Lynda Hopkins wins Sonoma County supervisor race over Noreen Evans

Lynda Hopkins was a virtual unknown in political circles last year when she announced her bid for Sonoma County supervisor.|

Lynda Hopkins capped her remarkable emergence as a political newcomer Tuesday, claiming what a commanding victory over her more seasoned rival, former state Sen. Noreen Evans, in the heated race to succeed Efren Carrillo on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

By about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, with all precincts counted, Hopkins had 54.1 percent of the vote, to Evans’ 45.9 percent.

“I feel totally honored and humbled and it feels like all this hard work has paid off,” Hopkins said in a phone interview amid a crowd of supporters at her election night party at La Fondita Mexican restaurant in Roseland. “It truly takes a village to run for supervisor, I think I brought that farmer ethic to it - putting in those 16-hour days seven days a week. At the end, all of us want to make the world a better place.”

Her apparent win vaulted an organic farmer with no previous experience in elected office into a pivotal role on the Board of Supervisors, where she may be a swing vote between incumbents who represent centrist and liberal blocs on the most divisive issues, including winery development, spending on housing and homelessness initiatives and what to do about the county’s rising employee pension costs.

Hopkins, 33, was a virtual unknown in county political circles when she announced her bid for the 5th District seat last November, becoming the first in a field of five candidates to eventually seek Carrillo’s job when he opted not to run.

Evans, 61, who announced two months later and has a nearly ?20-year tenure in local and state politics, was seen as the frontrunner. But Hopkins claimed the most votes in the June primary, and she has maintained a steady fundraising lead over Evans throughout the campaign.

The runoff between the two liberal Democrats took shape as yet another battle between traditional political camps in the county. Hopkins touted a fresh approach to local government and held a series of town hall and one-on-one meetings on the campaign trail to secure a broad range of support in west county. Her biggest financial backers hailed from business, farming and development interests, and they helped fuel a large share of the reported $1.1 million in spending in the race. Donations to Hopkins and spending by her allies far outpaced Evans, an attorney who relied on her deep roots with organized labor and environmental groups and name recognition from her two decades in politics, including 10 years representing the North Coast in the Legislature.

The outcome Tuesday reflects the political evolution of west county, where liberal groups aligned with progressive causes have long held sway, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

“Lynda Hopkins has gone right into the belly of Sonoma County’s progressive, activist beast and slayed that dragon … with Hopkins, the district becomes more moderate,” McCuan said. “Noreen Evans is an excellent fit in that district, with her experience and support from environmentalists and labor, but she has not been able to win over voters.”

Demographic shifts fueled support for Hopkins, McCuan said. Increasingly, young people and Latinos are playing a critical role in local and national races, and Hopkins’ campaign engaged such voting groups, whereas Evans has relied on the traditional west county camps, including the Sonoma County Democratic Party, environmentalists and labor groups.

“I definitely feel relieved. It was a tough campaign with a lot of negativity,” Hopkins said. “Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and reach across the aisle and get to work.”

Evans said she was not ready to concede Tuesday night, and she expressed optimism that she would gain on Hopkins as more ballots were tallied. As many 32,000 ballots may remain uncounted based on turnout projections. The 5th District results at ?11 p.m. included about 13,000 votes.

“These numbers don’t mean anything,” Evans said. “Sebastopol hasn’t been counted. … It’s going to be a long night.”

McCuan said Hopkins’ lead could narrow, but it will likely hold.

Bleys Rose, chairman of county’s Democratic Party, said Hopkins’ apparent win represents a shift to moderate-leaning west county representation on the board despite Carrillo holding the 5th District seat for the past eight years. Carrillo, along with Supervisors David Rabbitt and James Gore, form the more centrist voting bloc on the board, while Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin form the more liberal bloc.

“I think we’re seeing a changing of the political guard,” Rose said. “Voters may be looking for new people on the scene who are not so tied into specific political philosophies or specific groups and Lynda has been able to say I’m progressive, but I welcome opinions from everybody.”

Lars Langberg of Sebastopol voted for Hopkins but said the choice between two liberal Democrats to represent west county was not easy.

“This was a really difficult race to decide,” Langberg said. “But for me, it’s Lynda’s education and experience in land use planning. This race is about the future to me, and Noreen seems more about the past.”

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.