Three takeaways from the Sonoma County supervisors’ debate
Candidates running for two seats on Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors gathered online for the first live event featuring the full field in the June 7 election.
Los Cien, a prominent Latino leadership organization in Sonoma County, hosted the virtual forum Thursday night.
The candidates had 60 seconds to two minutes to answer questions on a range of issues including housing, transportation, equity and government transparency.
Here are three takeaways:
1. The forum put candidates through their paces on equity, diversity and racism.
Though all five candidates denounced the discrimination and racism in the county which leaders of color have spotlighted in the past year, 2nd District challenger Blake Hooper was perhaps the most critical of the county’s response.
Hooper called for a bigger budget for the county’s Office of Equity, which he said needs “more teeth” and stronger authority.
Hooper also said the county could do better to include its minority communities in local governance.
The county’s current processes, “tend to address these issues in a silo.”
Last year, two department heads — both Black women — left their positions after they said they experienced microaggressions and other forms of racism. The county’s choice to lead its health services department, Derrick Neal, a Black man, also turned down the job over concerns of racism.
Both incumbents in the election — 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbitt and 4th District Supervisor James Gore — said there is need for continued learning and improving.
“My goal has to be to provide support to individuals who are marginalized, I’ve learned my lessons,” Gore said.
Rabbitt said Gore's approach is why he enjoys working with him on the board. Microaggressions and discrimination are problems across the county, he said.
“Learning as we go adapting, and making sure we’re always improving,” is important, Rabbitt said.
2. Gore and Hooper emphasized the need to work with cities on housing development projects.
Housing, specifically Sonoma County’s need for affordable housing, dominated much of the discussion.
“It doesn’t make sense to develop out our county that much further,” Hooper said, citing lacking infrastructure as some of the obstacles to development in more rural areas.
Hooper, a Petaluma planning commissioner, pointed instead to cities, which already have the necessary infrastructure, as key partners in creating more affordable housing.
Gore, a Healdsburg resident, made a similar point during his allotted time on the question.
All three 2nd District candidates — Rabbitt, Hooper and Kevin Hayenga — said they would support extending tenant protections used to limit evictions during the pandemic.
4th Disistrict challenger Richard “Andy” Springer, however, said it was not the place of local government to be involved in such issues.
“Our government needs to stop trying to fix everything and let the people figure it out,” Springer said.
3. Gore, Rabbitt, Hooper and Hayenga pushed back on Springer regarding financial transparency.
On the subject of accountability and pursuing a public-facing job, Springer said he wants to be candid but criticized recent Press Democrat coverage showing he owes $100,000 in outstanding federal and county taxes dating back two decades.
“I don’t have anything going on that I’m too concerned about,” Springer said.
He later added, “we need honesty and integrity, transparency and obviously great leadership.”
The other four candidates said that being an elected official means being held to a high standard.
“If you have the audacity to run for office you need to expect that everything is going to be looked at,” Gore said. “You have to stand there basically naked before your community and pass the test.”
Gore recently paid a $400 fine to the state’s campaign finance and government ethics watchdog for not disclosing his wife’s business on economic interest statements.
Hayenga and Hooper both stressed the importance of transparency in finances.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.
County government, politics reporter
The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.