When it comes to City Council write-ins, experience counts

By Jayson Jacoby November 19, 2010 05:10 pm

Baker City voters value experience in their city councilors.

But not necessarily current experience.

For certain voters, past incumbency seems to be a more valuable political attribute than present.

County Clerk Tami Green this week faxed me a tally of the write-in votes from the Nov. 2 election.

The spreadsheets, which show the vote totals for everyone whose name showed up on more than three ballots, make for interesting reading.

Overall, residents cast 1,021 write-in votes.

Which isn’t very many, really — barely 10 percent of the total votes cast.

(Four of the seven seats on the Council were in play, so residents could vote for as many as four people.)

As you’d expect, the four candidates whose names were printed on the ballot garnered the vast majority of the votes and were elected.

Or, more accurately, were re-elected in the case of the three incumbents on the ballot — Dennis Dorrah (2,113 votes), Clair Button (2,101) and Beverly Calder (1,991).

The lone non-incumbent on the ballot, Roger Coles, received 2,652 votes.

In other words, no write-in candidate came even remotely close to winning one of the four seats.

Which is as it should be. I prefer to be represented by people who show at least a modicum of interest in doing the job — by registered as a candidate, for instance.

Still and all, several hundred city residents were sufficiently dissatisfied with at least one of the four choices given them that they wrote somebody else’s name (or names) on their ballot.

And those spreadsheets show that the people most likely to occur to voters as alternatives are those who have either served as a councilor or worked as city manager.

Former councilors who also served as mayor did especially well.

Name recognition matters, to put it another way.

Among the top 12 recipients of write-in votes, six are former city councilors. And four of those six also served as mayor.

Two others are former city managers: Steve Bogart and Steve Brocato.

Bogart, who has served two stints as city manager, the most recent one ending just two months ago, tied for the lead in write-in votes with 26.

Brocato, who worked as city manager from January 2007 through June 2009, got 12 votes.

(Well, technically Steve “Brocato” received 10 votes. Steve “Brocado” got two votes, but I’m confident we’re dealing with only one person.)

Matching Bogart’s 26 write-in votes is Ron Bell, who has not served as a Baker City Council member.

The rest of the top 12, though, is rife with names familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to City Councils from the past 25 years.

Randy Daugherty received 23 votes.

Next in line is Chuck Hofmann, who has 14 years’ experience as a councilor, including six years as mayor.

Hofmann, whose Germanic surname proved considerably more vexing to voters than the Italian Brocato, amassed 19 votes, distributed among seven combinations of his full name.

Besides three versions of “Hofmann,” he appears on ballots under the first names “Charles,” “Chuck” and, in one instance, “Chas.”

Lennie Spooner interrupts the run of former city officials, drawing 18 write-in votes — 11 as “Lenny” and seven as “Lennie.”

Tied with 17 votes is a pair of former councilors, each of whom also served as Baker City mayor: Peter Ellingson and Jeff Petry.

Andrew Bryan, who resigned as a councilor in late May of this year, received 12 votes.

Former councilor, and mayor, Larry Pearson’s name was inked in on 11 ballots (and, refreshingly, it was spelled correctly on every one).

Green, who’s responsible for overseeing county elections, also received 11 votes.

Yet another former councilor, Terry Schumacher, tallied 10 votes.

So, curiously, did Sam Bass, who’s already a member of the Council and thus neither needs, nor can benefit from, a single vote. His term continues through the end of 2012.

Two people received nine write-in votes: Don McClure and Carl Stiff.

 Stiff not only already has a political job — he’s a county commissioner — but he was also listed on the ballot as a candidate for his current position, to which he was easily re-elected.

Six people tied with eight write-in votes.

And what an intriguing group it is.

Two of the six are former councilors — Gary Dielman and Davey Peterson.

One, Milo Pope, is, like Bass, an incumbent councilor who has two years left on his current term.

And another, Jamey Hardy, was the chief petitioner in last year’s unsuccessful campaign to recall two of the councilors, Calder and Dennis Dorrah, who voted to fire Brocato on June 9, 2009.

The recall that Pope supported and that Dielman opposed.

Which is precisely the sort of convoluted web of connections that commentators often cite when describing the peculiar nature of small-town politics.

The two other members of the eight-vote club, by the way, are Bill Todd and Tyler Brown.

I know the former from his amusing, if slightly profane, response to the Basecamp Baker marketing slogan;  the latter makes some fine brews.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.