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Tim Myers: History shows incumbents rule Santa Clarita elections

Myers’ Musings

Posted: May 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.

In the past couple of weeks, incumbent City Councilman Bob Kellar announced formally — and through media and social networks — that he would seek a fourth term on the council in the election scheduled for April 2012.

This constituted the most important announcement regarding the election, because, with the almost-certain decision by Laurie Ender to seek re-election, it sets the outcome; mainly, the incumbents will retain their seats come next April.

Despite this immutable fact, I can also predict that at least two, and as many as six, additional candidates might actually stand for the two seats up in 2012.

Why the interest? Despite the tragically low turnout in local elections, a seat on the Santa Clarita City Council constitutes the biggest political “deal” in our suburban backwater, evidenced by our local Congressmen Howard “Buck” McKeon and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth ascending to their respective offices from City Council seats.

Besides the relatively high profile, a seat on the local City Council stands within reach of a local person. No resident of the SCV will likely ascend to the other politically powerful elected entity in the area, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. With respect to the desultory seats on the other influential entity, the William S. Hart Union High School District, of late, folks go there to abandon all hope of future elected office and live with misery.

How can I make this bold prediction of incumbent dominance? Some of the involved in Santa Clarita think I love incumbents, and, with more sinister motives, the existing “power structure” that keeps them in office.

Actually, I love to be right. Examining the admittedly short history of the city of Santa Clarita, after 12 elections only two incumbents failed to retain their seats.

Dennis Koontz, a founding council member in 1987 who received more than 6,000 votes, would spectacularly fall by 4,000 votes in 1990, and lose to challenger and iconoclast Jill Klajic. While that might give hope to challengers, local historians point out two factors that resulted in Koontz’s defeat.

First, the firefighters’ union that supported him in the first election lost interest because the sky did not fall when the city incorporated. (The city continues to this day to contract with Los Angeles County Fire for fire-protection services.) Second, he possessed the singular misfortune of an ex-spouse with the same last name employing a sex offender in a day-care business.

That same Jill Klajic that trounced Dennis Koontz would fall to a concerted campaign for removal in 1994 when anti-Klajic forces, primarily composed of the development and business community, would support the run of well-known Hart district Superintendent Clyde Smyth, father of our current Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.

Though the anti-Klajic forces found the effort successful, Smyth would best Klajic by the razor-thin margin of 16 votes, earning the nickname “Landslide” Smyth in local political circles. Klajic would return to office in 1996, when founding council member George Pederson did not seek re-election.

Setting aside these two aberrations, every single other incumbent that sought re-election retained his or her seat, and generally, by comfortable margins — with the recent exception of Frank Ferry, who narrowly defeated challenger David Gauny, who will almost certainly run in 2012 with the status of quasi-slate partner with Kellar.

Kellar’s decision also impacted Gauny in a negative way. If the proto-truth of Santa Clarita elections is incumbent invincibility, the second truth is that when seats come available (i.e. an incumbent does not seek re-election) the person who came just shy of obtaining a seat in the immediate prior election would grab that seat.

This is true of current council members Marsha McLean, Laurene Weste and Frank Ferry. It is also true of prior council member Jill Klajic who joins this club of second-try candidates, and the much smaller club of incumbent defeats.

If past is prologue, a Kellar decision not to seek re-election would allow David Gauny to waltz easily into his spot, when now he stands most likely to join that narrow club of multiple losers for City Council seats.

And yet, David Gauny and perhaps some others will attempt the Sisyphus-like task of rolling that electoral and campaign rock up the hill, only to see the power of incumbency roll the rock right back over the top of them.

But at least it provides me something to write about for the next year.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. “Myers’ Musings” runs Sundays in The Signal.


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