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Lynda Hopkins and Noreen Evans cite ‘historic’ moment in the race for Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

The two rivals set to face off this November for Efren Carrillo’s west county seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Lynda Hopkins and Noreen Evans, struck a reflective tone Wednesday after six months of campaigning that separated them by slightly more than 400 votes in preliminary results from Tuesday’s election.

Election officials said 10,000 to 12,000 ballots remain uncounted from the west county district, enough to potentially determine who comes out first among the top two vote-getters. Hopkins had received 39.7 percent of the vote to 37.9 for Evans.

The untallied ballots include those that were dropped off at polling places Monday or Tuesday, those that were dropped in the mail Tuesday, and provisional ballots that are still being counted by elections officials. They don’t expect to have an exact count on the number of outstanding ballots in the race until Friday, said Liz Acosta, the county’s deputy Registrar of Voters.

Typically, the office takes most or all of the 30 days it is given under state law after an election to factor in uncounted ballots and provide a final update on the outcome.

Both Democrats, Hopkins and Evans said they were pleased to emerge from the field of five candidates. They were the first to enter the race and were long seen as the presumptive front-runners.

They will square off for the 5th District seat with Hillary Clinton set to be at the top of the party’s ticket. Hopkins and Evans said Tuesday’s primary results were historic and carried huge significance.

Regardless of who wins the 5th District seat, 2017 will mark the first time in county history the Board of Supervisors will have a female majority. It will also mark the first time a woman will represent western Sonoma County.

“This is an enormous step forward for women,” said Evans, 61. “I could not be more excited about the opportunity to be in the same election as the first female major presidential candidate in history. Both of these races are the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of women - for decades.”

Hopkins, 33, said electing the first female majority on the Board of Supervisors has the power to inspire girls and women to enter politics.

“I think it’s a really big deal. I’m a mom and I have two young girls and I want them to grow up in a world where that’s normal - where it’s normal to have as many, if not more women in politics as men.” Hopkins said. “If you look around, women are tremendously underrepresented, as are Latinos and African Americans. I think that our elected leadership should reflect our community.”

The contest between the two women and their opposing camps has the potential to be a bruising battle, with the winner poised to determine how the Board of Supervisors addresses key issues involving housing, education and infrastructure.

“The table is set to be expensive, and it has the potential to get very negative,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. “Noreen has been through those electoral fires and she has been baptized by anonymous mailers, and now we’re seeing Lynda learning how to respond to that. It could get nasty, but that illustrates what’s at stake in this race.”

Hopkins is an organic farmer seeking elected office for the first time, while Evans, an attorney, held elected office for 18 years, including 8 years on the Santa Rosa City Council and 10 in the state Legislature.

The winner in November will join Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, who were re-elected Tuesday, along with incumbents David Rabbitt and James Gore.

Zane and Gorin endorsed Evans while Rabbitt, Gore and Carrillo endorsed Hopkins.

Sonoma County voters elected the first woman to the Board of Supervisors in 1976. That trailblazer was Helen Rudee, a nurse and Santa Rosa schools trustee at the time.

“I remember a moment very vividly when I was running. I met a man on the street and he said ‘Helen, you’re a nice woman, but I could never vote for you because you’re a woman,” said Rudee, now 98, smiling broadly in a recent interview at her home in Santa Rosa’s historic McDonald Avenue neighborhood. “But I grew up with men. I have always been surrounded by men, so I know how to work with them.”

Stretching back nearly 40 years, the county has had periods with two women on the Board of Supervisors at the same time. Adding a third woman to the board reflects the political evolution of women in Sonoma County politics, Zane and Gorin said. “It’s a huge deal that we will have a majority of women on the board for the first time in 166 years,” Zane said. “It’s a huge deal for women in the same way that it was a huge to have our first African American president. It gives women role models like they’ve never had before.”

Gorin and Zane said that women will bring a new approach to governing on the board.

“Just as men do not agree on policy decisions, voters should not assume that three women on the Board of Supervisors will agree,” Gorin said. “But women often bring different perspectives and approaches to policy than men.”

But for now, the race is taking shape as showdown between a political novice and a veteran lawmaker - and between their dueling political camps. Hopkins has drawn a large share of her support from business, real estate and agriculture interests, while Evans has received support from environmentalists and labor groups, including a well-funded independent expenditure campaign launched by the largest union of county employees.

The rivals have clashed over the sources of their campaign funding. Evans, with a half-dozen campaigns under her belt, is no stranger to such jousting and has combated allegations her criticism of Hopkins’ donors represents an attack.

“To complain a candidate is not running a positive campaign because of the discussion about who is funding each candidate is really just a smoke screen that says ‘Don’t look at who is funding Hopkins,’” Evans said Wednesday. “I have support of environmentalists and working families and I’m proud of that. If I point out she’s being supported by developers and gravel miners they accuse me of being negative.

“What’s negative about that? That’s a decision for voters to make.”

But Hopkins, in response, has sought to downplay the influence of her major supporters on her decision-making if elected. She portrayed herself as fresh face who can span traditional divides.

“I want to establish more of a human connection with voters,” Hopkins said. “The question in my mind is are you going to be the type of leader to establish a vision for the future and chart a course for how to achieve that vision, or are you going to be the candidate constantly attacking people?”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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