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Assembly special election a waste? Some voters thought so

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Simmering voter unhappiness boiled over on Election Day May 3 and the people who oversee the count say they had never seen anything like it. Ophir resident Gail Reinke was one of the more than two dozen voters who not only cast their ballot in a special election that would result in a District 4 Assembly victory for Republican Beth Gaines but also added a note of protest. Reinke included a note critical of the cost that taxpayers would have to bear for a one-vote election to choose a successor to Assemblyman Ted Gaines, who won another special election in January to move to the Senate to replace the late District 1 state Sen. Dave Cox. Reinke said she has never failed to vote but was grumbling all day May 3 about the election and its costs. Placer County estimates the March 8 primary special election and May 3 runoff between Gaines and Democrat Dennis Campanale will cost $1.4 million to $1.5 million. “My husband said ‘Just don’t vote,’” Reinke said. “I’ve never put a note in an election ballot before but we’re talking about laying off teachers and cutting programs right now. It wasn’t ‘Democrat’ or I ‘Republican.’ I just felt things like this should be addressed.” Newly sworn-in Assemblywoman Beth Gaines said she’s heard the criticism and she’s looking to the future. “The election is over and voters have spoken,” Gaines said. “I’m looking forward to serving all people in the district, including those who may have been disgruntled.” Gaines added that she didn’t make the rules for the special election. “There are men and women fighting and dying for our freedom to vote and our votes are sacred,” she said. “I don’t think anyone wants to put a price tag on our right to vote.” The notes the elections division collected and provided to the Journal under public information regulations show voter dissatisfaction with paying for two elections and target Ted and Beth Gaines by name. “This … to vote for one lousy Assembly seat,” stated one submission. “No wonder federal, state and local government is upside down!!!” “Thanks to the Gaines, we’re blowing $1,000 K – wow,” another stated. “Do we really need another election?” said another. “What a waste of dollars at a very bad time.” As well as the hand-written notes, nine other voters wrote on their ballots – nullifying their vote but making their point. “Pathetic,” “I vote for nobody – a joke and a waste of taxpayer money,” “Waste of money – wish to God had better politicians in Sacramento,” and “Shouldn’t have happened if Ted had kept Assembly seat,” were some of the ballot comments made. Add what McCauley said is a conservative count of well over 50 phone calls from people protesting the election to his office and the elections chief said he’s been observing a movement unprecedented in his election experience going back to the early 1990s in Placer County. Normally, McCauley said an election would provoke one or two messages included with ballots and usually politically partisan. “We’ve never had an election when we’ve received anything like this,” McCauley said. “What does this all mean? Given the economic times, there’s a strong distrust of politicians and these voters have felt we’ve done a poor job with their money.” Sen. Ted Gaines spurred the District 4 special election – and much of the voter rancor – when he ran for two state seats at once. He filed for another term in the Assembly and breezed through the June 8 primary, defeating fellow GOP candidate Joseph Kammerer by a margin of 8-1. That set the Assemblyman up for a win against Democrat Dennis Campanale in November for his third and final two-year term. The complicating factor arrived in early July, with the death of state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. Cox was in his final four-year term as District 1 senator and due to be termed out in 2012. Gaines and Roger Niello, a former Sacramento assemblyman, had established fund-raising committees in early 2009 and were due to square off in 2012 in the District 1 GOP primary. Instead, Gaines – more conservative than his opponent – and Niello – eager to stay in the Legislature – registered after Cox’s death to run in the special election for the vacated District 1 seat. With Gaines’ name on the Assembly District 4 ballot, he found himself running in two races. Gaines eventually won both. In November, he beat Campanale for re-election to the Assembly, polling 58.8 percent of the vote. And in the District 1 special election primary Nov. 2, Gaines bested Niello while earning 31.88 percent of the vote and the right to square off in the January 4 special election against Democrat Ken Cooley. He beat Cooley in January and was sworn in as the new state District 1 senator days later. With the District 4 seat vacated by Ted Gaines, his wife, Beth Gaines and seven other candidates entered a special election under new rules that would see the top two vote getters in a March 8 primary – no matter what their party affiliation – move on to a runoff. Beth Gaines, who had never served in an elected office, and Campanale – also a political newcomer – were the top two. Gaines won the May 3 runoff, with 55 percent of the vote. Ted Gaines said the unfortunate death of Cox created the odd round of special elections and added expenditures. In January, he attempted to soften the financial blow by introducing legislation that would allow vote-by-mail-only elections for counties with populations smaller than 400,000. McCauley said the course Gaines took to get elected senator and his wife, Beth’s, decision to run for his old post were all legally correct but opened them up to some intense public criticism. Ted Gaines said he’s moving on. “It’s game over, the election was won,” he said. “We’re looking forward to serving the 1st Senate District and the 4th Assembly District.” But voters like Reinke have now put on record their disappointment. She’s hoping something can be done to prevent future expenditures on elections that further erode public trust and the state’s bottom line. McCauley said his office expects to be partially compensated with probably $500,000 to $600,000 for special-election costs but the state and ultimately the taxpayers will have to pick up the bill. Reinke recalled that her comment submitted with her ballot that the election was a “travesty” was punctuated with an exclamation mark. “I just felt things like this should be addressed,” she said. “And hopefully we can make a difference.”