If it weren’t for the City Council meetings, all of us political junkies would be bored. But not to worry, the stakes are so high, the elections are about to get much more interesting. Politically speaking, it is going to be a long hot summer.
The headliner remains the race between appointed Democratic incumbent state Rep. Carol Gregory and first-time candidate, Republican Teri Hickel. Both candidates are nice people who will likely try and keep the race clean.
But special interest groups backing each candidate won’t follow the same path. Democrats desperately need to hang on to the seat to keep control of the House of Representatives through the 2016 legislative session and Republicans can almost taste a change in power coming their way. It could be the most expensive legislative race in state history and will certainly be among the most contentious. Gregory is more knowledgeable on the issues, so Hickel will need to be a quick study. The fall debates are important for each candidate’s credibility.
The next biggest story may be whether Mayor Jim Ferrell comes out of the council elections stronger or weaker.
The council races will start to heat up as four challengers try to win their first election. Cliff Mark Greene and Anthony Murrietta are both in the race against appointed incumbent Lydia Assefa-Dawson, although Greene may switch and run against Mark Koppang who is unopposed. Koppang has run before and has worked hard to increase his visibility in the community. If Greene does switch he will have to take the race seriously or it won’t be close.
A Greene switch helps Murrietta as he and Assefa-Dawson can focus on each other. Both are Democrats, but while Assefa-Dawson will lose some Democratic support for her endorsement of Republican Mark Miloscia in his Senate race last year, it will also get her Republican votes.
She is the front runner and has a compelling personal story, but if she wants to be retain her seat, clarity on policy positions and political parties are important. Voters want to know where the candidates stand. Murrietta is usually pretty clear about his views and will likely challenge her on her opposition to marijuana and hesitant support of voter decisions, to establish a difference and give voters a reason to vote for him.
P.K. Thumbi hasn’t been particularly visible since his announcement of running against incumbent Dini Duclos. Duclos has run enough times to know she can wait and make a move when she needs to. But as a first-time candidate, Thumbi is expected to be more visible. The lack of public movement benefits Duclos. So far, no one is stepping up to take on Councilwoman Susan Honda.
As noted earlier, the big news may be Ferrell’s political strength after the elections. The political parties aren’t the only ones who should be recruiting candidates with similar goals.
So far, Ferrell has endorsed Koppang and will likely stay with that position even if Greene switches. Greene has some Democratic ties but Ferrell is banking on a Koppang win. Ferrell has also endorsed Duclos over Republican Thumbi.
Again, a Duclos win is expected. In the Assefa-Dawson-Murietta race, Ferrell hasn’t endorsed either. His involvement in the council races has been very low-key, and involves candidates who are running, not candidates Ferrell recruited. When he was elected mayor, only two members of the council supported him. That is likely not the case any longer.
The council has voted for almost everything Ferrell has requested. But those votes have been pragmatic and not made of loyalty, as the council has gotten almost everything it has wanted as well. And pragmatism only goes so far. There were five votes to defeat Ferrell’s proposal and ban marijuana, and there may have been five votes to override any veto. The main message out of the council discussions on marijuana is that the honeymoon may be over. The council will go its own way when it suits them. Ferrell needs supporters on the council or the next two years won’t be nearly as easy as the first two. Koppang is likely to reflect the same conservative voting pattern as Councilman Bob Celski, and Duclos will continue on her previous path.
Though both come closer to Ferrell in viewpoints than the likely opponents, neither will be his loyalists. In what might be the closest race, Democrats will expect Ferrell to endorse Murrietta. However, Assefa-Dawson is the probable front runner. That is a big risk for Ferrell if Murrietta doesn’t win, but sitting on the sidelines doesn’t gain him anything either.
If Ferrell comes out of the election with no improvement in his position, gearing up for his own election in two years will get more difficult as other names are already in play.
The Gregory-Hickel race is the stage setter for 2016. This year’s council races set the stage for mayoral and council races in 2017. Watch to see which community leaders endorse which candidates and who raises the most money. It will tell you a lot about the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.