The Crow’s Nest

The Crow’s Nest

Santa Paula is a bucolic setting that lends itself to beautiful paintings and sunsets on South Mountain. But when it’s time for politics, there is no such thing as calm.

This fall, the Spotter sees a lot of rollicking fun and noise in town.

Two City Council seats are being decided. Two incumbents and two challengers have filed. The incumbents are Fred Robinson, recently retired, and Jim Tovias, an insurance agent. Both are finishing their first terms. The challengers are Duane Ashby and Martin Hernandez, field representative for Supervisor Kathy Long. Working in the field for the popular Supervisor Long, he has made a lot of allies and few enemies. The Council’s record over the last four years is marked with slip-ups and changes in key administrative posts. A popular city manager resigned and was followed by one who left a political hotbed in Nogales, Ariz. The Council dumped one chief, hired another, and then dumped him in a proverbial messy divorce.

But the real fun in Santa Paula involves the schools. Yes, this town of 25,000 has five school districts. That is not a typo. There are one high school district and four — count ‘em, four — elementary school districts. Three of these districts have one school apiece. So, naturally, there is an election to unify two of the districts: the Santa Paula Elementary School District and the high school district. Oddly enough, the three one-school districts are not in the unification vote. The reasons why there are separate districts are historical, economic and racial. Few speak about these issues aloud, but Santa Paula has long been plagued by a split between working-class Latinos and upper-class Anglos who own the ranches. This trickled down to school choices (although all schools in the district are overwhelmingly Latino today). Ask why the small districts are not included in the unification vote, and long-time Santa Paula folks will smile and think you naive.

Long timers in Santa Paula favor the unification of the two big districts and leaving the small fries alone. The boards of the two districts in the unification battle are either silent (the high school board) or on the record as opposed to unification (the elementary board). The free-for-all comes in the race for the unified school board, which pits newcomers, old-timers who support unification and old-timers who oppose unification.

Debates and presentations on the unification issue have — to this point — been pretty tame. (A Latino Town Hall forum on the topic was mild.) But that’s not likely to stay placid for long. The race has attracted Michelle Kolbeck and Ginger Gherardi, who are on opposite sides of unification and not shy about their opinions.

The Crow’s Nest

The Crow’s Nest

The Spotter has been around a long time and rarely seen someone in public life who is as popular as County Chief Executive Officer Michael Powers. His willingness to change, self-effacing humor and small ego are a breath of fresh air in politics and public life. Powers runs what (next to the Naval Base) amounts to the largest company in the county, with a budget of more than $1.7 million and 8,000 employees and he does it with aplomb — balancing budgets and keeping unions, supervisors and taxpayer advocates satisfied with his frank answers to government’s tough questions.

But Powers’ popularity got the Spotter thinking: Who is the least popular politician in the county? It would be unfair in an anonymous column to call out politicians by name, but let’s see if you can figure out which politicians and public figures would be in the Spotter’s Hall of Shame. These are folks who:

Have inflated egos and think being elected dog-catcher in Piru entitles them to special privileges, such as free tickets to events that others pay for at which they demand recognition so the crowd can politely applaud like Pavlov’s dogs.

• Spend the public dollar wantonly on travel and conferences that appear on the surface to be valuable but amount to nothing more than junkets.

• Treat staff members on the bodies they serve like ignorant serfs and assume they have all the answers because they were elected by the people 20 minutes ago.

• Start running for another office while in the middle of the term to which the public elected them.

• Push an agenda and fail to listen to either other electeds, staff or the public.

• Are for nothing, but can tell you what’s wrong with everything.

Sound like anyone you know?

The Crow’s Nest

The Crow’s Nest

No one ever accused Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of being dumb. And after last month’s Ventura County love-fest, he looks like a Ph.D. candidate.

To begin with, Gorell has a picture-perfect résumé — speechwriter for a former governor, communications expert in a trade industry group, Ventura County prosecutor and intelligence officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Not to mention two lovely kids and a wife who looks like she models for Vogue in her spare time. The pedigree is terrific and everyone says Gorell is “going places.” But until last week, maybe we didn’t know how far he was going.

After his return from a one-year tour in Afghanistan, Gorell returned to a district where the natives were wailing about the loss of jobs, especially to other states that were aggressively trying to steal California businesses and jobs. (He returned right around the time Oxnard’s Haas Manufacturing said it might just take its expansion plans out of state.) So he put together a “GoldTeam,” designed to go after those businesses that had left California and persuade those that are still here to stay. To add beef to his team, Gorell recruited Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the dashingly handsome former San Francisco mayor who seems bored to tears as lieutenant governor. The two made a polished and smooth-talking duo on the stage at — Amgen. Yes, the Spotter said Amgen. The Ventura County biotech leviathan rarely opens the campus, but it was a gracious host for a pair of rising politicians bent on saving jobs.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

About 100 of Ventura County’s notables showed. And we are talking Hatfields and McCoys. Democrats, Republicans, Greenies. Captains of Industry. East County. West County. The gang was definitely all there.

Talk centered on two things:

First, no one but a centrist such as Gorell could have drawn such a diverse crowd.

Second, didn’t Newsom and Gorell make a striking pair on stage?

With Gov. Jerry Brown likely to be a one-termer and Newsom the heir apparent, couldn’t you just imagine an across-the-aisle ticket with Newsom and Gorell in 2014? Many in the crowd could.

The Crow’s Nest is an insider’s view on interesting happenings, local political gossip, public policy and more.








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