Lynda Hopkins capped her remarkable emergence as a political newcomer Tuesday, claiming 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.