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Bucolic Battleground : Tranquil Chico Is Caught in Bitter Political Cross-Fire

April 28, 1985|DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writer

"We took it as far down the road as we could," Hayden said in an interview in his Capitol office. "You take three or five seats, then the other side forms a conservative coalition and they make a comeback, then we make a comeback, and pretty soon you're an old man and you're still fighting over these same five or six college towns. So we decided to do statewide stuff, like voter registration for the Democratic Party."

Referendum on CED

Hayden's opponents aren't buying that.

A pre-election analysis in the Chico News & Review said that "this year's election has become as much a referendum on the CED as anything else."

Those close to CED locally say the campaigns this year varied little from past campaigns in terms of money spent and volunteer efforts. What did change was the effort put together by the conservative side, which CED partisans say outspent their candidates 3 to 1. Final campaign reports have not yet been filed.

Republican activist Vercruse, who organized last-minute precinct walks for the conservative candidates, said CED-backed candidates wanted to win as badly as conservatives and described the campaign as "an out-and-out war."

Karl Ory, a CED member who has been on the council two terms and served as mayor between 1983 and 1985, said he was surprised by the election outcome.

He is one of three former students at Cal State Chico who were elected to local office under the CED banner. He ran fifth. Less than 700 votes separated the top finisher from the city councilman who finished eighth.

"We expected at worst to split," said Ory, an official with a nonprofit housing corporation that has a '60s flavor to it. A notice on the agency's bulletin board promotes a 10-day tour of public housing projects in war-ravaged Nicaragua, another advertises a lecture by Navajo Indian elders on problems of Native Americans.

Other CED-supported City Council incumbents who lost were David Guzzetti, Mardi Worley and Anne Longazo. Worley and Longazo are not CED members, although both were considered CED allies on the council.

"It was an amazing effort on their part," said two-term Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, another CED member. Dolan, a one-time Cal State Chico student body president and anti-war protest organizer, credited the success of the challengers to the organizational abilities of groups not traditionally influential in municipal elections, the New Right politicians, like Doolittle, the religious right, anti-pornography activists and opponents of abortion.

Others disagree. They say the election was a case of local residents being fed up with the CED. A group of local citizens banded together under the name Committee for a Free Chico and sent out a letter saying, "The longer the CED prospers in our city, the more our city will become the battleground of outside political interests."

Just where it will all end is unclear. For years, city government was dominated by agricultural and business interests reflecting the conservative values of rural Butte County, called by some the "Orange County of the north."

The conservative winners say their victory reverses the liberal trend of the last seven years. They point to signs of more moderation.

The new generation of students at Cal State Chico is said to be more conservative than the last one.

An example of the change is Annie Nock, the outgoing student body president at Cal State Chico. She is Republican, conservative, a member of a local ranching family.

Nock helped organize the Students Political Action Committee (S-Pac), which developed almost overnight into an effective group with a stated membership of 600, hosting several well-attended forums on the Cal State Chico campus. The group opposed the incumbents.

Although some are saying that the election marks a change in student voting behavior, the two dozen students who stayed up the night before the election working for the conservative candidates deliberately avoided student precincts, concentrating instead on middle-class residential districts.

Another sign of moderation is that the candidate polling the most votes was the one most strongly identified as an independent, Cal State Chico chemistry professor Karl Kumli.

Kumli, who describes himself as a Harry Truman Democrat, started out as a member of the conservative slate, but backed away from the other three because he said "they voiced more and more conservative views." He did, however, join the conservatives in the end to help finance a poll of Chico residents that is said to have played a key role in the election.

Other members of the winning conservative slate are clergyman Bud Lang, real estate agent Mary Andrews, and businessman Ted Hubert.

"There was a big segment of the electorate that perceived the incumbents as being much, much too liberal," he said.

But he predicted no major changes in the way Chico is run.

"My intent is to get involved in city issues, not get carried away debating the nuclear freeze," said Kumli, who will be sworn in May 7.

He was referring to a city ordinance making Chico a nuclear-free zone. A tougher version of the ordinance got national attention, the joke being that the City Council was going to make it a misdemeanor to nuke Chico, the "use a bomb, go to jail" ordinance.

Liberals do not think Chico is reverting to its rural past. They say they have not lost their base of support among young professionals and students, just that many of their supporters stayed home. They claim the conservatives did the best they could, but only a few hundred votes separated the winners from the losers.

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