“All politics is local” said the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill. A reformulation of that cherished statement could be “all politics is parochial.” How we see things depends on where we sit.
From that perspective, the most gratifying local election result is Bill Dodd’s Assembly victory. For the first time in a long while, there will be a Napan in the Legislature. That’s significant, as our county doesn’t easily fit into the usual political pigeonholes. Napa is clearly suburban, down in American Canyon, and totally rural, up in Pope Valley. It’s modestly industrial, yet overwhelmingly agricultural. We’re of the Bay Area, but don’t really have much in common with Marin or Contra Costa.
So making sure Napa doesn’t get lost in the governmental shuffle is a chore that never ends. It’s good that we’ll have one of our own waving our flag.
Upvalley, the most vigorous races were the generational battles in St. Helena for mayor and council. Apparently, the old guys won. I say that because the morning after the election, we have the Napa legacy of incomplete returns. At 9 a.m. Wednesday, a very perky elections person said they didn’t even know how many votes were cast, either locally or countywide. Hence, they don’t know what they don’t know — how many ballots remain to be counted. All she could say was there were “quite a few.”
If Alaska, with all its vast geographical challenges, can report 100 percent of its results within hours after the polls close, it’s a continual embarrassment for us that Napa, where we can drive from one end of the county to the other in about an hour, can’t — or won’t — do the same. Maybe we accept that as a cherished local tradition.
In St. Helena, apparent mayoral victor Alan Galbraith and his informal running mate, council candidate Paul Dohring, were decades older than the incumbent mayor Ann Nevero and council member Mario Sculatti. Nationally, the TV networks are saying older voters came out in more relative numbers than the younger crowd. St. Helena may have reflected that trend in microcosm.
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Another dimension in which St. Helena paired well with the national battleground is the impact of big money. Nationally, mysteriously named political committees with hidden lists of contributors threw millions into TV ads in almost every state. All legal. In St. Helena, Galbraith wrote a personal check of $20,000 for his campaign. When we finally have all the ballots counted, that may turn out to be 10 bucks per voter, an astonishing ratio. Not that there’s much to spend money on in a small-town campaign. His major expense was a series of large ads in the St. Helena Star, week after week, month after month. As a columnist for the Star, I appreciate that financial contribution to the paper.
One local wag opined that Galbraith might have best used his dollars to mail crisp $10 bills to each voter. Could have called it “election expense pre-reimbursement” or something similar.
Nationally, there was much entertainment to be found in watching all the talking heads trying to find something memorable or unique to say about the results when the major trend was crystal clear: It was a protest vote against the Obama administration. We’ll have to see if the president is as adept at responding as was Bill Clinton after a similar thrashing 20 years ago.
A bit of bipartisan enjoyment can be found in two welcomed defeats back in New England. Republican carpetbagger Scott Brown lost a Senate contest in New Hampshire, having previously lost one in Massachusetts. One guy losing to two women in two states in two consecutive elections. Memorable. Next door in Massachusetts, Democrat Martha Coakley lost again. This time for governor. Previously, she had lost a contest to the aforementioned Scott Brown. Years before, Coakley had played a significant role in a major scandal: the unfounded and fictitious pursuit of a family of educators for child molestation. At least these are two politicians whose ambitions are now thankfully buried. That’s a morsel of good news that can be digested nationwide.
Epstein lives in St. Helena and is a columnist for the St. Helena Star, though he wrote this for the Register.