Key moments from the 2nd District Sonoma County supervisor candidates’ forum
With ballots now in the mail and voting set to begin for most Sonoma County voters, the three candidates in the county’s most closely contested supervisor race squared off on issues including drought, leadership experience and climate change during an online forum Monday night.
Supervisor David Rabbitt is vying for his fourth term against Petaluma Planning Commissioner Blake Hooper and Kevin Hayenga, a freelance video editor and Uber driver.
Rabbitt and Hooper, especially, have intensified their jockeying in recent weeks. Hooper has staked a core part of his campaign on his ability to work with cities in the district, casting Rabbitt as out-of-touch and incapable of working with the local elected leaders in his district, spanning Petaluma, Penngrove, Cotati and some of Rohnert Park.
Rabbitt, a former Petaluma councilman, has hit back, arguing that Hooper’s attacks reflect a resume light on leadership experience. Hooper is a former district aide to Rep. Jared Huffman and now works in the state Senate.
Monday’s forum, hosted by the Petaluma Argus-Courier and Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce, had the three candidates weigh in on pandemic recovery, homelessness, drought, transit and other issues.
It featured some testy exchanges among the rivals, but also some moments of levity, including a brief pause when Hayenga disappeared from the camera’s view only to return moments later sharing that his kittens had escaped.
Election Day is June 7. The last day to register to vote is May 23 and the county’s first seven voting centers open May 28.
Here are some notable moments from the 2nd District forum:
Scuffle over endorsements
Hooper’s early endorsement from the Sonoma County Democratic Party prompted a sparring among the three candidates, all registered Democrats.
Hayenga and Rabbitt said they were not given the opportunity to interview for the endorsement, raising questions about the party’s process.
“The Sonoma County Democratic Party did not invite me, and did closed doors by picking Blake,” Hayenga said.
The party’s central committee opted for early endorsements this election season and in December contacted candidates in multiple races that had announced their bids, said Pat Sabo, the Sonoma County Democratic Party chair.
She acknowledged they did not reach out to Hayenga because they did not know he was running.
“He did not declare any type of candidacy until February and we had already endorsed,” Sabo said of Hayenga. “He had not indicated in any way that he was running.”
Sabo said the party did reach out to Rabbitt, via an email sent to his campaign address. An email shared with The Press Democrat, dated Dec. 13, 2021, with the subject line “Early Endorsement, Sonoma County Supervisor, District 2, 2022” asked Rabbitt to fill out a questionnaire if interested in an early endorsement.
Rabbitt said he never received it.
“I didn’t see an application, none was sent to me that I know of,” Rabbitt later told The Press Democrat. “I’m a lifelong Democrat, this is my fifth campaign, I won the first four. I’ve been a supervisor in this county for 12 years and I’m trying to go for one more term. She (Sabo) knows where to reach me.”
He called the handling of the endorsement “disappointing” and said he learned the party’s deadline had expired from Congressman Mike Thompson. Rabbitt said he then called Sabo but never heard back.
Sabo said she never heard from Rabbitt.
Law enforcement oversight
As the conversation turned to local law enforcement oversight, Hooper called out Rabbitt for accepting the endorsement of the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff's Association, which has stood in the way of voter-approved reforms.
“You cannot have a supervisor who supports oversight when at the same time is supported by the same entities that want to take it away,” Hooper said.
The deputy sheriff’s group and an allied union representing correctional deputies challenged key parts of Measure P, which county voters overwhelmingly approved in 2020 to increase the authority and budget of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach.
The complaint with the state labor board resulted in a decision that gutted much of the measure. The county has since moved to appeal the board’s decision.
Rabbitt said he supports police oversight and the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach but had publicly raised concerns about Measure P’s legal pitfalls before it was added to the ballot.
“Where is Measure P today? It’s basically in court, kinda right where they told us it would be and there’s a price to not listening to your attorneys,” Rabbitt said.