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Incumbents take lead in early Napa County returns
Primary Election

Incumbents take lead in early Napa County returns

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Incumbents seemed set for a big night, but the county’s first-ever tax to fund open space appeared to struggle as voting wrapped up Tuesday night.

With the first batches of votes, about 23,000, counted, Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Belia Ramos appeared to have shaken off challengers. Meanwhile Measure K, a quarter-cent sales tax to fund acquisition and improvements of parkland by the Napa County Parks and Open Space District was well short of the two-thirds margin needed to win.

Initial results, drawn from early-voting ballots mailed in over the last month, were released by the county’s Election Division in three batches Tuesday night.

“We have a good lead,” Pedroza told supporters moments after the first tally was released. “We’re comfortable with the result and we’re grateful for the outcome we’re seeing right now.”

Updated counts will be released over the next several weeks as later votes are counted, said John Tuteur, head of the county’s Election Division. He expects to release final results the week of March 23, ahead of the April 2 deadline.

In other results from the initial tally, Judge Monique Langhorne was cruising to victory over challenger Cliff Blackman, a Bay Area civil attorney who lives in St. Helena.

Assistant Auditor-Controller Bob Minahen was leading former county Planning Commissioner and banker Mike Basayne to be the new county Treasurer-Tax Collector.

For more detailed results, stay tuned to NapaValleyRegister.com.

While it is not unheard-of for later tallies to substantially alter the direction of the initial results, elections officials say it is rare.

The local state and federal lawmakers appeared headed for easy reelection. State Sen. Bill Dodd had no on-ballot opponents, though several people circulated their names as write-in candidates. Rep. Mike Thompson and state Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry faced only minimal opposition.

Although this was a primary election, local candidates who get a majority of votes in this election win outright and will not go on to the ballot in November. State and congressional officials, however, will have to face their closest challengers in November, no matter how lopsided the primary win.

Based on early results reported by the Secretary of State’s office after 8 p.m., Thompson's November challenger is likely to be Santa Rosa Republican Scott Giblin, who had 27.6 percent of the vote to Thompson’s 66.5 percent.

Aguiar-Curry will likely face Republican Matthew Nelson, who has about 35 percent of the vote as of March 5. Dodd will face his closest write-in challenger, though it is not yet clear who  that will be.

In the supervisor races, incumbent Pedroza faced environmental scientist Amber Manfree. Pedroza touted his experience and regional relationships, built over six years on the board. Manfree, supported by Vision 2050 and other critics of the current board, called for greater protections for the environment and more careful consideration of new wineries and other developments.

The results were similar to other cases where Vision 2050-supported candidates have attempted to unseat more establishment incumbents, with Pedroza getting 55 percent.

The incumbent Ramos, meanwhile, had a more hotly contested race that fractured many of the normal political alliances in Napa County. She faced a last-minute challenge from American Canyon City Council member Mariam Aboudamous. The county’s political establishment, which is normally protective of incumbents, split publicly in the race, with key figures such as Dodd, Pedroza and Supervisor Diane Dillon withdrawing previous support for Ramos and backing the challenger.

Also backing the challenger was an unlikely coalition of environmental and slow-growth groups, led by Vision 2050, and the conservative-leaning Napa County Farm Bureau. Just two years ago, the Farm Bureau and Vision 2050 were locked in an intensely bitter fight over Measure C, which aimed to limit development in the rural hills, so to see them on the same side this year was notable.

It was never entirely clear, however, why the race proved so polarizing. Critics of Ramos said very little publicly beyond general accusations that she was inaccessible and difficult to work with.

Ramos drew 53.6 percent of votes in the early results.

The judicial race, meanwhile, was notable for being the first contested election for the bench since 1984. Langhorne enjoyed the near unanimous support of the county’s legal community, while Blackman struggled to make a case for unseating her. Blackman proved to be uneven as a candidate, failing to show up for several scheduled events and dialing in by phone for others. He was dismissive of critics who questioned his 2018 settlement with the city of St. Helena, where he paid $105,000 in fines, taxes, and costs for having run his home there as an illegal vacation rental.

In the first round of results, Langhorne was up 77 percent to 23 percent.

The contest for Treasurer-Tax Collector pitted Minahen against Basayne after incumbent James Hudak, appointed to the job just over a year ago, decided not to run for a full term. The office collects tax money and directs the investment strategy for the county, school systems, and special districts, such as Napa Sanitation.

Minahen had an advantage in institutional knowledge from his position in the Auditor-Controllers office, which acts as the chief financial officer for the county. In his job, he was dealing with the same funds, laws, and state officials as he would in the Treasurer position. Basayne had less familiarity with details of the office, but had long experience managing large investment portfolios in the private sector.

Minahen had 65 percent of the vote in the early count.

There was only one local ballot measure. Measure K was a modified version of a 2016 proposal to fund the Napa County Parks and Open Space District, which otherwise has to rely on the goodwill of the supervisors and the uncertain flow of grant money to fund its operations. The 2016 measure fell just a hair short of the two-thirds requirement for local tax measures.

The new version would raise an estimated $9 million per year for the district to protect wildlands and farmland either by outright purchase or through conservation easements, where the land remains in private hands but the owners promise to forego development in perpetuity.

District officials said their existing funding was just enough to cover the care and maintenance of their current parks, leaving nothing extra to acquire any of the remaining 22,000 open acres in the county.

The measure would direct 20 percent of the funding to the five incorporated areas to build and maintain their own park systems.

The measure enjoyed support by 59 percent of voters in the early results.

If it winds up with 66 percent in the final results after all, district officials say their first priority will be to negotiate with the state to buy Skyline Park, adjacent to the city of Napa, and then to seek the purchase of several parts of the Lake Hennessey watershed near Moore Creek Park.

Editor's note: This item has been modified to reflect the fact that state Legislature candidates will face their closest challengers on the November ballot.

You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.

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Editor

Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.

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