With just 14 days before elections candidates nationwide are not letting any time slip by in the effort to meet and speak with constituents. And, this is perhaps especially so of smaller communities like Northern California's wine growing region of Sonoma. It is interesting to compare big city politics with local small town elections.
Yet perhaps best of all about attending political gatherings here in the wine growing region is of course the wine. And, it was a nice compliment to the usual political campaigning that goes on for each election.
Several dozen people showed up at the Kenwood Inn and Spa nestled amid rolling hills and vineyards along Sonoma Highway on Oct 23. Former mayor of Santa Rosa John Sawyer is seeking a seat on the Board of Supervisors for Sonoma County.
"The Board consists of five supervisors, each representing the five districts that comprise the county; I am running for 1st District County Supervisor," said Sawyer.
In contrast to San Francisco which has 11 to 12 supervisors, this election situation has more of a very local demeanor to it. Low key and local merchant, town hall type of approach, than the marble staircase and bronzed dome of City Hall in San Francisco. Some of the city supervisor gatherings I have been to in San Francisco can be very drawn out and over done. This gathering was a nice change of pace for this reporter.
Sawyer considers himself as a moderate and has been involved in public office since 2004 when he was elected to Santa Rosa City Council. He currently serves as Vice-Mayor. While his formal experience in elected office has been less than a decade, Sawyer has been an integral part of the area for his entire life.
His father and grandfather owned Sawyer News Stand and the family farm in the Bennett Valley area has been in existence for generations, going back to the 1890's when his great-grandparents immigrated to California from Europe.
Sawyer's unassuming demeanor was at ease with everyone present. Those in attendance that Tuesday evening for a gathering of supporters shared in some wine and hors d'oeuvres. All said they were pleased to be there, such as local people like architect Neil Peoples.
He thought it important to let it be known that Sawyer is "moderate," as he talked with Jerry and Joan Piazza. The Piazza's are now retired and moved to Sonoma from The City.
"We are native San Franciscans and while we love the City, it is not the same as it was when we knew it well," said Jerry. He noted that now that he and Joan are retired they both have opted for a different pace of life, that which Sonoma County offers.
"We still visit the City frequently, but living here we can slow down, enjoy our retirement," he said. "I will vote for John," said Piazza. I take the time to vote because it is important. "I don't know why people find it so hard to take the time to vote," said Piazza. "It is important," he said.
Yet as he and wife Joan chatted with People's they understood the need for delicate balance in a community that has deep agricultural roots but is also an area experiencing on-going growth.
Opportunity for business and growth is important, yet working to maintain and at times preserve the area's rural integrity is crucial. "Sonoma is all about being 'careful', John is a moderate," said Peoples. And for People's being moderate is not being too liberal nor too conservative.
"My opponent has the attitude that limiting business opportunities is a way to protect the community." "I think there has to be a balance," said Sawyer as he talked amid the crowd gathered in the courtyard patio of the inn and spa at twilight. The fading sunset provided a welcoming atmosphere as more people joined in conversations.
In his 23-page "Job Creation and Economic Sustainability Plan, Sawyer maps out a "Four Point Job Creation Plan," he seeks to do more to build business confidence allowing for more ventures into "green technology" and implementing a clear and predicable path to permit approval."
As is true with major cities like San Francisco, "fighting City Hall" for a permit can be daunting. Permit processes can be uneven and in some instances a real obstacle for business, especially one just starting up.
Sawyer is also mindful of maintaining Sonoma County's agricultural setting while meeting the needs of all its citizens young and old. Pension reform, infrastructure and fiscal budget responsibility are also highlighted in Sawyer's 'Sustainability Plan' which he had made available to everyone in attendance.
"Part of the issue is in the planning," said Tina Wallis, a land use attorney. She noted that places like the Silicon Valley are a product of rapid expansion with some short-sighted consequences when it had to do with city planning.
Now a renowned center of the high-tech culture synonymous with computers and innovative ideas, once a upon a time the Silicon Valley was an agricultural area. Orchards, farms and ranches were what once filled the then little towns of San Jose, Cupertino and Santa Clara and Los Gatos.
Will such growth impact Sonoma like it has the Silicon Valley and else where in California? That perhaps is the fear behind every proposal or prospect for growth in any agricultural community. Sonoma County is no exception.
David Cook who is seeking to win a seat on the Sonoma City Council also understands the delicate but difficult balance. He is a vineyard manager and has served on the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce. It is not an easy job. But those who care about where they live and work take local politics seriously.
He showed up at Sawyer's social gathering to show his support for Sawyer. "And, hopefully, some day I will be able to serve on the Sonoma Board of Supervisors," he said. The Sonoma Valley Sun had letters of support published in its Thursday Oct. 25 edition. Some of the photos included were ones taken at the gathering that Tuesday.
While it seems to this reporter Sawyer is a very feasible and likely choice, there is always the current economy to consider. No one can say for certain what the economy will be in the near future. Even with the best intentions and talents all anyone can do is do their best and take each obstacle as it appears. Nationally, everyone must realize that our country is in a downturn and that is a reflection of the overall world economy. Yet, it is the determination of communities at the local level in both city and suburb that can make a difference.
Election day will be on Nov. 6. For more information about John Sawyer and his "Job Creation and Economic Stability Plan," visit his web site.