With 100 percent of precincts counted, Contra Costa Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho beat back challenger Guy Houston, an outgoing Republican Assemblyman who had hoped to leverage his legislative resume to win a local job.
Piepho received 53 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for Houston and held a comfortable 3,138-vote margin.
Houston called Piepho just after midnight and offered his congratulations.
From the beginning, it was a rough campaign. It fractured friendships and created hard feelings, particularly within Republican Party activists who had endorsed and campaigned for Piepho and Houston in prior races.
Emotions ran high between the candidates, too. Piepho once worked for Houston. He had encouraged and endorsed her 2004 supervisor candidacy and tried to persuade her to run for his Assembly seat.
But she declined to seek state office and Houston, who had dropped out of consideration for a congressional seat, set his sights on his former employee’s job. Several high-profile county officials who had clashed with Piepho in her first year in office, including Sheriff Warren Rupf, threw their support behind him.
On paper, Houston should have done better. Affable and well-spoken, he had strong name identification, ample campaign funds and plenty of potential campaign fodder.
The county faces steep budget woes bought on by retiree health care debt, a poor economy and state financial troubles. Piepho has angered constituents in some parts of the county with her moves to eliminate elected municipal advisory council positions, alter the zip code in Byron and establish a no-tow zone in a popular Delta slough. And some taxpayer groups say Piepho has been far too cooperative with employee unions and cozy with Democrats such as Sen. Tom Torlakson, who endorsed her candidacy.
But like glue that fails to harden, Houston’s campaign never quite stuck.
Republicans were divided and leading county Democrats generally preferred the less partisan Piepho over Houston. He had run three successful but hard-fought Assembly races and had operated for six years in a considerably more party-focused environment in Sacramento. The Board of Supervisors is nonpartisan although party politics do come into play.
Oil refineries, a real estate political action group and labor unions had spent more than $200,000 hitting Houston and promoting Piepho in glossy mailers. Houston survived the independent expenditure barrage in his Assembly races but the hits clearly took their toll on his supervisor candidacy.
The legislator also couldn’t shake from his record details of a civil lawsuit filed by several elderly investor who said he lost their money in bad business deals related to his father’s bankrupt company. Houston reached an undisclosed settlement last year.
Houston sent out negative mailers about Piepho but he came across as a mean-spirited cad rather than an experienced statesman. Supporters such as Sheriff Rupf tried in the last week to drum up votes with anti-Piepho mailers but they were too little and too late.
It’s a steep blow for Houston, who had never, until tonight, lost a campaign.