Election 2022: Sliver of blue light

Both political parties have reason to celebrate as a measure of parity returns to local offices

Chico City Council Candidate Addison Winslow, who has a strong lead over Nichole Nava for the District 4 seat, addresses the early crowd at a progressive election-watch party Tuesday night (Nov. 8) at Om on the Range. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

By Evan Tuchinsky and Ken Smith

As Chico City Council candidate Addison Winslow helped with set up at an election night gathering Tuesday (Nov. 8) at Om on the Range downtown—complete with refreshments, live music from local funk band Black Fong and a big screen to monitor early returns—he got a call from Max Steiner, opponent of Republican U.S. Congressman Doug LaMalfa.

The gathering was billed as a party to “celebrate and commiserate with our progressive candidates”; would Steiner, a moderate Democrat and Iraq War veteran, be welcome?

Winslow’s response: Anyone challenging LaMalfa is progressive.

U.S. Congressional candidate Max Steiner (right) checks for election-night updates with his campaign team. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

So, even before festivities kicked off at 7, Steiner was there, along with Winslow and David Leon Zink, Democratic challenger to Republican State Assemblyman James Gallagher. Soon came the allied council contenders: Jesica Giannola, Morgan Kennedy and Monica McDaniel. As early results came through at 8:30, around 100 people from young adults to seniors were eating, drinking and dancing.

News was mixed. Winslow held a significant lead over Nichole Nava for the District 4 council seat (as of 11 p.m., he had 59 percent of the vote to Nava’s 41). McDaniel had a slender lead over appointed incumbent Dale Bennett for the two years remaining in District 3 (50.4-49.6 percent). Two Chico Unified School District board incumbents, Thomas M. Lando (58 percent) and Eileen Robinson (53 percent), led conservative opponents Matt Tennis and Logan Wilson, respectively.

On the Republican side, Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds staked a large lead over Kennedy (57-43 percent) in District 2, as did Tom Van Overbeek over Giannola (58-42 percent) in District 6 and Rebecca Konkin for the other school board seat (58 percent versus Scott Thompson). LaMalfa and Gallagher posted large enough margins across their districts to clinch reelection, including leads in Butte County, where Democrats in previous cycles have cut into Republicans’ margins. Tuesday, no Democrat led for a state or federal office with Butte County voters.

The national news also was mixed, with no “red wave” for Republicans but returns suggesting one or both houses of Congress could flip.

Still, Chico progressives celebrated rather than commiserated.

“What looks like [will be] Addison’s win is big and important and a really great moment for progressive politics in Chico,” said Butte County Democratic Party Chair Rich Ober, a former council candidate.

“I think that people really needed to celebrate something. Results nationwide are still so mixed that it’s hard to know whether there will be anything to celebrate, or what there will be to celebrate, at that level. So people just needed to have a release.

Three Chico City Council candidates at the progressive watch party: (from left) Morgan Kennedy, Jesica Giannola and Monica McDaniel. Of the three, only McDaniel has potentially secured a seat on the panel. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

“But the results locally were very mixed. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of unpacking of what went right but also what went wrong.”

Chicoans also came out in favor of two local ballot measures: a 1 percent sales tax increase (at 53 percent approval) and expanding public nuisance codes to city-owned properties (60 percent). Reynolds championed the latter, the so-called “Quality of Life Act.”

Meanwhile, at the Grand Old Party

Compared to the party for local progressives, the Republican gathering at the DoubleTree by Hilton Chico hotel kicked off with a much more solemn tone. Some local conservative candidates and about 150 of their supporters bowed their heads as the celebration began with a prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, LaMalfa began his address by asking for a moment of silence for victims of the 2018 Camp Fire.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa speaks to the 150 or so attendees at Republicans’ election-watch party at the DoubleTree by Hilton Chico hotel. Preliminary numbers have LaMalfa leading by 20 points. (Photo by Ken Smith)

“We’re here to witness and enjoy whats happening right there,” the congressman said, pointing to a large-screened TV fixed on Fox News’ election coverage, “but also today there’s a tinge of somberness as the four-year anniversary of what happened on the Ridge.”

The mood lightened after LaMalfa’s address when Braden Pisani, treasurer for the Butte County Republican Party, took the microphone to announce preliminary election returns at 9 p.m. The gathering cheered as he proclaimed the projected victories of LaMalfa, Gallagher for Assembly, Konkin for school board and council candidates Reynolds and Van Overbeek.

Pisani reminded the crowd that mail-in votes could change the results for trailing conservative school board and council candidates.

Indeed, many more local votes remain to be tallied. As of 11 p.m. on election night, 50,451 ballots had been reported for Butte County, accounting for 40.71 percent of registered voters. In a phone call this morning, Butte County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar Candace Grubbs told the CN&R that her staff is buried in ballots, those mailed in as well as one dropped off at Voting Assistance Centers and boxes on Election Day.

“Everybody waited until the last minute,” Grubbs said, adding she expects the picture to be a lot clearer this afternoon (Nov. 9).

Additionally, Grubbs’ office still has provisional and conditional ballots to be counted, and any mail-in ballots postmarked Nov. 8 or before will be accepted through Nov. 15. She has until Dec. 6 to certify the elections results.

Pisani said Nava was “fighting maybe the worst candidate,” referring to Winslow, District 4’s projected winner. “The new socialist kids … they’re fun, these kids,” he continued, eliciting laughs from the crowd. He also mentioned District 4 had the lowest voter turnout by “about 1,000” votes.

Chico City Council candidate Nichole Nava, interviewed during the Republican election watch party, trails her opponent for District 4 by 18 points. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Nava told the CN&R she wasn’t giving up until all the votes were counted. She said if she doesn’t win, she will be a “thorn in the side” of Winslow.

“I really don’t like some of the policies of my opposition,” Nava said. “I feel like it would just be really detrimental to Chico.

“I would be sad if enough people voted for someone who literally has zero experience, that would be disappointing,” she continued. “I would feel like people aren’t doing their due diligence. But it would be their will, of course, so I would respect that, but I would also respectfully dig into the city, like I always have, to do things that I think are right by the majority of people who want to have a good life here.”

The previous night (Nov. 7), at a rally in Ohio, former President Donald Trump hinted he will officially announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election on Nov. 15. Asked for his take on this, LaMalfa said, “It is what it is.”

The five-term congressman, who supported Trump’s policies during his presidency and voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral college win in 2020, offered a mixed appraisal of Trump’s plans, suggesting it was time for the man he’s praised for being a Washington outsider to become a team player.

“I think he needs to focus on doing things that are helpful if he wants to help the cause, and going around bad-mouthing [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis doesn’t help,” LaMalfa said. “He just needs to play team ball to advance the values and priorities Republican have.

LaMalfa leads the Republican watch-party crowd in a moment of silence to honor the fourth anniversary of the Camp Fire. (Photo by Ken Smith)

“When he was in office, he did great on the issues, from my perspective. A lot of people see the bluster and the Tweets and all that stuff, and that’s what makes so many on the left so angry, because they just can’t stand him. But when the rubber meets the road on the issues, we were pretty happy with the legislation he was signing and the positions he was taking. I’ve got no complaints.”

Cautious optimism for Dems

Unity proved a unifying theme at the progressive gathering. Steiner and Zink, friendly rivals in the congressional primary before Zink declared for Assembly, shared a table early in the evening and interacted throughout the night. They mirrored the mood of the room with consistent smiles and upbeat attitudes.

Steiner delivered a concession speech just after 9 p.m. Zink did not officially concede as he made motivational remarks drawing on his experience as a Camp Fire survivor and a candidate dedicated to reversing the polarization gripping our community and country.

California Assembly candidate David Leon Zink (right) speaks with his campaign manager, Bruce McLean, at the progressive watch party. (Photo by Evan Tuchinksy)

A bit earlier, he told the CN&R: “The No. 1 issue that I’ve met out there on the campaign trail isn’t all the stuff you usually hear; it’s the hyperpartisanship. People are seriously worried about our country, and they know it’s going to take somebody who’s willing to lean in with respect and curiosity, fight the good fight and fight in a good way.

“It’s been six years since the Trump election, and it was the morning after that [when] I realized I was going to have to run for office,” Zink added. “It’s four years today since the Camp Fire, which changed my life fundamentally from there to here. And it’s two years since Biden took office; since Jan. 6 happened, we’re coming up on the two-year anniversary—and since I realized I needed to get busy and run….

“I don’t think we’re yet through the big crest of ugliness and grievance politics, I think we’ve got a ways to go, but I’m confident it’s going to burn out…. So I feel good, I feel affirmed, I feel I did the right thing, and I also feel that this isn’t the end of it.”

It’s the end for Steiner, though, as a North State candidate. He told the CN&R as the festivities wound down that he’d need to finish within 3 percentage points of LaMalfa to consider another run. At the time, he trailed by 12 districtwide (the margin this morning was 20). Steiner raised $650,000, compared to over $2 million by previous Democratic challenger Audrey Denney, and ran a distinct campaign emphasizing his military service and moderate positions.

“This has been a rough year for Democrats in the North State, maybe more than in other parts of the country,” he said. “If I had to guess why, I’d say gas [prices]; we are a rural community, we are more dependent on gas, people feel it more in their pocket books when it goes up.

“So it looks like this was an especially bad year to be a Democrat. If you don’t win Butte [County] by a lot as a Democrat, you’re not going to win the North State.”

LaMalfa, who lost the county to Denney by 3 points in 2020, held a slight lead over Steiner Tuesday night (50.5-49.5 percent). In the state assembly race, Gallagher took roughly the same share of the county vote as when he won two years ago (57 percent).

Steiner gives a concession speech shortly after preliminary results are announced. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

For City Council, McDaniel expressed optimism at early returns—and at the prospect of joining Winslow on the dais.

“Addison is so smart,” she said, “and Addison is one of these people who, when we’re up against a brick wall, Addison sees beyond the present and sees possibilities that I think older people can’t see because they’re locked into the brick wall. He’s just got this insight into this community, and I’m super-excited for him to be on the council.

“Now, what I don’t want him to be is just a protest vote just like Alex [has been],” McDaniel continued, referring to Councilwoman Alex Brown, currently one progressive among six conservatives. “The only way Addison’s amazing vision can work is for people to collaborate with him and see the possibilities he sees to fruition.”

McDaniel, on her own accord, hopes to bring best practices learned from interacting with other cities’ governments while serving as an arts commissioner.

The crowd having dissipated, Winslow spoke to the CN&R about the position he found himself in. At 27, he’d be Chico’s youngest council member since 2000 (Dan Nguyen-Tan, age 25)—among the characteristics reflected in his team and supporters.

“We ran a different campaign than anyone has run in Chico before,” Winslow said. “I’ve never heard of anybody identifying as a working-class renter and running to affect issues that affect people like us. I think we were able to mobilize a lot more volunteers because people were excited about what we were talking about—not just tenants’ rights issues, but a vision of Chico being better … a Chico that’s sustainable in the long run.”

Jason Cassidy contributed to this report.

Click here for updated numbers for local races in the 2022 General Election.

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