During any political campaign, no matter the level, a candidate's opponents scour contribution lists looking for what I call "ah-ha's!"
"Ah-ha! You just took $3 million from Big Oil."
"Ah-ha! You just got a a big contribution from the timber industry."
"Ah-ha! Your campaign manager has three -- count 'em, three -- outstanding traffic tickets."
While campaigning for Stanislaus County supervisor, District 2 winner Vito Chiesa provided an "ah-ha!" moment when he appeared at a meet-and-greet session at Road Dog Cycle in Denair.
Road Dog owner Bob Holloway is a former Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy who was acquitted of murder in 2001 after shooting a career criminal who tried to rob his shop in 1997.
In February, the FBI and the local gang task force executed the first of two highly visible and publicized raids of his shop, each time hauling away items for evidence.
The meet-and-greet for Chiesa took place in April, between the time the shop was raided and when Holloway and others were indicted by a federal grand jury July 15 on charges ranging from racketeering to extortion to lying to investigators. Holloway remains in custody without bail, awaiting the next proceeding in federal court in Fresno.
How does Chiesa feel now about having a meet-and-greet hosted by someone now facing serious criminal charges?
"It's an unfortunate incident," Chiesa said. "I'm not the judge and jury. If he's found guilty, it would be a sad thing for a lot of people."
In April, Chiesa knew about the raids and that the feds clearly had Holloway in their sights, but chose to have his campaign event there anyway.
A mistake? Or is Chiesa destined to be one of those Teflon-coated politicians to whom potential trouble simply doesn't stick?
"It's amazing how things disappear and people forget," he said. "By and large, not many people know Bob had a meet-and-greet for me. It was only in (The Bee's) editorial and they didn't endorse me."
The editorial stated: "While there is much to appreciate about Chiesa, we are concerned about his poor judgment in approving of and attending a campaign reception held by Bob Holloway, a former sheriff's deputy who is under investigation by the FBI and the local gang task force."
It certainly wasn't an issue in Denair, where many folks like and respect Holloway, and believe he's being prosecuted unfairly.
Chiesa said he knew Holloway because the Road Dog Cycle owner helped the financially strapped Gaslight Theatre in Denair a few years before.
"I know the philanthropic side of Bob," Chiesa said. "He stepped up and raised money for them. It was my only interaction with Bob until this election came along. I'm not a motorcycle rider. I talk to people who hang out in the coffee shop, and they see what he does for the community."
Holloway displayed large Chiesa campaign signs at the shop. When Holloway offered to host the reception, Chiesa said he told Holloway that the event would be a meet-and-greet and not a fund-raiser.
They also discussed the ongoing investigation and Chiesa said he made it clear he would not return the favor by a public show of support if the indictments came down.
"I told Bob at the time, 'If you're in trouble, it has nothing to do with me. I'm just there to meet constituents,' " Chiesa said. "My job was to get elected, to meet constituents. When someone offers the opportunity to meet registered voters, you take it. I made the decision to go forward, and it was a nice event."
About 75 people showed up, Chiesa said, including many local business types.
Holloway congratulated Chiesa on election night in June, after Chiesa easily defeated former Sheriff Les Weidman. Chiesa said he hasn't spoken to Holloway since -- and certainly not since the feds arrested him two weeks ago.
Instead, Chiesa's on a crash course to learn his supervisorial duties, checking in with all 26 county departments and learning about the issues he'll be voting on when he takes office in January. He's finishing up his term on the Stanislaus County Fair board, also giving up his seats on the almond board and farm bureau.
The meet-and-greet at the Road Dog Cycle shop is in his rearview mirror.
"I don't want to look back," Chiesa said.
As a politician's "ah-ha" moments go, this one turned out to be more like a "So?"
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.