Candidate forums are pretty easy to screw up (for the politicians) and very easy to ridicule. You’ve got to think on your feet, and coherently condense complex issues into easily digestible sound bites. If the roles were reversed, I’m sure various candidates for political office would have a field day roasting my ineloquent ass.
Alas, the roles are not reversed.
In no particular order, here are my impressions from Wednesday’s candidate forum in Mammoth featuring Assessor, Sheriff and Supervisor candidates.
The Sheriff’s debate was a wash, mostly because the moderator, Bill Taylor, is a very nice man who doesn’t like putting people on the spot. So no one was put on the spot. Dullsville.
Jon Madrid was never mentioned. Dick Luman (Obenberger sat on the Personnel Appeals Board which upheld his termination) was never mentioned. Boulaalam was mentioned once in passing. I don’t even think I heard the terms “saturation patrol” or “burning man.” Seriously, you’re there to ask questions people want asked, not to pussyfoot around in some quixotic quest to appear “fair” or “unbiased.”
Imagine hosting a debate with Vladimir Putin and making no mention of Ukraine.
Rick Phelps, coming to Taylor’s defense, says it’s up to the candidates to draw distinctions and bring up the more unsavory topics.
The only thing I heard any different on Wednesday came from Obenberger, who referred to the Sheriff’s Department as the “People’s” department in his introduction, saying “the people guide what we do” and insisting that the department consistently and frequently “self-assesses.” This marked a change of tone.
In the Supervisors’ debate, I thought Stacy Corless did better than expected, that Eckert and Sauser ended up okay but got too jokey at the end and that diminished their respective messages, and that Stapp and Johnston were oddly flat, although I felt like Johnston finally got comfortable and settled in towards the end of the evening.
I liked the fact that Corless didn’t shy away or apologize for who she is – basically liberal and environmentally conscious. I also felt she did a pretty good job, when asked questions, of trying to outline the issue before her in layman’s terms before answering.
Eckert scored with me when he actually risked looking like the bad guy by bringing up some negatives about his opponents. Shouldn’t Kirk Stapp have to defend his role in the Mammoth Airport debacle, which occurred on his watch as a Town Councilman? Shouldn’t Stacy Corless have to explain the ramifications of being married to a senior vice-president at MMSA, and how that may affect her ability to participate on certain issues?
I also appreciated the distinction drawn between both candidates on the endangered species listings this week. Eckert: The economy is the top priority and “this crap is getting out of hand.” Corless: Fear is the wrong approach. It’s very likely the listings will not impact the larger fisheries. And as much as we may not like the listings, it’s important to find a balance. Corless cited Mono Lake as a positive example of what happens when environmental stewardship is done right.
Kirk Stapp … the important thing to recognize about Stapp is that he has an incredible amount of knowledge and experience in so many different areas, particularly with budgets and negotiations. He knows the issues and he is just an incredibly decent human being. Debate formats, however, are not his strength.
Larry Johnston … kept referring to the incredible team the County has put together during the past four years – of course he referred to it as “The Dream Team.” It was enough to make Cleland Hoff throw up in her mouth. But Johnston made a very compelling case for his accomplishments – construction stimulus, budget stewardship – and he had a wealth of ideas regarding present and future ways the Town and County can collaborate (in information tech, human resources, even in moving bank accounts to the same place in order to access better interest rates).
And this puts challenger Bill Sauser in a difficult position. He didn’t really convince me that Larry’s done a whole lot wrong, and mostly, their approach and answers were very similar.
Sauser did spend some time championing the idea that the County has to devote more to marketing and tourism versus largely leaving the task to the Town of Mammoth and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
Last-minute newsflash having nothing to do with this: Tioga Pass is open!