>From the Northcoast journal
by DAN WALTERS
SACRAMENTO - It's been a decade since Democrats could
claim political hegemony on California's North Coast.
The regional Democratic sweep saw state Sen. Mike
Thompson claim a Republican-held seat in Congress, former
Humboldt County Supervisor Wes Chesbro take Thompson's old
seat in the Senate and Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin win
re-election to a second term.
Chesbro had been the only question mark going into the
campaign since he faced a Republican rival, John Jordan, who was
willing to spend millions of dollars from his family's winery
As it turned out, Democratic leaders in Sacramento ponied
up their own millions to meet, if not match, the Jordan drive and
that, coupled with a broader tilt tQ the Democrats across the state,
propelled Chesbro to victory.
The election solidified Democrats' hold on a region that a
few decades earlier had been fertile ground for Republicans. It also
strengthened Thompson's self-asserted role as the North Coast's top
political figure, ~omeone whose influence extends downward into
not only legislative offices but county supervisor and city council
seats and even Democratic Party county committee slots.
Finally, November's election created a situation that hasn't
existed in more than 30 years: Democrats dominating the region's
congressional and legislative offices while also having a president
and a governor from the same party. One has to go back to the
early 1960s, when John Kennedy occupied the White House, Pat
Brown was governor, Clem Miller was in Congress and Carl
Christensen was a power in the state Senate, to find a comparable
So the Democrats have it all. Now what will they do with it?
Three-plus decades ago, the North Coast's perpetual wars over
cultural values and natural resources had just begun. Redwoods
National Park was still a dream of some environmentalists.
Democratic officeholders backed the timber industry and
championed public works projects - dams, levees, highways,
bridges - that are now out of favor in the party's dogma.
The contemporary Democratic approach to the North
Coast's political minefield, one devised by former state Sen. Barry
Keene and perfected by Thompson, is to walk very carefully, one
step at a time, never veering too far to the left or right.
It's been called "New Democrat." And as it happens, it's
also the demeanor that President Clinton and the incoming
governor, Gray Davis, have adopted on a broader scale.
Politically, it's the smart thing to do because it minimizes risk. But
Democrats who proceed cautiously also risk alienating elements of
their own party who want action after years of being frustrated by
While Davis fends off demands from unions, trial lawyers
and other factions on the Dembcratic left, Thompson and Chesbro
now must contend with the demands of environmentalists to tilt
matters their way.
There's already some talk in Sacramento, for instance, of
undoing this year's highly contentious state appropriation to
acquire a limited amount of Pacific Lumber Co.'s Headwaters
Forest. Environmentalists want a better deal that includes more
logging restrictions, citing the state's lifting of PL's logging permit
in November as proof that the company cannot be trusted.
Davis, Thompson and Chesbro may learn very early in their new
careers just how treacherous victory can be.
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