A change of scenery, the sight of new faces, is a romantically appealing idea, but experience quickly proves that change is not always a good thing.
This is particularly true when talking about leadership in an organization or in a community. Stability, experience, and depth of knowledge count for a lot.
That is why the Napa Valley Register Editorial Board has traditionally been conservative when recommending candidates in elections: We tend to take the view that an incumbent who has been effective and competent and who remains passionate and forward thinking deserves the benefit of the doubt in most cases.
At the same time, however, sometimes a long-established leadership team can become stale or fixated on a narrow range of ideas, failing to see or understand new approaches. We have, in the past, backed some upstart challengers who bring new ideas or who promise more passion than a long-serving incumbent.
These two clashing traditions have left the Register’s board in a conundrum this year in the race for supervisor in District 2, which pits Mark Luce – the most senior member of the board and a fixture in city and county politics since the 1980s – against three promising political newcomers, with interesting ideas, solid backgrounds, and new ideas, ranging from conservative Republicanism to liberal third-party activism.
Luce may not have the warmth of personality of others on the board, but he has consistently demonstrated a deep, even wonkish, understanding of issues. He brings an engineer’s eye to problem solving, and he has proven to be a very hardworking member of the board over his 20 years in the seat. He is an enthusiastic participant in regional government agencies and has an unmatched set of contacts across Northern California.
Ryan Gregory, meanwhile, is also an engineer. He has participated in a wide variety of commissions and civic roles, including leadership of Community Action Napa Valley, which gives him a deep knowledge of the social services needs and functions of the county. His work on downtown developments and his service on the city-county Affordable Housing Taskforce and city Housing Element Update Committee give him an intimate perspective on how to build and maintain affordable housing under Napa County’s difficult constraints.
Derek Anderson, a technology business consultant who ran for City Council in 2014, again impressed us with his passion and innovative ideas, including his focus on non-tourism economic development and the possibility of public-private transit partnerships to help ease overcrowding on our roads.
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He also spoke bluntly and correctly about the need to clean up the county’s patchwork of winery-related regulation and enforcement, and to give the industry and critics alike a fair hearing in revamping the rules and procedures.
James Hinton, a medical marijuana consultant, has grown considerably as a candidate since he challenged Mike Thompson for Congress in 2014. He brings a strong focus on sustaining middle-class wages and a commendable interest in protecting the environment, defending clean water sources, and living healthy lifestyles, free of chemicals and toxins.
Election Day is June 7. If no candidate emerges with a majority, the top two vote-getters will face off again in November. If any candidate wins outright, he will become the next supervisor.
In the end, our board could reach no consensus. Some said that Luce’s opponents had failed to articulate specifically where he had mishandled his office enough to warrant voters’ wrath – in many cases it boiled down to a general “he’s part of the problem” argument. Our members worried that to vote him out would be to dump decades of irreplaceable knowledge and experience.
Others said they thought that Gregory’s enthusiasm, local roots, support in the business and political community, and depth of knowledge about county-level issues make him worth a close look.
Some liked Anderson’s innovative, no-nonsense, business-friendly conservatism, though we all worried whether he might be too conservative for the district.
We greatly enjoyed our meeting with Hinton – he was in rare form and brought a refreshingly folksy, non-wonky look at politics. But we worried that his attention is too focused on campaigning for the proposed Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, which might distract him from his pursuit of the board seat and could hurt him with some voters, as could his outspoken advocacy for medical marijuana.
In the end, we framed the race as one hinging on your own view of change: If you value stability, we recommend a vote for Luce. If you are interested in a newer face, we recommend a vote for Gregory, with an honorable mention for Anderson, who continues to grow as a voice for unorthodox, business-like thinking about the county’s problems.