By AARON OCHS and ED OCHS
District 4 Supervisor candidate Lynn Compton embraces the midterm election madness that has consumed the country from coast to coast. Like the federal midterm races, elements of extremism have permeated an already heated political climate on a local level. Voices of extremism—which the voter majority has traditionally dismissed as fringe—now reverberate the loudest in District 4. With Compton’s brash and aggressive tactics in tow, the far right is waging war against the moderate Democrat voter majority with the intent to reshape the board and the direction of the county.
Deploying extreme tactics to win elections is nothing new in national or local politics, but the rise of extremism in county politics has reached new and alarming levels in the past several years. Nowhere is that extremism more evident than in the crucial District 4 Supervisor race—representing Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Oceano—between newcomer, agri-businesswoman Compton and Gov. Brown-appointed incumbent, Caren Ray.
The County faces challenging issues like the drought, dwindling water supplies, oil companies seeking increased access by rail, drilling and fracking, and the current and future needs of SLO’s large homeless population. There’s a lot at stake for county taxpayers. Yet a burgeoning network of extremists have joined forces to assist Compton while, at the same time, undermining the clear severity of local issues.
Gov. Brown did Ray no great favor when he appointed her to fill the seat on the County Board of Supervisors. The seat was vacated by the untimely death of popular conservative Republican Paul Teixeira, but he knew what he was doing.
Ray, a registered Democrat, served as councilwoman for the city of Arroyo Grande from 2010 to 2013 and had been a modern world history teacher at Santa Maria High School since 2007. Before her tenure as councilwoman, Ray served on the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission from 2005 to 2010. Ray was vocal in extending the emergency ordinance in Paso Robles, which prevented further planting of vineyards in the Paso Robles groundwater basin. Before she was appointed, the Board of Supervisors were deadlocked, failing to obtain the four vote majority required for a moratorium extension. Since the drought began to adversely impact the entire state, Gov. Brown has supported local water conservation measures. Brown recognized the record-setting depletion of the Paso Robles groundwater basin, as evidenced by signing Assembly Bill 2453 into law. Authored by conservative Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, AB 2453 was designed to establish the governance structure and authority of a water district in Paso Robles. The district would be responsible for managing the basin and taking proactive measures to conserve water.
Compton, who has sided with forces to oppose long-term management of the Paso Robles groundwater basin, wasted no time jumping into campaign mode. Just two days after Ray was officially sworn in, Compton held her kick-off party in Nipomo. Compton told news sources that she had every intention to enter the race after she sought the governor’s appointment. Compton told reporters that she waited to announce her candidacy in respect to Teixeira’s family.
Despite seeking the appointment, Compton later dismissed any legitimacy associated with the appointment process. Compton told the New Times’ Jono Kinkade, “It should be the people that decide, not the governor, with no disrespect to the governor.”
Three months after Gov. Brown selected Ray over Compton, Compton launched her campaign on that basis alone, without any platform, and that non-platform has continued to consist largely of charges, irrelevancies, assumptions and suppositions. Her often-stated support for property rights, less government, fewer taxes, and her abhorrence of rules and regulations that she claims cripple small businesses is eerily reminiscent of Tea Party strategies. Compton has not officially declared herself a Tea Party candidate. Despite resonating strongly in the national polls during the 2010 midterm elections, Tea Party relevance within the political landscape has sharply diminished. Any admission of toting Tea Party principles could risk offending some voters who might otherwise vote for her if they didn’t know her hard right-leaning bent.
Network of Supporters
Like a comet, Compton’s basically burst of nowhere, and she would probably prefer it stay that way at least until Election Day, but one look at the Compton campaign and who’s endorsing her raises a row of red flags on her candidacy.
The Republican Party chose Compton early on and threw their weight behind her as a viable candidate, which the successful businesswoman and attractive mother of two surely is; however, this isn’t your father’s Republican Party. Despite Compton using the Reagan namesake to tout her conservative values, the party she belongs to has swung to the right of her presidential icon. Though Ronald Reagan’s adopted son Michael Reagan keynoted a Compton fundraiser in February, the Republican Party of 2014 has veered so far to the right that if Ronald Reagan was president today, he’d been thrown out for raising taxes more than 10 times. During his presidency, Reagan also raised the debt ceiling 18 times.
Compton’s supporters display a long list of conspiracy theorists, right-wing extremists and thinly-veiled corporate interests. Hiding behind her many contributors, Compton is safely tucked in the back pocket of the current Republican establishment as they seize this golden opportunity to get control of the powerful Board of Supervisors, which, as they see it, the left has controlled too long. Though the late Teixeira tended to vote independently, it is doubtful that Compton, who often invokes Teixeira’s name to appeal to his voters, will do the same given her heavily partisan campaign pulled from the pages of the Tea Party playbook.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising public support for Compton comes from a handful of political lobbies clearly on the lunatic fringe, including Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists.
The “Agenda 21” conspiracy group, whose members believe that liberals are working with the United Nations to take away their property rights and personal liberties, preach weekly at Board of Supervisors meetings.
Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists, such as San Luis Obispo resident Laura Mordaunt, have sharply criticized District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for allegedly bargaining with the United Nations to erode the rights and liberties of citizens. Mordaunt referred to the alleged attempt of subversion by Democrats on the board as “domestic terrorism” on March 6, 2013. Local residents attending South County events have witnessed Mordaunt and other Compton supporters—donning Compton t-shirts—videotaping known Ray supporters and following them in their cars. Residents have informed law enforcement. Mordaunt’s videos, photos and letters to the editor are prominently featured on Compton’s website.
Mordaunt is not the only Agenda 21 conspiracy theorist to be featured by Compton’s campaign.
Former Republican congresswoman and Compton supporter Andrea Seastrand has appeared before the Board of Supervisors to criticize the supervisors on several occasions. Last year, Seastrand accused supervisors of being complicit in a conspiracy to keep CalCoastNews co-publisher Karen Velie’s grandchildren in foster care as retaliation for the site’s investigative reporting. In September, Seastrand criticized Ray for voting to “weaken” Proposition 13. On February 11, four of the supervisors—with the noted exception of District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold—noted to approve their legislative platform. A portion of the platform sought a sales tax increase in SLO County’s unincorporated areas. Compton supporters point to a portion of the platform which reads, “Should a Constitutional amendment be proposed for the 2014 ballot that would authorize local agencies to raise taxes with a 55% approval threshold [instead of a two-thirds majority vote, as required by Proposition 13], seek inclusion in that amendment for counties to raise a tax in the unincorporated area only.” However, the platform merely anticipated a potential challenge to Prohibition 13, and offered to only advocate for an increase of tax in the unincorporated area. There was no endorsement, implied or otherwise, to “weaken” Proposition 13.
Additionally, Seastrand and the Compton campaign erroneously claimed that Ray and supervisors voted to increase sales tax in unincorporated areas. Compton wrongly concluded that the approved platform would place “a hit on property taxes,” when the portion dealt solely with sales tax. The platform stated nothing about weakening Proposition 13 homeowner protections statewide, as Seastrand and Compton supporters have claimed.
Despite Compton clearly misunderstanding the verbiage of the legislative platform, property rights advocates Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association rushed to endorse her and her interpretation. Ironically, the HJTA, a right-wing lobby, supported a significant modification to the Proposition 218 assessment for the Los Osos wastewater project in 2007. Traditionally, the HJTA supported Prop 218 property tax assessments that were approved by a two-thirds majority. Instead, the HJTA worked with then-Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee to undermine the two-thirds vote by allowing only a select group of homeowners to approve a tax that arguably benefited the entire community of Los Osos. The assessment was ultimately approved under duress by homeowners by a significant margin, although the margin touted by the County was embellished.
Claims that Ray sought to weaken Proposition 13 were echoed exclusively on controversial tabloid website CalCoastNews.
The website has echoed claims about Ray since she became a councilwoman for Arroyo Grande in 2010. The website accused her of having a “harried, secret life” as a former member of the SLO Hash House Harriers, a local chapter of an international running club. The story originated from CalCoastNews contributor Kevin P. Rice, who previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the San Luis Obispo City Council. Rice, a vocal, sometimes inflammatory supporter of Compton’s campaign, was assigned by CalCoastNews to track Ray’s movements. In July 2013, Rice was seen taking photos of Ray as she met with Supervisor Hill at a coffee shop in San Luis Obispo. In an email dated July 26, 2013, Supervisor Hill told the Grover Beach City Council that Rice had “stalked” him throughout the morning of July 23. Rice denied the claims. Mired with stalking accusations from Hill and supporters of Oceano Dunes dust regulations, Rice has continued his one-sided campaign of sandbagging Ray on a myriad of issues on CalCoastNews, though he’s received ample criticism for being obsessed with the supervisor at the expense of the facts.
CalCoastNews boasts a heavy right-wing presence, featuring fringe personalities like Rice while shamelessly publishing right-wing propaganda and failing to disclose their affiliations to Tea Party groups. CalCoastNews and writer Josh Friedman have promoted their work within the North County Tea Party. Acting as a conduit for Tea Party principles and ideologies, the site has attacked Democrats such as supervisors Hill, Gibson and Ray under the guise of investigative journalism. However, the site has mostly deferred to unsubstantiated allegations from anonymous sources.
Supporters contend that CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie personally threatened to expose Ray supporters over stealing campaign signs without offering any evidence to back her claims. Shortly after filing with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against the Compton campaign on May 20, Ray supporter Ed Eby received a call from Velie, who told Eby that she had photos, implicating him in theft of Compton yard signs. Eby recalled the phone conversation with Velie. “Since I have never touched a Compton sign, I demanded she show me the photos,” Eby wrote on CalCoastNews on June 2. “She then backed off and said the photos didn’t clearly show they were Compton signs. Of course not. It didn’t happen.”
Velie has reportedly harassed other Ray supporters, accusing them of sign thievery: a common theme on CalCoastNews. But when supporters demanded to know where she heard the accusations from, Velie replied, “Compton told me.”
Another related supporter of Compton in this dubious network is the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association, which is part of the ongoing independent investigation involving Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish. The Association, whose role in the investigation and credibility have been questioned as a result of their adversarial relationship with Adams during heated contract negotiations with the city, has collaborated with CalCoastNews to help force Adams’ termination, unseat AG Mayor Tony Ferrara in the coming election, and replace him with a write-in candidate that the website is also promoting. Adams was forced to resign amid a string of allegations, although he denied any sexual misconduct took place in the late-night encounter with police in City Hall—as promoted but, as usual, unsubstantiated by CalCoastNews.
Compton will not be alone philosophically if she wins the seat. Supervisor Debbie Arnold, a sister property rights advocate from North County, voted consistently against a Paso Robles Water District. Compton has drawn considerable financial support from North County vineyard owners such as Cindy Steinbeck of Steinbeck Vineyards, who is leading the lawsuit against the county and any sort of groundwater management in North County, plus another suit to try to stop the urgency ordinance, and Steinbeck expects Compton to fight recently-enacted legislation establishing the district, which will attempt to equitably regulate how much water is allotted to vineyard operators, property owners and businesses. Vintners have a huge interest in controlling the Board of Supervisors and avoiding water regulation of any kind. Arnold has aligned with Compton, while fellow Republican supervisor Frank Mecham has for the most part stayed neutral on crucial water issues.
In an interesting regional angle with a national footnote, Kevin McCarthy, the new majority whip in the House of Representatives, representing District 23—Bakersfield, Kern and Tulare in the Central Valley—has donated $1,000 to Compton’s campaign. Why? Because this election is all about taking over the BOS, and Compton fits the GOP’s current right-wing leadership profile.
Other large contributors reflect Compton’s array of reactionary supporters. H.D. Perrett, who tried to secede from the county, to be annexed by Santa Barbara so he could develop his land—which would have been a huge loss of tax dollars both for the county and the schools—has contributed $5,000. Etta Watterfield, a Tea Party conservative who ran against Katcho Achadjian for Assembly, and attacked him in the same way Compton has attacked Ray, especially on Proposition 13, a Howard Jarvis/Republican protectorate, has along with her husband contributed well over $10,000. The conservative Lincoln Club kicked in $5,000. Wing luminaries Matt Kokkonen, Ed Waage and Jeanne Helphenstine have also chipped in. The Republican Party has dropped $16,000 on her, but her biggest contributor so far has been Lynn Compton, propping up her campaign with over $42,000 in loans to herself, in addition to tens of thousands in in-kind donations, after having earlier failed to report the campaign expense of painting cars and trucks in her business fleet with her image, and spending $20,000 on deceptive “slate mailers” to every home in the district. This fiscal conservative has over-spent and gone into debt in her campaign to win the seat at any cost, outspending Ray in a landslide.
The Manchurian Candidate
While Compton enjoys legitimate support in the rural, unincorporated areas of the 4th district and in hardcore Republican circles, sooner or later she must face the fact that some of her supporters represent the most radical elements in the county and will hurt any attempt by her to build consensus on the board. So far, however, Compton shows no interest in consensus building. Her arrogance, combative style of non-diplomacy and Tea Party roots ensure she will only be the candidate for some of the people, sharing none of Ray’s crossover appeal to the broader community.
Unlike Ray, an experienced community leader, Compton has never served in the community on any level. She has made an appearance at the Board of Supervisors a few times for public comment and left before the board deliberated or voted. To fill the void, Compton has resorted to anger—anger that Gov. Brown didn’t have the decency to replace a Republican with a Republican, but instead chose a moderate Democrat; anger at Ray for usurping that seat, for her voting record and for taking donations from developers; anger mirrored and fomented at every turn by CalCoastNews to drive their feverish hate campaigns against Ray, Hill, Gibson, Torres, Ferrara, and other politicians, public figures, allies or family that get in the way of their extreme right-wing political agenda whose face is now Lynn Compton.
Backed by a coterie of right-wing extremists, Compton makes a compelling candidate for her base and presents a nice front. Attractive, well-spoken, assertive, Compton basically burst of nowhere, from the private sector, and that works well for her. She has no record, no government service and, apart from her own business and corporate life, no real leadership experience. At the same time, she is curiously robotic, as if she’s a contestant on “Jeopardy,” rather than a candidate for higher office. At least Sarah Palin was the Mayor of Wasilla before becoming Governor. And like Palin, what she believes—and doesn’t believe, like climate change, solar energy and air control—disqualify her from office. She has stated that SLO needs to loosen land-use policies to be more like Bakersfield, and that the problem in Oceano was “the Hispanics, and all the problems that go with that”—comments that are inherently dangerous to the advancement of serious public debate on issues vitally important to the future of the district, county and country.
Because she is “fresh out of Compton” with no track record to critique, voters know little about her closely-held views other than what’s in the neatly-scrubbed sketch offered on her website. However, each day more people discover that Compton’s business, Valley Farm Supply Inc., as homey as it sounds, is actually a wholesaler of environmentally dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, that she’s worked for pharmaceutical giants Monsanto, Pfizer and Merck, and is owned by Big Ag, Big Oil and Big Chemical, which is why she’s against water-protection regulations and ambiguous about her support for the Phillip 66 rail project in Nipomo. And more people are realizing that she’s not looking out for the little guy, no matter what she claims in her bitter, belligerent effort to win. The real question is, given her Manchurian candidacy, lack of substance and well-armed attack campaign, given what’s at stake in gallons of water lost and budgets for vital services slashed, how concerned should the taxpayers of the 4th district and the county be if Compton and her supporters get hold of the BOS?
Compton has a brief video on her website:
It announces: “In the life of every winner… There comes a moment of truth… Heroes will rise… Stars will fall… Let’s win one for the Gipper with Lynn.”
If stars fall when this hero rises, they should be very concerned.