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Piepho keeps her seat; Houston concedes

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.

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Huge vote gap between two Contra Costa districts

Voters in Contra Costa County supervisor District 5 — from Bay Point to Bethel Island — didn’t seem inclined to vote by mail in this election.

Neighboring District 3 incumbent Mary Nejedly Piepho from Discovery Bay alone had received more mail-in votes than all five of the District 5 candidates combined. With only mail-in votes reported, Piepho posted 13,030 votes while challenger Guy Houston of San Ramon received 9,790 votes. Combined with write-in votes, 23,209 people mailed in their ballots.

But in District 5, just 11,586 people had voted by mail for the five people on the ballot. Incumbent Supervisor Federal Glover saw 3,887 votes while Erik Nunn was in second place with 3,558 votes.

We’ll see if the total numbers reach parity by the end of the evening but it’s a large chasm.

What happened?

For one, portions of District 3 (the San Ramon Valley and far East Contra Costa County) overlap with the four-way contested Assembly District 15 Republican primary. Also, outside groups spent tens of thousands of dollars on mailers. Houston was a big target of independent expenditures. That probably drove up turn-out.

These were the mail-in ballots counted roughly as of late last week. The election office won’t count the mail-in ballots that arrived on or near Election Day until after it finishes the count of votes filed today.

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How is turnout going?

One of my colleagues says she voted at Asbury United Methodist Church of Livermore, the polling place for far eastern Alameda County. Her husband was voter No. 1 when the polls opened this morning. At 1:15 today, she was voter No. 16 although some folks had turned in absentee ballots.

Another caller says he was No. 17 at 8:45 a.m. in west Contra Costa County.

It doesn’t sound too promising.

Did you vote today at the polls and what was your experience?

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Sheriff Rupf explains reasons for anti-Piepho mailer

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf spoke with me at length via telephone late this afternoon about his decision to put $12,500 of his own money into a mailer targeting incumbent Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho. I also spoke with Piepho and asked for her response to the sheriff’s remarks. (Click here to see my earlier blog entry on the subject, which includes copies of the mailer.)

I’ve put some of this content in my column for Sunday but since there have been so many questions for Rupf about the mailer on among the comments and the election is so close, I decided to post a more lengthy version here than space will allow in the newspaper.

Rupf says he was inspired to write a big personal check on the cost of the mailer after he read the Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association endorsement letter of Piepho, calling its representation of her record on public safety “180 degrees from reality.” He says the union is pandering to Piepho because it is currently in contract negotiations with the county and believes its support will translate into support at the bargaining table.

The sheriff is a vocal supporter of Piepho’s challenger, outgoing Assemblyman Guy Houston of San Ramon.

“I feel even more strongly than the money,” Rupf said. “We are in a hole that is driven by a lack of leadership and a lack of support for public safety services … At the same time, I believe there is a concerted and calculated effort by the Piephos (Mary and her husband, Discovery Bay Community Services District member David Piepho) to blame the sheriff for a lack of staffing and service.”

Rupf’s mailer says the budget shortfall forced him to “lay off deputies while Mary Piepho gave herself a whopping 60 percent raise at the expense of your safety.”

It’s true. Piepho voted in 2006 with her colleagues for a pay raise from $59,000 to $95,000 a year.

But Rupf has not laid off any deputies. He cut 16 civilian positions this year, although he says budget shortfalls have left him with 70 vacant deputy positions over the past four budget cycles.

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Election chief predicts record low turnout Tuesday

Voting turnout in Tuesday’s election will reach record lows based on the anemic level of mail-in ballots returned so far, predicts Contra Costa County Registar of Voters Steve Weir.

Here’s what Weir, who is also president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, had to say in an e-mail a few minutes ago:

Lisa,

Turnout looks like it will be the lowest of any primary in the state’s history, and that’s against a very anemic decade of poor primary turnouts.

I’m still predicting a 37% for Contra Costa and a guestimate of 31% for the state.

We have received 87,666 against 231,893 issued or a return rate of 37.8%. So, I believe that we are still on track for a 50% return rate for vote-by-mail ballots. That would give us a 24% turn out.

If 25% of the remaining voters go to the polls, we’ll reach 37%. (That’s only 99 voters per poll site.)

Other registrars are indicating an even worse return rate.

So, I still expect Calif. to reach 31%, but I think my colleagues would question that fact.

Given that the June 7, 1994 Primary was 35.05%, June 2, 1998 was 42.49%, March 5, 2002 was 34.59%, and June 6, 2006 was 33.63%, one could easily argue that the turn out will be in the high 20’s.

I’m going to argue that because so many vote-by-mail ballots have been issued, and given that some members of the public vote out of a sense of patriotic duty, we’re plumbing the bottom of turnout at this election.

Steve

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Glover demands retraction and apology

Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg, through an attorney, is asking challenger Erik Nunn of Oakley to “cease and desist” in the distribution of campaign mailer that contained false and misleading information about the incumbent. (Click here to see my blog entry and a copy of the mailer.)

Glover is also asking Nunn for a public apology and and retraction.

Glover, Nunn and three additional challengers (Gary Agopian, Mary Rocha and Don Parscal) are running for county supervisor in District 5 in Tuesday’s election.

Read more for the content of the letter to Nunn dated today from the Sacramento office of Mennemeier, Glassman & Stroud:

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