New Times / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 15
Election night 2012
By NEW TIMES STAFF
Your tax dollars (very) hard at work
It was 10 till 8 on election night. We—myself and New Times staff photographer Steve E. Miller—went casually strolling into the back room of the county clerk-recorder’s office like we owned the place. Hey, we’re the press. And yes, it has its perks.
Inside, we met the county clerk-recorder, Julie Rodewald, who was floating around the room, tending to her multitude of duties and directing her staff and volunteers, who I’m sure are the nicest people in the world but were far too busy tending to the business of our democratic process to chit-chat.
We asked her how everything was going, and though she flashed a glance as if she’d been up for days, things were running according to schedule. In fact, they were running quite smoothly. Of the county’s roughly 158,000 registered voters, the office had already received some 58,600 ballots—about half of which came in via mail—and some 36 percent had already been counted.
They were prepping to release their first round of preliminary results in the next 20 minutes or so, so we figured we’d better get moving to some of the election parties just down the street. But first, we had to lob one more hardball question in the direction of SLO County’s long-time clerk-recorder.
“Hey!” Miller said, nodding to Rodewald. “So how many more years you going to be doing this?”
“You should never ask that on the eve of a presidential election,” Rodewald shot back with a deep sigh as she ran off to pick up a box of ballots.
Blake goes bowling
Although the initial poll results showed that Sheila Blake was in third place in the two-seat race for the Pismo Beach City Council, she easily had more fun than any other candidate I met on election night. Maybe it was the fact that hers was the only party with music (disco) or games (bowling), but Sheila and her supporters were having a damn good time, despite Blake’s utter lack of bowling skills. In the half hour I spent with her, she hit only one pin.
“There’s nothing more grassroots than a bowling alley,” Blake said. “It’s just nice to have people show up.”
Blake and her supporters drank beer from plastic cups and ate store-bought platters of snack meats and cookies, but they couldn’t care less. It looked like conservative candidate D.J. White wouldn’t get a spot on the council, and that’s really all Blake wanted.
She said she joined the race out of concern that retiring councilman Ted Ehring was conspiring to hand his position to White at the last minute. She threw her hat in the ring and encouraged Eric Howell to run, hoping one of them would squash the suspected White/Ehring plot.
Her plan apparently worked, and Blake couldn’t have been happier.
Knight and the Round Table
We’re in the future now.
So it’s almost easy to forget that this election was supposed to come down to the slimmest of margins and last into the wee-est of wee hours.
Early in the night, you could see it on their faces: hope. They were all crammed into a back room of an Atascadero Round Table pizza digging into patriotic-themed cake and watching not one, but four flat screens tuned to Fox News.
I walked into a scene not unlike a high school cafeteria. All the cool kids had segmented into their various cliques, and I was the nerd with the notepad and camera. But these were happy Republicans. They’d just finished a long slog of campaigning, particularly today when they were knocking down doors to get every eligible Republican to vote, and things were actually looking really good.
Edie Knight came practically bouncing up to me. She’s one of the local Republicans who put this shindig together, and it shows. Knight was dolled up head to toe in red, white, and blue everything. She and 50 volunteers found that there was a really good turnout among North County Republicans, most of whom had already voted before Knight and her volunteers got to them.
Then Knight grabbed Jeff Snyder, who shuffled over to us. Snyder, president of the San Luis Obispo County Young Republicans, said that aside from the presidential election, he had his eyes locked on the battle for a Central Coast congressional seat between incumbent Lois Capps and her Republican challenger, Abel Maldonado. After all, the Assembly seat was probably a lock for Katcho Achadjian, he thought, while the spot in the state Senate would almost assuredly go to Democrat Bill Monning, due in small part to the re-carved coastal district lines.
Actually, he was really interested in the race for San Luis Obispo mayor and Pismo Beach City Council where “we have Adam Hill’s two vengeance candidates,” as he put it.
Soon I was standing by myself again, but it wasn’t long before I came face to face with Darrel Erickson, an older guy with a beard that reminded me of Abe Lincoln. Erickson was positively beaming. About what, I didn’t know. He just seemed happy to be there, and he leaned in so close when he talked that I worried I might fall into the table of flowers and America cake behind me.
Erickson is a self-employed sheet metal fabricator, a self-described fiscal conservative, and somewhere in the middle on social issues. He thinks Obama is a “good person,” but he’s no “business person.”
“I’m very concerned about this election,” he said. “I think it’s a real turning point for the country. … Are you gonna go socialist or not?”
But it was getting late, and Erickson wanted to head up to Paso Robles where his buddy was playing guitar at one of the Democratic parties, which was fine by him, because Obama is a “good person, but like I said, he’s not a business person. Government doesn’t create jobs.”
County supervisor elect Debbie Arnold was there, at least briefly, as were the who’s who of Atascadero city politics: Roberta Fonzi, Jerry Clay, Tom O’Malley, and Brian Sturtevant, the latter fresh off a shift at Diablo Canyon.
Sturtevant’s wife, Karyn, cornered me briefly, and I asked her what it’s like voting as a Republican in California, a state that’s so clearly going to lean Democrat in many ways. Even though her vote for Romney ultimately would have no sway on the electoral outcome, Karyn said she liked to know that it added to the popular vote, and no matter what the outcome, “it lets the leaders know.”
At that point, Fox News was still calling the race basically a tie. Somehow, even though Obama was winning Virginia, the anchors thought he wasn’t winning by enough, which any analyst would tell you is a clear sign of a Democratic death knell in that state.
But they looked nervous. They were making more excuses by the minute as states once expected to come down to the wire were falling heavily to Obama. Everyone in the room grew quiet. What was once an almost inaudible buzz of chatter subsided to a dull hum, and a woman at one of the tables looked like she was about to cry uncontrollably, her palms pressed in front of her as she muttered quietly to herself.
The presidential race still hadn’t been called, and the local results weren’t even being reported yet, but already the room had all but cleared. The teenage employees were clearing plates, and there was an overwhelming feeling of angry defeat hanging in the air.
By the time the Fox anchors finally and bitterly called the election, everyone was already packing up their things. The flowers were gone from the table, and Knight went to clear off the scraps.
“I’m sorry we didn’t win,” she said, but it sounded more like she was actually apologizing, as if she didn’t personally do enough. “We worked hard. I don’t know what else to say. I thought we really had it.”
Then she took away the America cake.
The wildcard brings it home
As staff photographer Steve E. Miller and I climbed to the upstairs VIP section at the bustling MoTav in downtown San Luis Obispo, two things were clear: Everyone was waiting for results that were going to arrive at any minute. And those results were probably going to be music to Dan Carpenter’s ears.
A healthy mix of the town’s population was hanging with the San Luis Obispo councilman, who was up for re-election—or at least would have been had he not been appointed for his first term.
There were current council members Andrew Carter and Kathy Smith—both safe from the re-election guillotine this go-around—as well as super awesome local activist and sometime New Times interviewee Peggy Koteen, proudly displaying her “Carpenter for City Council” sticker next to her “Jill Stein for President” button.
“No way!” Miller roared, snapping shots of her buttons. “Jill Stein! Woo! I voted for her, you know.”
Koteen feigned interest.
Though cocktails were being passed around, the bartender said it had been something of a slow night in the VIP lounge.
“I don’t think this is that type of crowd,” she told me.
Indeed, it was all soda for Carpenter, who gave up the sauce a “long time ago.”
“It gets in the way of life,” he told me. “If you want to drive somewhere to do something, it doesn’t work—or at least it shouldn’t work.”
Carpenter and his 40-some-odd guests were doing the typical election night schmoozing, appetizers in hand, with everyone seemingly in good spirits, peeking at the national results as they waited for the county results being projected on the wall to come to life. It was 8:20 p.m. The results were supposed to be out five minutes ago.
As mellow pop music rang out from the restaurant below, Carpenter took control of the situation; pulling out his own iPad, he showed the room why he’s known as the wildcard on the council.
“4,162 votes … Ashbaugh: 3,928!” Carpenter shouted, turning to the cheering crowd. “Oh, man!” he cried, turning to me. “We all worked so hard. I just can’t believe it so far.”
Asked how it feels to seemingly win over the electorate, he wasted no time in responding: “I’ve waited so long for this.”
It seemed like a matter of seconds, but before we knew it, the whole room was bursting into applause at the news on the television: Obama was expected, again, to be the 44th president of the United States.
A hard night for Pismo’s conservative crowd
Everything was in place for the elite peeps of Pismo Beach to enjoy a nice, swanky party at the Hilton Garden Inn. If only the election had gone their way. The who’s who of Pismo were dressed in fancy garb, and a smattering of delicious meatballs, stuffed mushrooms, tiny pizzas, and decadent brownies lined the tables. Still, that sweet, sweet chocolate couldn’t wash the bitter taste of another four Obama years from their mouths.
The Pismo Beach City Council had business to tend to Tuesday night, so before the local conservative candidates could even arrive at their election party, the results of the national election were declared. Spoiler alert: Their main man, Mitt Romney, didn’t win.
Here are some of the things their supporters said:
“Where’s the ladder to the roof? I’m gonna jump.”
“That’s America going down the drain.”
“Welp. Here’s to four more years of socialism.”
They weren’t too happy is what I’m saying. Never in the history of Pismo Beach’s 2012 election night parties had there been a bigger discrepancy between the quality of food and tenor of mood in one room. I felt it was up to me to enjoy a smattering of both, so I stacked a plate full of goodies while Karl Rove tried to explain away Ohio’s poll numbers.
After that first wave of federal despair subsided, someone pulled up the local election results. Two seats were up for grabs, and with the mail-in results available, conservative incumbent Ed Waage was way ahead, with liberal challengers Eric Howell and Sheila Blake in second and third, and Hilton Garden Inn favorite D.J. White trailing in fourth.
He said he was waiting for more results to come in before he reached a conclusion, but no amount of white wine could hide the fact that White was hurting. He said campaigning was harder than most people would think, but that he would have made a positive contribution to the council.
Waage accepted his win graciously, saying the race went pretty well thanks to the help of his volunteers.
“I want to thank all the residents who voted for me, those who trusted my service on the council to reelect me,” Waage said. “I look forward to four more years on the council.”
Grover Beach election notes
I had my camera, notepad, and questions ready. I was approaching Fred Hornaday’s home, and with each step I mentally prepared myself to avoid coming across as a newbie reporter. I opened the front door, and all my nerves slipped away as I was greeted by a naked 3-year-old girl.
We briefly made eye contact before she scurried toward voices emanating from the kitchen. I followed her lead and was welcomed by Fred Hornaday, owner of the downtown SLO shop Bambu Batu, and his friends and family who had gathered to monitor the presidential election and California propositions 34 and 37: aiming to repeal the death penalty and require labeling on foods containing genetically modified organisms, respectively.
Within minutes, I settled into the coziness of a family atmosphere that’s generally lacking in college. Before I could get too distracted from my reporter duties, however, the unclothed child approached me again and said, “No GMO.” This may have been a ploy by her father, another trick up the toddler’s (metaphoric) sleeve, but it remained amusing, and it kept me on track.
Between updates of which states Obama had bagged, boo-boos were washed, screams were answered, and juice was served. The house didn’t have a television, but the sound of National Public Radio flowed from the living room. A few strums from a guitar played by a friend contributed to the atmosphere of peace and domesticity.
When I brought up Proposition 37 and asked those in the kitchen their opinion, Jeff Pienack was quick to get worked up.
“Go ahead, Jeff, you got plenty to say,” Hornaday said.
Pienack rattled off a few points as to why the labeling initiative should pass, and how 61 countries already follow such standards. Hornaday’s wife, Pacha, piped in with the view that “they always claim it’s not dangerous, so why not label it?”
And then it was bedtime. Last-minute snacks were served, and the kitchen table was cleared.
I followed up my brief foray into domesticity and anti-GMO rhetoric with a visit to Station Grill in Grover Beach, where I was greeted by the sound of trumpets and various other jazz instruments. The music volume only continued to increase as I got out of my car and realized mayoral candidate Debbie Peterson was having quite the shindig.
The moment I stepped into the restaurant, I felt the embrace of New Orleans. A jazz band jammed in the front. With Peterson up by 75.96 percent, the celebration had already gotten underway, and I was informed that I missed the new mayor of Grover Beach’s celebratory cheers.
“I’m thrilled,” Peterson enthused. “I am also thrilled because with the people who are in the lead, we’ll have a very qualified council.”
With Peterson’s attention, I wanted to know why—or even how—she got a whole jazz ensemble to attend her event. I learned that the band’s name is Creole Syncopators, and they essentially adopted her son, a trombone player, into their clan to show him the ways of jazz. With such a big evening, she wanted her son and the band to be there, but since her son’s still in school, he needed an excuse to get out of classes early.
“I had to write a note to his school today to let him out of band practice, because ‘I am going to be mayor,’” Peterson said.
With that, instruments were packed up and rolled out, band members said their farewells, and the evening ended on a winning note.
Howell parties hearty
By the time I arrived, the party for Pismo Beach City Council candidate Erik Howell was winding down at Alphy’s Chateau Basque. The food had been picked through, but several Howell supporters remained on site to clink drinks and toast the man’s likely victory.
Howell said that his would be the first liberal voice on the council in several decades, but the current member of the Lucia Mar Unified School District Board of Trustees was hesitant to speak for himself on election night. Instead, he introduced me to one enthusiastic supporter after the next, letting them handle the evening’s bragging duties.
“It’s been a great night all around. I’m really happy with all the returns,” fellow board member Mark Millis said. “[Howell] is a good man, very conscientious. He’ll do a good job.”
One of Howell’s first supporters and a valued volunteer described him as “one of the most special persons” she’d ever met and said he’d change the community for the better.
Howell’s dad was too sick to attend the event, but he sent a case of homemade wine in his absence, and Howell encouraged the bartender to pour as much as possible while his teary-eyed supporters watched Obama make his acceptance speech.
Some supporters tried to coax a similar speech from Howell, but the gracious frontrunner wouldn’t comply.
“Let’s just say I’ve had some nice phone calls from my competitors,” he said.
Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mr. Ashbaugh
The Democratic bash at the Graduate in San Luis Obispo wasn’t so much a bash as it was perhaps a quaint shindig. It wasn’t the ecstatic fandango I witnessed the last time I was there—the Obama inauguration in January 2009—but it was a pleasant evening nonetheless, with the county’s Dems patting each other on the back and enjoying cold beers in frosty plastic mugs.
The place was packed, a virtual who’s who of the county’s prominent Democrats, all watching in wonder and a mild haze of buffalo wings and onion rings the glory that was the re-election of Barack Obama—on no less than 12 ginormous TVs and projector screens.
I immediately ran into SLO City Council candidate Jeff Aranguena, beer in hand, who asked if I was staying long enough to toast with him. I said I was, and as soon as I made the rounds I would join him for a brew. The latest results had just come in, and Aranguena was trailing well behind current councilman John Ashbaugh.
“Well, it’s been a good campaign and it’s still early,” Aranguena said with a friendly smile, adding that he thought the absentee ballots might prove to be his ace in the hole.
I ran into some of my courthouse buddies—local attorneys Matt Guerrero, Jennifer Alton, and Ray Allen—who had each staked out a prime location at the foot of the projector screens. We waxed optimistically about the fate of the state’s three criminal justice-related ballot measures, two of which were enjoying a healthy lead, and the last—the repeal of the death penalty—trailed not too far behind at that point.
As I jotted observations into my notebook, I was approached by a guy with a mustache and trucker hat who asked me what organization I was with. He said his name was Warren Allford, and that he was a “carpetbagger,” seizing the opportunity to spend a little quality time in SLO to watch Obama’s re-election away from his hometown, which he implied was not exactly Democrat-friendly.
My conversation with Allford quickly turned to Gov. Brown’s tax measure, Prop. 30. Allford, a proud father of a young son, lamented the proposition’s at-the-time dismal outlook.
“I just don’t get it, Matt,” he said, sipping his beer. “Education has been the ladder of the middle class in this country. It’s just sad.”
I could see Ashbaugh standing alone, so I jumped at my chance, parting ways with Allford and asking the councilman how his night was going. He said that while he wished he had come in first, it looked as if he were still going to retain his council seat. He lamented some of the sour moments of the SLO Council race, but added that he thought Aranguena ran an “upstanding” campaign and hoped he would pursue it the next go-around.
It was nearly 10 p.m., and we needed to reach Jan Marx’s party, so Miller collected me and off we went, even though I never followed through with my promised beer with Aranguena. I’ll have to catch you in 2014, Jeff!
We apologize for our tardiness, Jan
By the time we made it to San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx’s party, it had all but cleared out. Waiters and waitresses bussed tables, and Marx stood before a video camera, chatting with two Cal Poly TV reporters about her victory over challengers Steve Barasch and Donald Hedrick.
Miller and I hung back behind the reporters, trying to make it obvious that we at least wanted to say hello and congratulate Marx on her near two-to-one victory. There we saw our good buddy Jono Kincaid, who was prepping for the next day. The bar being closed, Kincaid offered up two delicious glasses of ice water for our parched palates, which we graciously accepted.
After about 10 minutes, Marx wrapped up her interview with the reporters and immediately turned to leave. “Better go catch her,” Photographer Steve E. Miller said, pushing me.
Marx met with her husband outside but turned for a quick handshake, accepted my congratulations, posed for a quick picture, and explained that she was late for a Democratic Central Committee and SLO Democratic Club-hosted party at the Grad.
We didn’t want to hold her up, so we stepped aside and let the mayor pass. Sure, it wasn’t the most exciting interview—not even a decent quote—but hey, we were the ones who were late. Four more years, Madame Mayor!
Paso City Council party’s a snooze-fest
What was heartening about the Paso Robles City Council election party was seeing candidates—incumbents and challengers alike—chumming it up like old pals. That’s Paso for you. Truth be told, there really wasn’t much going on at 1600 Country Club Drive, other than folks partaking in cheese and crackers and wine.
As of press time, Steve Martin had a healthy lead, with Jim Reed in second place.
As the night wore on, candidates were huddled around MacBooks and iPads, scratching their heads at the slow reporting of election results for their district. Incumbent Fred Strong sat at his computer, clicking the refresh button on his browser while sipping a Miller Genuine Draft.
“The incumbents are in trouble,” he said.
Strong went on to explain that the posted results were all absentee votes cast weeks ago and that a lot has gone on since then—such as letters to the editor and a month’s worth of campaigning—that the reported votes don’t take into account.
At 10 p.m., everybody but Strong, fellow council member Nick Gilman, and a few dedicated members of the media had gone. With no updated results available, it was determined that the party should be wrapped up—and the cheeses boxed.
“The best thing to do is go home and get a good night’s sleep,” Strong said.