Epic battles for power and control in Sonoma County's two largest cities and on the board of supervisors will conclude Tuesday, and depending on the outcome, could change the political landscape for years to come.
"Change" was the buzzword in 2008 when Barack Obama was swept into office and locally, when candidates backed by environmentalists helped wrest control of the city councils in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Candidates backed by business interests are now hoping to regain power in those cities, and also deflect a political tilt on the board of supervisors, where a business-friendly majority still reigns.
"There's a tremendous amount at stake in that you have two philosophies going head-to-head for who will dominate the politics of Sonoma County," said Brian Sobel, a former Petaluma city councilman and now a political consultant.
"You've got a moderate-to-pro-business faction, and you've got a moderate-to-progressive faction," he said. "That means there are a whole lot of people in the middle who, under the circumstances, might lean one way or the other."
Gobs of money are being poured into the respective races, including a pace in the 2nd District supervisor's race that could eclipse the 2008 record of $700,000 set by 3rd District candidates Sharon Wright and Shirlee Zane.
Pam Torliatt, viewed as the slow-growth, pro-labor candidate, is running against David Rabbitt, who has earned support from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, building and trade groups, and local police and firefighter unions.
Petaluma environmental activist and former county supervisor Bill Kortum, a Torliatt supporter, called the election a "watershed for how the future's going to go."
Kortum said the county's environmental future is at stake, and as evidence of that, he pointed to the board's recent approvals of the Dutra asphalt plant on the Petaluma River near Shollenberger Park and the Roblar Road quarry west of Petaluma, both on 3-2 votes.
"Despite these protections that voters voted in, and use their pocketbooks to protect, a couple of lame-duck supervisors pushed through these insulting and unneeded projects," he said.