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Gaines win would mean more elections, expenses coming for Placer County

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Tuesday’s special election to determine a successor to the late District 1 state Sen. Dave Cox isn’t so special to some voters. With just one item on the ballot to vote for and two candidates, the election between Democrat Ken Cooley and Republican Ted Gaines will cost an estimated $650,000 in Placer County alone. But the election process – and the accompanying expenditure of tax dollars – is raising the ire of some over the prospect of spending more money and having another two special elections next year if Gaines wins. Gaines was reelected this past November for a two-year term in the Assembly representing District 4, which includes even more of Placer County than Senate District 1. The bill for a special primary election and special general election to decide on a new District 4 Assemblyman to replace Gaines would cost even more than Tuesday’s, said elections manager Lisa Harris. Harris said the number of Placer County registered voters in Gaines’ Assembly district is slightly larger than the number registered to vote in the Senate election, which means a potentially larger cost for the county. Harris said the county’s cost for the Jan. 4 election is expected to be about $650,000 and a possible Assembly special election that could follow would be at least that if no other elections took place at the same time. Auburn resident George Farmer said that, as the special elections pile up and the expenditures mount, he becomes more convinced the political system is broken. Farmer said he’ll continue to vote but that the combination of special elections Tuesday and beyond is wrong. “It’s a needless expense,” Farmer said. Farmer said much of blame can be directed against Gaines, who will be termed out of office as an assemblyman two years from now and hedged his bets by running for two offices. If he is elected state senator, he’ll be subject to term limits after eight years. The term limit is six years for Assembly members and he has already served four years. Rosalie Wohlfromm of Auburn said the second special election would be a needless waste of public funds. “A lot of my neighbors just vote Republican but I explained to them that if he wins, we’re going to have another primary – and another after that,” Wohlfromm said. “I just think it’s a heck of a lot of money that Placer County can’t afford.” Wohlfromm said she has no ill feelings against Gaines as a politician but she questions why he put his name on the ballot in the first place. “To my way of thinking, he should stay in the Assembly and save a lot of money,” Wohlfromm said. “I like to think maybe he has a head the size of Montana – that he’s a little narcissistic.” Harris said the county has no current hope of reimbursements from the state for any of the special elections. Her office is speculating that a special primary election for Gaines’ vacant Assembly seat would be held in March. A winning candidate would have to poll a majority of votes. If that doesn’t occur, the two top vote getters would advance to a second special election under recently adopted Prop. 14 rules approved by voters statewide. Gaines said he wishes there was a better elections methodology and is contemplating introducing legislation that would make future special elections mail-in only. “But it’s difficult to make that argument while you’re a candidate in an election,” Gaines said. Gaines said that the best-case scenario for any special election would be if it could be attached to other elections on the calendar. Harris said the county is hoping that will be able to occur if Gov. Jerry Brown calls a special statewide election. Cooley, the mayor of Rancho Cordova whose experience in state government as an aid and consultant stretches back 35 years, chose to praise Prop. 14 because it allows the top two candidates in the special election primary – no matter which party they represent – to move forward for a two-candidate run-off. But Mark Rosen, Auburn Area Democratic Club chairman, said that the round of new elections is a cost that seems wasteful. “It’s really a terrible waste of our money,” Rosen said.