In the Valley of Elijah

Jerry Lenthall is tall; Adam Hill is not, easily allowing one to cast the upcoming June election for District 3 county supervisor as a classic David and.Goliath struggle. Lenthall, the incumbent, did not taunt potential opponents daily like Goliath, but his large frame, law enforcement background, and well-financed war chest sent an imposing message to many would-be challengers: Don’t even think about it. I will crush you.

         Enter Professor Hill, a Cal Poly lecturer and first-time candidate, who has probably knocked on more doors since last summer than all the local LDS missionaries and Jehovah Witnesses combined. Like David, Hill declared that he was not afraid. But he was also smart enough to know that this would require more, much more, than a mere sling and five stones from the brook.

         With a month to go, the battle is being fought in earnest. Lenthall trotted out his Big Guns, including Dave Romero, Sam Blakeslee, and Steve Ford. Hill responded with Lois Capps and Jack O’Connell, also managing to pick up the critical endorsement of Shirley Bianchi, who supported Lenthall in 2004.

         Next came the signs. Can you go anywhere in the district without seeing a Lenthall billboard? My favorite is the large sign that graces northbound Hwy. 101 in Shell Beach. Lenthall leans forward on a balcony, gazing forlornly off in the distance. 

         What exactly is he looking at? His supporters might suggest he’s merely enjoying the environment he supposedly helped to protect. His critics probably think he’s eyeing another good spot for potential development.

         There are debates on-going. Advertisements for radio, television, and newspapers that will inundate us throughout May. Telephone solicitations. Telephone surveys. Candidates going door-to-door.  Mailboxes stuffed with campaign literature. Short of total hibernation, there will be no hiding from these two. So far, the race has been reasonably civil, but history tells us that might change in May.

         I think highly of both men and I do believe the race will be close and that either candidate can win. But I also believe Supervisor Lenthall has the tougher challenge in these remaining weeks.

         Money always matters. I haven’t seen the latest figures, but it appears that cash that once was intended for Lenthall is now being diverted to Debbie Arnold in her bid to unseat District 5 supervisor Jim Patterson. Arnold has more than $100,000 in the bank. Does that mean that local Republicans believe Arnold has a better chance? Some say yes.

         Endorsements don’t always translate into votes, but I find it interesting that four out of five city council members in Grover Beach and three out of five in San Luis Obispo endorse Hill (apparently Pismo Beach city council members are staying neutral). And even though they’re not in District 3, four out of five city council members in neighboring Arroyo Grande also support Hill.

         The larger challenge facing Lenthall is convincing the voters of District 3 that he hasn’t moved too far to the right. This is the province of former county supervisors like Kurt Kupper, Evelyn Delaney, and Peg Pinard, all of whom were elected multiple times with the big “L” proudly stamped on their foreheads.

          Lenthall ran as a moderate in 2004. He is making no such pretense this time around. A local newspaper analysis, published last month, found that since January 2005, Lenthall voted with fellow Republicans Harry Ovitt and Katcho Achadjian 88 percent of the time when hearing appeals from lower government bodies.

         When I interviewed Lenthall on the radio in April, I told him that if he lost, it would be because of what happened with the Cayucos viewshed issue: county planning department ignored, county planning commission ignored, Bruce Gibson, whose district was being directly affected, ignored. Policy was set by a private citizens group.

         Property rights is a hot button issue in North County, but environmental concerns have always been paramount in District 3 and the Cayucos vote seemed to finally wake people up about the development-friendly, three-vote majority on the Board of Supervisors.

         No one expects Lenthall to be a reincarnation of Kurt Kupper, but nor should he be a clone of Harry Ovitt.

          Lenthall would be wise to remember the story of David and Goliath in these remaining weeks. Big billboards are impressive, but merely looking at the ocean does not make one an environmentalist. Perhaps the values of the voters in District 3 have undergone some kind of seismic shift lately, but I doubt it. Just ask Ernie Dalidio.

SLO City News (May, 2008)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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