While there’s still somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 ballots yet to be counted, a number of storylines emerged from the local Election Day results. Of course, they were overshadowed by the big national storyline embodied by (go ahead, fingers, type it out) President-Elect Donald Trump.
But we live behind the Redwood Curtain! We’re sheltered from the tempestuous angst gripping the nation, right? RIGHT? Oh. Evidently not.
ANYWAY! Below we take a look at a few of the things we can glean from our local community based on the bubbles we filled in at the ballot box.
1. Humboldt County Is Ready for Legal Weed
The last time Californians considered legalizing weed, with Prop 19 back in 2010, Humboldt County voters mirrored the rest of the state more or less exactly, voting “no” by a margin of 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.
In the finger-pointing aftermath much was made of the fact that growers themselves seemed to reject the measure by the widest margin. Precincts in marijuana-rich SoHum showed the most lopsided opposition, prompting critics to malign Emerald Triangle growers as greedy and self-interested.
This time around Humboldt County voters approved legalization, and they did so by an even wider margin than the rest of the state. Of the more than 34,000 Humboldt County ballots counted thus far nearly 59 percent were marked “yes,” compared to 56 percent statewide.
Local voters also overwhelmingly approved Measure S, a countywide regulation and taxation initiative expected to generate more than $7 million annually through fees ranging from one to three dollars per square foot, depending on the type of grow.
And in the little city of Rio Dell voters validated a recent City Council decision to allow commercial weed businesses in the Sawmill Annexation Area north of the Eel River. The council had initially voted 3-2, back in June, to reject commercial marijuana businesses altogether, but they opted to reconsider after outraged residents started threatening recalls.
While the precinct-level information has yet to be reported it’s safe to say that Humboldt County as a whole is willing to plunge into an unknown future, one in which our biggest cash crop — perhaps even the foundation of our economy — emerges from the shadows to become a regulated and taxed commodity.
2. Humboldt County is Part of California After All
Donald Trump’s base is white, rural and poor. Humboldt County is white, rural and poor. A large part of Donald Trump’s support came from white, rural, poor people still struggling to find their way in a post-industrial economy. Humboldt County is full of white, rural, poor people still struggling to find their way in a post-industrial – or post-timber – economy.
Yet Humboldt County’s voted for Hillary Clinton in numbers that mirror California as a whole – just shy of 2 to 1 for Clinton over Trump, in both cases.
Why should this be? Because more of us are college-educated? That probably has something to do with it. Del Norte County, which neighbors us to the north, voted for Trump over Clinton 55-38. Only 16 percent of Del Norte adults aged 25 and over hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to 27.5 percent here in Humboldt. But look at Trinity County, to our east – they went Trump 51-40, and their rate of college education is 22 percent. Not all that different from ours.
We’re natural Trump Country, and yet we thoroughly rejected Trump. We’re a bright blue beacon in the deeply red State of Jefferson. Why is that? The only answer I can think of is that for all our cherished rebelry and outlawhood, we’re actually more culturally akin to the latte-swillers along the rest of the California coast than we are to our demographically similar neighbors to the north and east.
3. Eureka Has Changed
Over the past 15 years or so there’s been a political tug of war in the county seat between the traditionalist, fraternal lodge-type residents, those who live in what the Outpost‘s own Hank Sims dubbed “Eureka profundo” a decade ago, and the left-of-center (relative) newcomers who rail against the “good ol’ boys” and prefer bike parties to Chamber of Commerce mixers.
For a long while the two camps dug trenches on either side of Rob Arkley’s proposed Marina Center, but in recent years the divide has been most visible in the glares and arguments between councilmembers Marian Brady and Linda Atkins.
John Fullerton seemed an ideal candidate for Eureka profundo — a widely respected business owner with a long history of public service. He was endorsed by a who’s who of Eureka’s power elite, including Mayor Frank Jager, former councilmember Mike Jones and current county supervisors Virginia Bass and Rex Bohn.
And yet, barring an unprecedented anomaly in the outstanding ballots (see No. 6, below), Fullerton was soundly defeated by a 25-year-old cardiac monitor tech who entered the race at the last possible moment with virtually zero name recognition. Austin Allison was carried to victory on the shoulders of the North Coast People’s Alliance, an upstart political group initially formed as a field office for Bernie Sanders.
Allison and his supporters promised new ideas; they protested the planned closure of local nursing homes; and they vowed to maintain the progressive majority established two years ago with the election of Natalie Arroyo and Kim Bergel to the council.
On another matter, Eurekans emphatically supported Measure P, changing the City’s official procedure for electing representatives from an “at-large ward” system to a “true ward” system. This despite vociferous objections from the center-right. Mayor Frank Jager, for example, went so far as to call Measure P “undemocratic.”
But Allison, unlike Fullerton, supported the change. During a debate early last month he said, “Eureka over the years has changed and it’s safe to say that what’s worked before does not always work today.”
It seems a majority of Eureka residents agreed.
4. Arcata is Happy Being Arcata
For years, people both inside and outside Arcata have grumbled about the Plaza scene, about the town’s abundance of housefree travelers, about the chaos of Bar Row. That’s in addition to the usual civic unrest about potholes and the like, common to any jurisdiction.
None of this has slowed down that much in recent years, but the city seems to have found some sort of blissful equilibrium. Not so long ago you’d have a dozen city council candidates on the ballot representing this faction or that, or just running on a whim. There would be heated council meetings and protesters and internecine warfare – the Meservists at loggerheads with the Hauserites, etc..
But today’s Arcata is a well-greased Tesla, judging by the election results. The three candidates who have already served six or eight years apiece – Susan Ornelas, Paul Pitino and Michael Winkler – were returned to the City Council with overwhelming margins. The Arcata Elementary School District had both a bond measure and a parcel tax on the ballot, and both passed with 70+ percent of the vote. A utility users tax that has been on the books since 1996 was reaffirmed, though perhaps with a smaller margin than in previous elections.
Arcata may often dissent from the country, but Arcatans don’t really dissent from Arcata.
5. Humboldt Hearts the Housed Poor
Most everyone would agree that we have a tragic and intractable homelessness problem here. Our compassion often fails to live up to the Betty Chinn standard, and opinions differ on the best way to address the issue. But on Election Day voters backed a couple of initiatives aimed at helping people find and maintain affordable low-income housing, a key component of virtually every proposed solution.
Most notably voters approved Measure V, the mobile home rent-stabilization initiative, despite a $200,000 effort on the part of industry titans to fight the measure with dire warnings of lawsuits and unforeseen consequences.
And in Eureka, voters approved Measure O, a confusingly worded initiative that will increase the total number of government-subsidized low-income housing units allowed in the city.
6. No One Votes in the Booth Anymore
When we contacted her yesterday, Clerk-Recorder Kelly Sanders gave us a rough estimate of the number of ballots still to be counted: Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,300. About 11,000 of these, she said, were vote-by-mail ballots that were mailed to the Elections Office or turned in over the counter too close to Election Day to be included in the election night tally. Another 5,400 vote-by-mail ballots were handed to poll workers at polling places. Add to those about 3,900 provisional ballots.
Sanders will have more definitive figures at some point in the future, but that’s her thumbnail sketch of the state of affairs – 20,300 ballots are still uncounted. Compare that to the number of votes cast for president in the traditional way, in the ballot booth, on Election Day this year – 22,020.
There are nearly as many votes left to count as there were votes cast at a polling place. Add those to the 12,717 vote-by-mail ballots that were cast in time to be included in the election night reports, and you see that polling place-voters are the minority.
This is a direct factor in why it takes so long to tally election results these days. The results in most of the major local races happened to be pretty clear this time around, maybe apart from Measure U and an interesting three-way write-in race for two city council seats up in Blue Lake. But we’d better get used to not having results for weeks after the fact in any future close contests.
Eureka City Council candidate John Fullerton has gotten used to it. Though the race has pretty clearly trended away from him, he says on his Facebook page that he remains “optimistic and positive” about the outcome. Somewhere in his mind, no doubt, is Kim Bergel’s comeback from behind in the late absentee vote two years ago, when the final tally wasn’t released until three or four weeks after election night. And who knows? An eventual Fullerton win doesn’t seem at all probable, at this point, but it’s almost certainly within the bounds of the possible.