Four years ago, David Rabbitt was an architect in Petaluma, a husband and father who became active in politics through community boards related to his three children's schooling and activities.
Today, he is serving a rare second consecutive term as chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leading the board in allocating its $412 million general fund budget and guiding decisions that will leave an imprint on county services for years to come.
Penngrove rancher John King says he can do a better job.
The water activist is challenging Rabbitt on the June 3 ballot for his 2nd District seat, which represents Petaluma, Cotati, part of Rohnert Park, Penngrove and the unincorporated towns and ranchland south of Sebastopol.
King ran against Rabbitt in 2010 and finished fourth in a four-person primary for an open seat vacated by Supervisor Mike Kerns. King later unsuccessfully tried to run as a write-in candidate in the general election, in which Rabbitt defeated then-Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt.
Rabbitt, 53, says he has provided steady leadership at the helm of the five-person board steering the county through the worst economic doldrums in generations and a wave of infrastructure construction, including SMART train tracks, an expansion of Sonoma County's airport and the widening of Highway 101 and related overpass construction.
King, 57, says the incumbent is "clueless," dishonest and a puppet to development interests. He said Rabbitt is too city-centered to represent the south county.
King holds himself out as the only true choice to represent the agricultural community and rural residents, pointing out that the last several south county supervisors have come from the ranks of the Petaluma City Council.
Rabbitt, meanwhile, has been endorsed by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the Sonoma County Alliance, North Bay Association of Realtors, North Bay Leadership Council, construction unions and police and fire unions in the county, Petaluma and Rohnert Park.
Political observers say Rabbitt's adversaries didn't put up an environmental or progressive candidate because they believe he's unbeatable this election.
When Rabbitt was elected in 2010, it was in the midst of difficult economic times and the county grappled with generous pension promises and deferred road maintenance while revenues from property taxes — the main source for county law enforcement and administrative programs — and sales taxes took a nose dive.
"The last 3? years has been a rebuilding in Sonoma County in some ways," Rabbitt said. "We've made great strides."
Due to state-mandated pension overhauls, about 11 percent of the county's employees now are under a second, less-generous tier of retirement benefits. Contract negotiations with county employee unions led to other pay and pension concessions that will save the county $170 million over 10 years, Rabbitt said.
The measures are meant to ease taxpayer obligations for county pensions that skyrocketed more than 300 percent over the past decade, to $98.3 million a year.
King said if elected, he would cut his salary in half and not take a pension.
Rabbitt said he supported several firsts the board adopted as it sought better fiscal accountability: a debt policy, a reserve policy, an internal auditing committee and a compilation of fund balances.
The county has doubled the amount spent on roads over the past two years, including an additional $8 million for maintenance, although the backlog is more than $920 million.