The 2022 local election results are in — more or less — and it’s safe to say history has been made.
First, the days of the Chico City Council flip-flopping from liberal to conservative or back every election cycle — a Chico tradition almost as old as hot summers and loud nights in College Town — are over, at least for the time being.
Assuming Dale Bennett holds on to his 244-vote lead over Monica McDaniel in District 3, the right-leaning side of the council will keep its 6-1 majority. Going back to the first district-based elections two years ago, conservatives have won seven of the past eight council seats, with only Addison Winslow’s victory in Democrat-heavy District 4 preventing a two-year shutout.
This trend should open a lot of eyes, especially on the left-leaning side of town.
When the city switched to district-based elections in 2020 under threat of a lawsuit, the general belief was that the move would probably favor the liberals, who held a 5-2 majority at the time. After all, they were left with clear registration advantages all over town, with the exception of District 1, where Sean Morgan will keep winning elections for as long as he decides to keep running.
So what happened? How are the conservatives carving out impressive victories in districts that favor the liberals registration-wise?
There are only a couple of possible answers. One is that conservatives are doing a better job of getting their base to the polls with their tough-on-crime, clean-up-the-streets message; there’s a reason “quality of life” measures passed in both Chico and Sacramento, two towns with more registered Democrats than Republicans. Obviously, there are more middle-of-the-road Democrats in both towns than some might think, voters who are willing to cross party lines for the right issue.
A second possibility is that independents/decline-to-states voted overwhelmingly Republican.
In all likelihood, it’s a combination of the two. Let’s look at the numbers, which speak for themselves.
We’ll start with District 6, where Tom van Overbeek has gotten more than 58 percent of the vote — even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 4-3 in that district. It’s a similar deal in District 2, where Kasey Reynolds has almost 56 percent of the vote in a district with almost 1,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
In District 4, Winslow got almost 58 percent of the vote. Sounds like an impressive win, right? But, there are 2.5 registered Democrats for every Republican in that district. Doing the math, that means Winslow ran 15 points behind the registration numbers.
Overall, in the four Chico council races, the more-conservative option has 10,661 votes compared with 9,502 for the liberals — despite the fact Democrats hold a whopping 15,660-9,989 registration advantage in those districts. (There are also 9,462 independents/no-party-preference in those districts, and you can guess which side of the fence most of them came down on.)
Regardless of how over-the-top some PAC advertising was — seriously, can we please drop the “liberals want needles in our parks and they’re contaminating our drinking water” garbage? — it’s obvious more voters are agreeing with the conservatives on the city’s biggest issue, which is how to best manage the homeless situation. The sooner the Democrats figure that out, and do a better job of offering even-handed, feasible alternatives than they ever did in the years they were running the city, the sooner they might start winning more council races.
Meanwhile, two weeks after Election Day, we’re still waiting to find out who won some of the races, most notably some close calls in Oroville: the mayoral election between Chuck Reynolds and David Pittman (Pittman leads by 109 votes) and the council race between Shawn Webber and Natalie Sheard (Webber leads by 16).
Voting-by-mail has stretched the “who won?” process out to more than half of a month. We’ll go back to June, when then-supervisor Debra Lucero held a lead of more than 300 votes after election night over challenger Peter Durfee. At the time, it was noted that no candidate here had ever lost a 300-vote election-night lead. Yet Durfee ended up winning by more than 600 votes because such an overwhelming number of late-cast ballots went his way.
Thus, it seemed logical to believe “If the conservative is close after the first night, they’ve got a great chance.” But that hasn’t always been true in this latest round, where the lead only grew for Winslow after the first night. On the other hand, Logan Wilson has almost caught up with Eileen Robinson in the Chico Unified School District Area 5 race, trailing by just 190 votes after being behind by more than 400 on election night. And McDaniel led Bennett after the first night by 42 votes.
Results are certified later this week. We’ll finally know the whole story then. Regardless of how it plays out, we’ve already seen our share of history this time around.