Another election is now behind us, and many voters are not going to miss it. Our divisive national political cycle lately has been marked by the country careening from one election to the next, with ever shortening periods of uneasy calm in between.
Fortunately, local politics in Petaluma has remained much more demure. Candidates this year largely refrained from attacking opponents, instead putting out positive messages intended to bolster their campaigns.
We did see a first for Petaluma politics — a coalition of big oil companies spent thousands of dollars to try and influence the mayoral race. Unions and other local groups have spent money on Petaluma races in the past, but this was the first time an outside group tried to sway voters.
The coalition sent out mailers supporting mayoral candidates Mike Harris and Brian Powell and at least refrained from attacking mayoral candidate Teresa Barrett.
Barrett sits on the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates emissions from industries including oil and gas companies, so this local campaign appears to have more regional implications. The big oil coalition also spent money in other Bay Area cities where air quality board members were on the ballot.
While this outside spending certainly seems dirty, it is perfectly legal and should be expected to increase in the future unless Congress passes a law that nullifies the Citizens United case. That 2010 Supreme Court ruling, which essentially said that corporations could spend money to influence elections. It gave rise to so-called super PACs and has now trickled down to local Petaluma politics.
A word of advice to corporations intent on swaying future elections in liberal-leaning Petaluma: Campaign mailers sent from big oil companies trying to persuade voters to elect a candidate might have the opposite effect. Many voters who received the mailer in support of Harris saw that it was sent by a coalition of oil companies and were turned off. Indeed, even Harris disavowed the support.
It is hard to say if the coalition’s campaign made a difference, though in the end Barrett won a decisive victory and will be the next mayor.
Now that unofficial results are in, we can congratulate our new elected leaders on running successful campaigns. Besides Barrett, the city council received a shake up and will indeed skew more progressive with the addition of D’Lynda Fischer, the third woman on the board, and Kevin McDonnell. Incumbent Dave King, an independent voice on the council, handily won re-election.
Voters also sent a jolt to the Petaluma school board, rejecting two incumbents and electing two teacher union-backed challengers, Mady Cloud and Joanna Paun. Incumbent Sheri Chlebowski held a slim lead for the third spot over challenger Caitlin Quinn.
The Petaluma Health Care District will likely have two new members. Crista Barnett Chelemedos and Gabriella Ambrosi held leads while incumbent Joe Stern trailed by 126 votes.
Those candidates who did not win should also be commended for their willingness to serve the public. Running for local office and serving in an elected role is a thankless task that takes countless hours and comes with no monetary gain. We hope those who did not win will stay engaged in local politics, work with the elected officials to implement your ideas and consider running again in two years.