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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 11:17 pm | Fair 44º


Fourth District Supervisor Runoff Election May Turn on Left-Leaning Voters

Two conservative candidates, incumbent Joni Gray and challenger Peter Adam, will need to attract voters who backed progressive candidate Joyce Howerton

Winning the race for the Fourth District seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors may well hinge on which of two conservative candidates can attract more votes from the liberal side of the electorate.

Longtime incumbent Joni Gray, the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s primary balloting, will face off in November against farmer Peter Adam, whose strong second-place finish surprised many political observers.

Gray received 39.8 percent of the vote, compared to 37.7 percent for Adam and 22.5 percent for former Lompoc Mayor Joyce Howerton, the third candidate in the race.

Both Gray and Adam are conservatives, and both have received considerable support from agriculture and business interests.

Noozhawk’s precinct-by-precinct analysis of the vote shows that no candidate dominated in any part of the newly redrawn district, which now includes the city of Lompoc, Orcutt and the southern part of Santa Maria. (Supervisorial districts were redrawn last year following the 2010 census.)

Adam outpaced Gray in the Santa Maria Valley precincts, pulling down 45 percent of the vote, to 40.5 percent for the incumbent. Howerton ran a distant third with 14.6 percent.

Adam beat Gray 45.4 percent to 40.1 percent in Orcutt, where she lives, while the two were virtually tied among Santa Maria voters, with each receiving just under 43 percent.

Howerton fared much better on her home turf, where she received 36.1 percent of the votes in Lompoc Valley precincts, just behind Gray, with 38.7 percent. Adam picked up only 25.3 percent.

Overall, about two-thirds of the district’s voters are in the Santa Maria Valley, with a third in the Lompoc Valley.

“I certainly would have liked to have done better,” Gray told Noozhawk last week. “I think I was most surprised that Joyce wasn’t in the runoff.”

Howerton said she also was not expecting to make an early exit from the race, although she foresaw a different outcome.

“I was very disappointed,” she said. “I thought I would be in the runoff ... Everyone who was following the race thought it would be Peter and myself.”

All three candidates said last week’s vote was colored by an electorate that is unhappy with government in general and incumbents in particular.

“I think that the voters are thinking that we are angry with government,” Gray said. “They say, Joni has been a supervisor for years, and is part of government ... so throw them all out.”

Both Adam and Howerton were more pointed in their assessments.

“I think there’s just a lot of dissatisfaction with Joni out there,” said Adam, who added that he believes Gray is too accommodating with a five-member Board of Supervisors that has a left-leaning majority.

“I think you’ve got to be more aggressive about the fact that the other side doesn’t have any logic in their positions,” he said.

Howerton echoed the feeling that many voters are unhappy with Gray’s performance in office, pointing to the meltdown of the Lompoc Housing & Community Development Corp. as an example of failed leadership.

Despite such criticism, Gray said she intends to continue running on her record through the fall campaign.

“I will again be saying I did the job, and this is the way I will do the job,” Gray said.

Adam also plans to stick to his campaign theme, which is that county government needs to be reduced in size and focused on priorities such as law enforcement and fire protection.

“I’m just going to run my race,” Adam said. “If people identify with my message and my style, then vote for me. If not, vote for Joni.”

Based on recent published quotes attributed to Howerton, Adam said the longtime liberal activist has endorsed him in the runoff, but she adamantly rejected that notion.

“I can guarantee you that I will not be endorsing in this race,” Howerton told Noozhawk on Friday.

The point she was trying to convey in the interview with a North County publication, Howerton said, was that she believes Adam will prevail in November.

“I think he has a better chance of winning than Joni,” she said, adding that she believes many left-of-center voters may sit out the voting.

The runoff election will take place Nov. 6, with the winner being seated in January.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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