Fundraising in Zane-Coursey race for Sonoma County supervisor tops $100K
In his bid to oust incumbent Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, former Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey has so far kept pace in the money race, with combined contributions to the two rivals climbing past the $100,000 mark during the first six months of 2019.
The campaign filings from the end of last month show Zane holding a slight edge, with $53,162 raised since the beginning of the year compared to $50,178 for Coursey.
But Coursey, who launched his bid in April, still lags in overall campaign funding. Zane began the year with a war chest of $78,000, and has $116,000 on hand compared to $24,600 for Coursey, records show.
“We started fundraising in late April with a pretty aggressive goal of raising $50,000 by the reporting deadline,” Coursey said via email. “We just made that mark, and I am pleased with the wide range of support that came out in that short period.”
The Zane-Coursey race is the marquee contest for local political office next year, pitting the senior incumbent on the Board of Supervisors against a well-known former mayor of the North Bay's largest city. The two are former political allies and dated for a time several years ago. Coursey is the clear underdog, seeking to be the first challenger to unseat an incumbent supervisor in Sonoma County since 1984.
“If you look at candidate races, there's only one race, and it's that race,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political science professor.
The District 3 election is one of two races for county office taking shape. Supervisor Susan Gorin and Sonoma Councilman David Cook are set to square off in the March primary for the District 1 seat, representing southeastern Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins doesn't yet have an opponent in the race to represent the west county.
Zane is seeking her fourth term on the Board of Supervisors representing central Santa Rosa and northern Rohnert Park. She secured 19 donations of $1,000 or more, including six donations at or near the $3,190 maximum amount, according to the campaign finance reports. Among her max donors are the Sonoma County Alliance, the county's dominant business coalition; Sonoma Alliance for Vineyards and Environment, a winery trade association; and Dona Frank and Lauren Gordon, operators of the Santa Rosa marijuana dispensary OrganiCann.
The contributions from cannabis leaders are noteworthy because Zane has in the past been an outspoken opponent of marijuana retail outlets seeking to open in her district.
She acknowledged a shift in her stance on cannabis commerce and said she now supports the industry taking shape under California's legalized marketplace.
“I see a lot of young millennials and business people with great business plans and vision,” Zane said.
Coursey has 14 donations of $1,000 or more, including five at or near the maximum. Among those max donors are the Santa Rosa Teamsters and Sonoma County Airport Express' owner Tony Geraldi.
“I believe the initial reporting period shows that this will be a competitive race to the end,” Coursey said. “Of course there is pressure to raise money to fund a campaign like this, and I will continue to work on that front. But I will not win by raising or spending more money than the incumbent.”
McCuan said campaign finance disclosures later this year will be a much better barometer of the two campaigns' strength. Including independent expenditure committees, McCuan said the race could hit $1 million in spending.
“The challenger has to at least triple what he has,” McCuan said. “The incumbent has to show she can develop a sizable war chest. December is much more important.”
McCuan said Zane is vulnerable in the race, having to defend three terms' worth of decisions, including a yearslong effort by the county to unload the 72-acre Chanate Road property that has yielded lawsuits and stinging criticism of Zane from her Santa Rosa constituents.
“The challenger wants to indicate there's an outcry of support for change,” McCuan said. “But the incumbent has positioned herself as the player of all sides who can broker a deal with everyone.”
Coursey was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Press Democrat and served as spokesman for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit before making his first bid for public office. He was elected to the Santa Rosa City Council in 2014, and his fellow council members voted to make him mayor in 2016, where he served as a face of the city and earned acclaim for his leadership during the deadly October 2017 wildfires.
Zane and Coursey are seasoned politicians, but both are jockeying for grassroots bonafides in their contest.
Coursey characterized Zane's donations as being reliant on big political players, drawing a contrast with his own campaign.
“It's not true at all,” Zane said, calling her campaign “an aggressive grassroots effort.”
“My list (of supporters) has environmentalists, health care workers, labor, small business owners, farmers, builders - it has everything.”
Gorin, a former Santa Rosa mayor and councilwoman, is seeking her third term on the Board of Supervisors. Cook, a two-term Sonoma councilman and former mayor of the city, announced his intention to challenge Gorin in March.
He hasn't filed campaign finance statements, but Gorin's show an operation ready for a fight: She topped all supervisor candidates, raising $56,686 in the first six months of 2019.
Gorin secured donations from several leading winemakers in her district. Her haul includes 15 donations of $1,000 or more and one max donation from Eliot Family Cellars. She amassed another $8,000-plus via an in-kind contribution from Kunde Family Winery owners for her campaign kickoff.
Hopkins, who won her debut race in 2016 against battle-tested Sen. Noreen Evans, filed a campaign finance report for the first half of 2019 on July 31. It was not available online by this story's deadline due to an error in the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Office.
She received at least $1,000 - from the Northern California Engineering Contractor Association PAC, according to that group's filing.
You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tylersilvy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Supervisor Lynda Hopkins filed her campaign finance disclosure on time for the first half of 2019. An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the timeliness of Hopkins' filing.