Sunday Commentary: His Superfluous Excellency

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Saylor-swear-inBenjamin Franklin once suggested that the Vice President might better be addressed as “Your Superfluous Excellency,” referring to the fact that while the Vice President has a catchy title, he does not actually have a formal role in government.

I am not about to suggest the same for the Board of Supervisors in Yolo County.  However, it is interesting that, while candidates are lining up to bash themselves over the head over the Assembly, at least right now Supervisor Don Saylor has never been challenged for his office – not in 2010 when he ran the first time, and not now as he is about to announce his running for re-election on May 19.

One of Mr. Saylor’s colleagues pointed out to me earlier this week, when I suggested he might have been the wrong official to take the lead on the fluoridation issue, that he does somehow manage to keep getting himself elected.

But it is not clear to me that anyone really cares enough to attempt to unseat him.  In 2008, Jim Provenza was elected to the County Board of Supervisors.  He was matched up against John Ferrera, in a match up that turned out to be less match than mismatch.  Mr. Provenza easily trounced him in a three-person race and avoided a November runoff.

Since then in 2010, there was no contest for Don Saylor, no contest for Jim Provenza in 2012, and, as it shapes up right now, no contest for Don Saylor in 2014.

While both Mr. Provenza and Mr. Saylor seem to like the job, eschewing a run for higher office that Dan Wolk or Joe Krovoza might have deferred to them on, no one else seems to want that job.

Some of that is the nature of the office.  The battles in Davis over land use and the like are not the priorities of the County Board of Supervisors, which has tended to attract more service-oriented individuals such as Mariko Yamada, Don Saylor, Helen Thomson and Jim Provenza.

While the Board of Supervisors plays a critical role in the provision of health care and social services, those are not the issues that typical Davisites burn hot for.

Some will suggest perhaps it is the strength of the County Supervisors elected in Davis that plays a role here.  That is possible, but likely not the full answer.

In 2008, Don Saylor was the strongest candidate in Davis.  There is no doubt.  He finished a strong first in a six-person city council race, easily out-distancing the runner-up Stephen Souza.

But times have changed.  The June 2008 was prior to the collapse of the world’s financial markets, the recession and the budget crunch.

In that election, Mr. Saylor defended his budget, arguing that they had balanced the budget with a 15 percent reserve.  Oddly, he used similar language earlier this year in defending his tenure on the council.

The economy has changed things in Davis and, while Stephen Souza in 2008 ran a strong second in  the field, in 2012 he finished last among five candidates and was unseated.

Moreover, Mr. Saylor rubbed some people, including columnist Bob Dunning, the wrong way when he insisted on being mayor for six months and resigning, forcing an awkward replacement appointment process rather than resigning and allowing the voters in November 2010 to elect a replacement.

The truth is, however, no one knows if these factors have made him electorally vulnerable because he has not run in a contested election since 2008.

There is actually no shortage of possible candidates who reside in Mr. Saylor’s district who could give him a run for his money.

We can start with Mayor Joe Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk, who would rather square off against each other than take on Don Saylor for the Board of Supervisors.

Then you have Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, who also lives in that district.  In 2010, she was elected, along with Joe Krovoza.  This week, she announced she would seek re-election for the council in her second term.

Not to be outdone, the other two members of the Davis City Council also live in Don Saylor’s district – both Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs.

And yet, no one is challenging Mr. Saylor for his seat.

I am not going to suggest that any of these individuals would defeat Mr. Saylor, but I would suggest that they would be viable candidates and give Mr. Saylor a tough race.

From a democratic standpoint, I have an increasing problem with this.  All of Mr. Saylor’s colleagues have had to at least once face a challenger for the office.  Mr. Saylor has not – not in either of his contests.

He has never had to defend his track record on the Davis City Council.  He has never had to defend his track record on the Board of Supervisors.

While I was a frequent critic of Mr. Saylor when he was on the Davis City Council, on the Board of Supervisors, I have found myself more often than not in agreement with him.  On issues like AB 109, jail expansion, and the like, I have actually found myself more in agreement with him than with others on the board.

Some will argue that if anyone had a good deal of problem with him, they would run against him.  I don’t think that’s correct necessarily.  I have had a number of people suggest to me that they want to see him challenged, but they are either in another district or have other priorities.

Just as I worry about the impact on the city that a Dan Wolk/Joe Krovoza Assembly race may bring, I worry about the impact on county policies to have members of the board anointed rather than elected.

Mr. Wolk has tried to assure the public that both candidates have the interest of the city at heart and that they will work together as council colleagues.  That is easy to say now, but as things heat up, I wonder how much that will hold up.

Judging from phone conversations, emails and text messages, I believe many of the stakeholders share my concerns.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: His Superfluous Excellency”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Last time Sue Greenwald ran out the clock on herself and everyone else acting like she was going to run until at the end of the filing period she hadn’t turned in the papers. This time Don is an incumbent a much safer place from which to run. This helps explain why the AD4 race will have more contenders open seats are easier to win.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Mr. Toad: There were several people who pondered whether to run for the seat, but ultimately chose not to do so. Sue did not factor into the equation.

    The Assembly District is not going to be easier to win give the quality of candidates in the field.

  3. Mr.Toad

    I don’t want to spend time beating a dead horse other than to say that Sue’s indecision was a factor in that race.

    My point is that all this hand wringing about finishing terms is too dismissive of the difficulty of beating incumbents.

  4. Don Shor

    [i]all this hand wringing about finishing terms[/i]

    It’s not “hand-wringing”, Mr. Toad. I believe it is disrespectful to the voters to bail on a term of office they elected you to. I think it puts political ambition above public service, especially when the likely consequences to the council are undesirable.
    It’s obvious you strongly support Dan’s (reported) decision to run for assembly. But it does you nor your candidate no good to dismiss this aspect of his choice. Should the voters elect Dan to the assembly, it leaves an undesirable outcome at the council level.
    One of my main objections to John Garamendi over the many years of his career has been that he always seemed to be running for the next office on the political ladder while occupying whatever his current one was. A perennial candidate is not a good public servant. At that point, nearly every policy decision has to be filtered through the lens of political ambition. We are better served by public officials who focus on their current job rather than constantly seeking the next office.

  5. Mr.Toad

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion but if you hold everyone to that standard there are going to be few elected officials for you to support starting with Obama. If you include those who left for appointments Hilary Clinton and John Kerry come to mind. What about judges with lifetime appointments? Maybe Sonia Sotomayor should have remained an appellate judge. What about in business? Should people forego new opportunities because they are working on something else.

    Garamendi ran for congress because Jerry Brown, the most popular elected official in the state was going to keep him from being Governor, the job Garamendi has always coveted. So instead of staying in a do nothing job of Lt. Governor he ran for congress when there was an open seat created by Ellen Tauscher vacating mid-term to work for the state department under Hillary Clinton had who left her senate seat mid-tern to become Secretary of State.

    Seems to me you are tilting at windmills when you think it should be any different at the local level. There will be an open seat in the legislature. Two guys with proven track records at the ballot box want the seat. They have decided that opportunity should not be ignored. I hope at least one of them wins.

  6. eagle eye

    Dan Wolk seems in many ways to be too young. His choice of parents was quite fortunate. I hope that hasn’t gone to his head.

    For Davis’ sake, I’d rather see Krovoza stay on the council, and Wolk off and away in the Assembly.

  7. SouthofDavis

    Mr. Todd wrote:

    > You are certainly entitled to your opinion but if you
    > hold everyone to that standard there are going to be
    > few elected officials for you to support starting
    > with Obama.

    I agree 100% and if you dig deep there is a short list of people that have NEVER left an office early. It seems to me that people tend to use leaving office early to bash the people they don’t like. In the 2008 election I heard many right wingers bash Obama for not finishing his term but didn’t seem to mind that Palin bailed mid-term (and left wingers were ripping on Palin for leaving the people in Alaska but had no problem with Obama leaving the people of Illinois)…

    > Dan Wolk seems in many ways to be too young. His
    > choice of parents was quite fortunate. I hope that
    > hasn’t gone to his head.

    Keep in mind that “choice of parents” make a big difference in “years of experience”. A contractor friend is a little older than Dan, but since he (really) started working for his Dad at 6 and by the time he had his drivers license was bidding jobs for his Dad (also a contractor) and running a crew of 6 guys he has more “experience” than many guys 20 years older than he is. Dan didn’t “decide to get interested in politics” when he threw his hat in to the ring for the open Davis city council seat. Three of the top real estate sales people in town are a little older than Dan and all grew up with parents in the business here in Davis. The reason they do so well is that even as a kid you learn a lot about how the business works. I like Joe a lot and I would be happy if either him or Dan win, but when it comes to time spent over a lifetime in the world of politics getting “experience” on how to really get things done I’m certain Dan has more “experience” despite his younger age…

  8. medwoman

    “when it comes to time spent over a lifetime in the world of politics getting “experience” on how to really get things done I’m certain Dan has more “experience” despite his younger age… “

    I think there is a difference between having a very close spectator seat and actually making the decisions yourself.

  9. SouthofDavis

    medwoman wrote:

    > I think there is a difference between having a
    > very close spectator seat and actually making
    > the decisions yourself.

    So you would rather have a 45 year old doctor three years out of med school who was a CPA for 10 years treat you in the emergency room than a 45 year old doctor two years out of med school who was an EMT in High School and Emergency room Nurse for 10 years before going to med school?

    There is a big difference between being in the “spectator seat” as a spectator (like I am at a football game) and being in the “spectator seat” trying to learn from each decision (like my cousin a high school football coach is at a football game)…

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