Fennell (left) and Bushnell. | Campaign photos.

# # #

Well, folks, we may have no idea what life will look like six months from now, but there’s still a big ol’ Presidential Election scheduled for Nov. 3. And now that Humboldt County’s March primary results are finally all the way in, we can see that incumbent Second District Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell wound up with 47.54 percent of the vote, falling roughly 200 votes shy of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

As such, she’ll now face off, mano-a-mano, against second-place finisher Michelle Bushnell, a SoHum business owner and board president of the Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce. Bushnell finished with 31.2 percent of the vote, handily outpacing fellow Second District challengers Michael McKaskle (12.65 percent), Sean DeVries (4.54 percent) and Rick French (4.08 percent). 

The results in the other two supervisorial districts holding elections this year have long been foregone conclusions. Incumbent Rex Bohn clobbered challenger Cliff Berkowitz in the First District, 63 percent to 37 percent. Berkowitz won just 2 of the 29 precincts in the First. And Third District incumbent Mike Wilson ran unopposed, though he did rack up 284 unqualified write-in votes (presumably) against him. 

The Outpost reached out to both remaining Second District candidates for reactions to the outcome. Fennell responded via text that she was in a meeting, and we failed to connect for a full conversation before publishing time. A voicemail left for Bushnell was not returned before this post went up.

Strictly from a math standpoint, Bushnell’s potential path to victory looks challenging. She won just nine of the 27 precincts in the Second District; Fennell won the rest. Absent some sort of dynamic-shifting political upheaval, she would need to consolidate support from all three eliminated challengers, whose political viewpoints differed fairly dramatically from each other’s as well as Bushnell’s. 

Adding to the degree of difficulty, traditional campaigning — the door-to-door canvassing, rallies and candidate forums — may prove impossible given the social distancing required during this phase of the COVID pandemic, so it will be interesting to see how candidates try to reach voters. 

We reached out to County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders to ask about preparations for November. She said local Elections Office staff has been in talks with state election officials.

“It does look like it will be a mail ballot election,” Sanders said, “but there will be opportunities for in-person voting for those who have the need.” She cautioned that those plans are still preliminary. “Nobody really knows what November is going to look like,” she said.

Her staff is currently working with local cities, school districts and special districts to figure out how candidates can safely deliver their election paperwork. A number of local districts recently switched from odd- to even-year elections, meaning this year’s ballots will be more crowded than usual. 

Sanders said her office’s employees are taking extra precautions, including the installation of plexiglass in the front lobby. And they might wind up scheduling appointments with individual candidates to prevent crowding near filing deadlines.

# # #

One other set of results worth reporting from the March primary comes from the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee, which is the local arm of the California Democratic Party. Mirroring the dynamic nationwide this year, the race for seats on the HCDCC was defined by a split between (mostly young and) impassioned “Berniecrat” progressives on the one hand, and more moderate establishment types on the other.

Unlike the national Democratic primary, however, the insurgent local progs claimed at least partial victory.

There were six candidates running for the four available seats representing the Fourth District on the committee. (There are 18 total seats on the committee, divided via supervisorial district with representation based on the number of registered Democrats per district. Yeah, it’s complicated.)

Three of the six candidates — G. Mario Fernandez, Kathryn Sobilo and Christopher Musgrave — ran as a slate, embracing the “Berniecrat” platform. They were part of a statewide movement looking to reform the Democratic party from within, and the 35-year-old Fernandez managed to unseat longtime HCDCC Chair Bob Service, a veteran of Democratic politics who, like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, is quickly approaching 80.

Reached by phone, Service said he plans to stay active in Democratic politics, “and hopefully with the committee,” though he’s not sure in what capacity. He quibbled a bit with being labeled less progressive than his challengers, noting that he’s been a supporter of universal health care since he lived in England in the 1960s. 

“I’ve been pushing for universal health care longer than Mario’s been alive,” he quipped.

Fernandez told the Outpost he was happy and surprised by the result. He finished behind Service on election night, but late returns broke in his favor. A labor organizer and union rep, Fernandez said he wants to see the HCDCC become more community-driven. He suggested launching a precinct captain program to spark more neighborhood-level engagement. 

Asked if he considers himself more progressive than Service, Fernandez said, “I just see myself as another generation.” He added, “I appreciate the work Bob has done over the years. This is really just an opportunity for another class, another generation to take point.”

Sobilo, who was an incumbent, held onto her seat, as did Richard Marks and Bob Service’s wife, Pam. Musgrave failed in his bid to unseat an incumbent. 

Longtime committee member Marks, who also serves on the board of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, said he expects the focus and direction of the HCDCC to shift some with Fernandez’s election, and he expressed gratitude toward Bob Service.

“Bob had invaluable institutional knowledge that will never be matched,” Marks said. “I consider Bob my mentor. I learned so much from him about national party politics. I’m indebted to him greatly. I hope that Bob stays with the committee.”