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Second Assembly District candidates tussle in Ukiah

A seated crowd observes six candidates on a dais.
Second Assembly District candidates from left: Chris Rogers, Rusty Hicks, Ariel Kelley, Michael Greer, Frankie Myers and Ted Williams addressed a crowd in the Ukiah City Council chambers Thursday night, February 15.

As voters in Mendocino County receive their second round of ballots, Second Assembly District candidates are sprinting to the March 5 deadline to make it into the runoff. At last night’s candidate forum in the Ukiah city council chambers, organized by the Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition, would-be assembly members joked and jabbed at each other. Even Rusty Hicks, who mostly received stony stares from his colleagues on the dais, got a laugh line when he picked up on calls to get out the vote.

“For voters that are not Republican, outside of district one, here in Mendocino County, I want to make sure you vote on the right ballot,” he said, and the room erupted into mirth.

Supervisor Ted Williams never missed an opportunity to attack Hicks, even invoking the oath of public office to defend against all enemies to label Hicks, with his vast trove of money from outside the district, as a domestic enemy. In his now-routine pummeling of the Democratic party chair, he laid the recent PG&E rate hikes at the feet of the highest ranking incumbent.

“How did this sail through?” he asked. “Nobody thought this is unjust? We actually have the chair of Democratic party here. If we do rebuttals, maybe he can answer. But it worries me when I see $750,000 contributed from separate energy (companies) to the California Democratic Party. And then we see that utility tax shows up. Nobody wants to take credit for the language.

Michael Greer, the only Republican in the race, walked in wearing a hat decorated with 49ers buttons and got the most mileage out of the anti-incumbent sentiment. “And I think one of the reasons I’m involved in these forums is so I can get everybody’s heart to beat a little bit faster,” he said to an audience ready for a laugh. Time and again, he made the point that Democratic leadership was in place as kids struggle to read, homelessness abounds, and wildfires sparked by PG&E’s unregulated infrastructure raged through towns like his former home of Paradise. “The biggest problem we’ve had is that we have not had the oversight,” he said. “The government did not do their job.”

Frankie Myers, Vice Chair of the Yurok tribe, attempted to ride the anti-incumbent wave by asking Hicks and Santa Rosa City Council member Chris Rogers why they had not done more to rein in PG&E. Rogers engaged, saying, “I just want to make sure I understand the question. Sir, are you asking why, as a city council member who has led efforts to defeat PG&E-sponseored legislation, I haven’t done more, while rebuilding my community that was burnt down by PG&E?”

“Absolutely,” Myers replied, confirming that Rogers was at one time the senior field representative for Mike McGuire’s office.

When it came to the difficulties of insuring homes due to fire risk, Myers traced it back to the repression of indigenous land management strategies, which include controlled fire. “We fought to ensure $20 million gets on the ground to bring fire back to our landscape,” he said. “Well, we need more. And we need better representation.”

Coyote Valley Tribal Chair Michael Hunter came to the front of the chamber to get a close look at the candidates as they all agreed to protect Jackson Demonstration State Forest and restore it to indigenous land management.

Candidates also pledged their commitment to funding schools , as they answered a question submitted by the Northern California Youth Policy Coalition about ensuring education for rural students. Healdsburg City Council member Ariel Kelley agreed that attendance and truancy are huge issues, and that families need more support in getting kids to class.

And, with removal of the Potter Valley dams expected to begin this decade, candidates hit water policy as well. Myers highlighted his history as lead negotiator for Yurok tribal water rights, while Kelley noted recycled water projects in Ukiah and the likelihood that higher water prices will drive conservation. Greer complained about state-funded water projects for the more populous south, and said he thought the north should get some state money for water projects, too. Williams and Rogers also both called for more state funding for infrastructure projects.

Rogers highlighted his commitment to insurance reform.

The deadline to cast ballots for the primary election is March 5.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.