson attended, representing a third candidate, Maggie Fleming. Elan Firpo did not attend. In what would seem to be a uniquely Humboldt event, Arnie Klein and his staff gave away lighters and rolling papers (see photo below). Allison Edrington, Klein’s media consultant, explained:
We gave away lighters and papers as a way to start conversations with folks who attended the event, along with flyers about his stance on cannabis and other issues. The lighters and papers were pretty popular — we completely ran out by 10 pm and Arnie got to talk with a lot of people about their concerns as a result.
While Dollison spoke first at the event, we have been unable to access a copy of what he said.
Klein followed Dollison. Klein, in this short video clip provided by his campaign, criticizes environmentally insensitive grows but appears to be telling growers who are not damaging the environment that they have nothing to fear from him if elected. He states:
I’m telling you as DA of Humboldt [that] what I’m interested in is people who are violent — not the growers… . My priorities will be the nature, [that] our environment stays clean and that the growers get to live their own lives because there is a lot of violence that I want to go after — rape, robbery and murder. I don’t care about the growers.
Dollison will be available March 11 in Fortuna. His campaign can be followed here.
Flemming’s campaign can be followed here.
Firpo’s campaign can be followed here.
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Ryan Burns / Thursday, Jan. 30 @ 11:05 a.m. / Politics
Perhaps Ralph Faust didn’t want to refight the General Plan Update battles he’s already spent three-plus years on. Or maybe he just didn’t want to do it on a commission that’s now stacked with allies and former members of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR).
Whatever the reason, Faust, who was just reappointed to the Planning Commission’s Third District seat last year, chose to step down this week. Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace chose as his replacement Noah Levy, an Arcata resident and program director for the SoHum nonprofit Sanctuary Forest.
Levy is also on the board of the nonprofit Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), arch-nemesis of HumCPR. This ought to keep things heated as the Planning Commission continues to re-review the Conservation and Open Space Element of the county’s ludicrously overdue General Plan Update, which resumes tonight.
Here’s a press release from Lovelace:
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace has announced that Planning Commissioner Ralph Faust has chosen to step down from the Humboldt County Planning Commission. Lovelace has appointed Arcata resident Noah Levy to serve the remainder of Faust’s term, which expires in 2017.
Levy came to Humboldt County from the Bay Area in 2002, and lived in Garberville until he and his family moved to Arcata in 2012. He has a B.A. from Columbia College in New York and studied law at U.C. Berkeley. Levy works as the Lands Program Director for Southern-Humboldt based Sanctuary Forest, which finds him back in the Mattole watershed on a weekly basis. He brings years of experience working with landowners to help them conserve and steward their working lands. Levy also serves on the board of directors for the Environmental Protection Information Center.
“I believe Noah will bring a new and unique perspective to the Planning Commission,” said Lovelace. “He’s smart, diplomatic and able to work with people with diverse viewpoints from across Humboldt County.”
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to join the Planning Commission,” said Levy. “My work with rural landowners and a wide range of resource agencies and conservation organizations in Humboldt County has convinced me that there is more potential for common ground when it comes to land-use decisions than the public dialogue would sometimes suggest. I hope to help shape fair, farsighted policies that ensure that the landscape and resources of this County are maintained and developed for the benefit of future generations.”
Lovelace also thanked Faust for his years of service. “I greatly appreciate Ralph’s many years of service. His unparalleled experience and professionalism truly elevated the level of discussion on many critical issues and helped guide the Commission through its 3-year review of the General Plan Update.”
Faust expressed his appreciation for having had the opportunity to serve on the Commission. “I’ve enjoyed serving with all of the other commissioners, and I’m proud of the work that we accomplished together” said Faust. “We were a politically diverse group and we spent more than three years reviewing the draft General Plan line-by-line and policy-by-policy to produce a document that comes as close to consensus as possible in our diverse county. With parts if not all of that plan now being sent back to the Commission to start over, it seemed like an appropriate time for me to step down. I’m happy and proud to have been given the opportunity to serve the County and I wish the other commissioners well in whatever may lie ahead for them.”
Ryan Burns / Wednesday, Jan. 29 @ 5:19 p.m. / Politics
(Photos courtesy Matthew Filar)
Maggie Fleming emphasized the importance of ethics, hard work and experience this afternoon as she launched her campaign to become Humboldt County’s next district attorney. Speaking from the courthouse steps to a crowd of nearly 100, the longtime deputy DA and current county counselor vowed to treat everyone with respect, establish open lines of communication and pursue justice, which she called “the ultimate duty of a prosecutor.”
Fleming also reminded people that the position of district attorney is nonpartisan — a fact driven home by the people chosen to introduce her. First up was Jimmy Smith, the almost universally beloved former county supervisor who had to step down early due to health problems in 2012. He was followed by lefty Eureka City Councilwoman Linda Atkins and righty County Supervisor Rex Bohn. All three voiced enthusiastic support.
Fleming didn’t delve too deep into specifics, but several of her comments seemed directed toward current community concerns. For example, she promised to pursue treatment as part of sentencing for those with mental health problems, an issue that’s been raised in reference to meth use, homelessness and the recent murder of Father Eric Freed.
Fleming didn’t directly address marijuana, though she said she believes the community is “united in their views on illegal actions that seriously damage our natural resources.”
In a press packet handed out to reporters, Fleming says she believes weed will soon be legalized and regulated California, but until then she will respect the right to cultivate marijuana under Proposition 215 as long as it doesn’t threaten wildlife, public safety or the property of others.
Check the video highlights below.
One apologetic note: Your LoCO correspondent’s iPhone crapped out toward the end of Fleming’s speech, cutting out part of her closing lines. Here’s how they went: “I seek to take the politics out of the DA’s office and put ability, hard work and the highest ethical and professional standards in. I ask for your support and your vote on June 3. Thank you very much.”
Ryan Burns / Saturday, Jan. 25 @ 1:06 p.m. / Politics
It’s clear now that many of the 626 “Likes” registered to the “Elan Firpo for DA” Facebook page are stone cold fakes — bogus support from people based in such far flung locales as Bangladesh, Tanzania and Cuba.
The big mystery that remains is who’s responsible — a supporter looking to position Firpo as the early frontrunner? Or an opponent looking to paint her as a dirty campaigner?
Yesterday we asked why Firpo’s page was so popular in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city known as an international center of “click farming.” That’s a 21st century business in which companies (like this one) offer to boost the popularity of social media profiles for relatively small fees. Those companies then (under-) pay workers to sit around and click “like” on whatever pages their customers request.
We’ve spoken with Firpo and campaign worker/personal friend Jaison Chand a number of times since this came to our attention. Initially, they both expressed confusion about the Bangladesh connection and, after digging through several hundred supporters, said they couldn’t find any from outside the country.
This morning we walked them through a process to bring up the entire list of supporters, which turns up some truly suspicious accounts. For example, more than 50 of Firpo’s “supporters” hail from the African city of Arusha, Tanzania:
And many “supporters” have logged thousands of “Likes.”
As you can see above, those who like “Elan Firpo for DA” also tend to like Skunk Revolution, an online head shop. (More than 100 accounts like both.) More than 200 Firpo fans like “The Wu-Yi Tea Company,” based in Austin, Texas.
We counted at least 130 “supporters” living outside Humboldt County. Many supposed U.S. residents claim to reside in such unlikely towns as:
- Utah, Tennessee
- Georgia, Alabama and
- Wyoming, Wyoming
Also suspicious: A bunch of campaign “supporters” have shared the exact same items on their timelines:
After we explained to Firpo how to find these fakers, the tone of her voice sank. “I think somebody bombed my page,” she said. We pointed to more evidence of fakery and told her that more than 130 of her supposed supporters live elsewhere. “Goodness sakes,” she said. “How do you stop this from happening?”
She said she’d bring it to the attention of Chand, who’s handling social media for the campaign. He called 10 minutes later to ask how to find the bogus “likers.” After being directed to them, he, too, sounded upset. “So is there a way to get rid of them?” he asked.
Chand spent a few minutes looking the list over and asking for help figuring out how to delete the bogus accounts. “There’s no way to remove them, is the problem,” he said. Amid his confusion Chand managed to find some amusement in the whole affair. He chuckled upon finding someone from Tanzania. “That’s a fake,” he said.
Finally Chand found that he could “block” the phonies and they’d disappear from the page. “Yup, that seems to work,” he said with a sigh of relief. “I’m gonna go through and make them go away.” He said he’d take the page down while he weeded out the charlatans.
Asked if he had any idea who could be responsible he said, “I don’t even know how it happened, let alone who might have done it.” After a pause he admitted, “I have ideas but I’m certainly not going to make accusations.”
Firpo said that she doubted it was anyone involved in her campaign, including Richard Salzman. But neither could she definitively rule that out. Regardless, she said her intention is to get the Facebook page cleaned up and move forward with her campaign.
(An aside: Chand has seen comments online about his relationship with Firpo. He said, “Elan is a very good friend of mine. I am helping her whenever and wherever she needs help in the campaign because I believe in her candidacy. The exact nature of our personal relationship is not germane.”)
OK, so what’s the takeaway from this? For one thing, the shenanigans have clearly begun. In Humboldt County, no office is as insanely politicized as district attorney, and while we may not know who astroturfed Firpo’s Facebook page, the game is obviously afoot.
Welcome to DA politics, Humboldt style.
Ryan Burns / Friday, Jan. 24 @ 3:46 p.m. / Politics
(Welcome to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
NOTE: There’s a follow-up post here.
UPDATE: We just heard back from Firpo campaign worker Jaison Chand, who says he has no idea why Facebook would list so much Firpo activity coming from Bangladesh. He took the page off-line while he tries to figure it out. Chand said the big boost in support came during the week when he and other campaign workers enacted “an all-out-blitz” of social media promotion.
As for Richard Salzman, Chand said emphatically that he’s not the campaign manager; Salzman, he said, has been “at best loosely associated with the social media stuff.”
Chand also speculated that someone outside the campaign could have paid for the likes and then contacted the media as a sabotage maneuver. Both he and Firpo say they’re looking into it, going through the people who have liked the page one by one.
“If there is a group of Bangladeshis we will take them off. That is all I can say,” Firpo wrote to us on Facebook.
The race to become Humboldt County’s next district attorney appears to be wide open, especially with longtime incumbent Paul Gallegos out of the running. Four candidates have launched campaigns: Allan Dollison, Elan Firpo, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein.
Is there a frontrunner? Well, it’s early yet, but if you look at the candidates’ campaign pages on Facebook, Firpo appears to be in pole position. To date she has racked up 30 percent more ‘likes’ than Fleming, her nearest competitor.
And where is most of the Firpo support coming from? Check the infographic below.
Firpo appears to have gotten most of her support from Dhaka, Bangladesh, which, in addition to deadly factory collapses, is known as the international hub for “click farms.” These are shady operations where, as the Associated Press put it, “workers tap, tap, tap the thumbs up button, view videos or retweet comments to inflate social media numbers.” This Facebook astroturfing has reportedly grown into a $200 million-per-year industry, though the workers tapping keys earn as little as $120 per year.
Was Firpo’s page ‘turfed? Let’s look a little closer.
Fleming and Dollison are both most popular in Eureka, the county’s most populous city. Makes sense. Klein evidently has yet to earn enough likes to get a “Most Popular City” ruling. Facebook explains that the most popular city is “the city where most of the people talking about this page are from.”
Now check out the “New Likes Per Week” (the gray line in the graphs below). Firpo’s page had zero likes until the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 12, roughly a month after the first post there. In that week she suddenly landed 341 likes. Five days later, the weekly running tally dropped like a rock, and since that precipitous fall, Firpo’s campaign page has received no more than 29 likes in a single week.
Compare that to the other candidate pages, where the trajectories are far less dramatic. The best single week for any page other than Firpo’s was Fleming’s Jan. 3 through Jan. 9, when she saw 122 new likes, a modest peak on a rounded slope. Neither Dollison nor Klein’s page has received more than 50 likes in any single week.
We contacted Firpo to ask about her Facebook page’s South Asian seasoning and were told that the page is being managed by a Jaison Chand. We called and texted but have yet to hear back.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that the algorithms and tubes of the Internet are way too complex for us to fully comprehend. There may well be a logical, completely above-board explanation for this. We’ll let you know if we figure it out (or have it explained to us).
Take a look (click to enlarge):