Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: O’Brien stacks deck in Olsen’s favor in Stanislaus supervisor race

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen is terming out at year’s end and filed Friday to run for the Stanislaus County District 1 seat being vacated by Bill O’Brien.
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen is terming out at year’s end and filed Friday to run for the Stanislaus County District 1 seat being vacated by Bill O’Brien. Assembly Republican Caucus

There’s nothing like a sudden announcement with a deadline looming to create all sorts of speculation, conjecture and perhaps some suspicions, and rightly so.

On Thursday, Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien emailed a statement proclaiming that he will not run in the June primary for a fourth term to represent District 1, which includes the Oakdale and Riverbank areas. In the same statement, he also endorsed terming-out California Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen as his successor.

With this well-coordinated strike, O’Brien and Olsen all but sealed and dead-bolted the window of opportunity for others now entertaining thoughts of running for the seat.

O’Brien had until 5 p.m. Friday to file to run as the incumbent and did not. Only a select few – Olsen among them – knew of his plan not to run. Had others known, say, weeks ago that he didn’t plan to run, they could have set their own campaigns into motion. But until late in the week, who from outside the circle would have considered running against a three-term, entrenched and well-respected incumbent?

Because O’Brien didn’t file, potential candidates were given five additional days – until 5 p.m. Wednesday – to turn in their paperwork. The clerk/recorder’s office is closed on weekends, so they got only three business days plus this past Friday, the extra day by virtue of his Thursday announcement. OK, so it’s six days or four, depending on one’s perspective.

Take the weekend and think it over, folks. Get your spouse on board, campaign team assembled, fundraising in order and make a life-altering decision. But don’t dawdle – time is running out.

Clearly, it represents a partisan political maneuver intended to slide Olsen seamlessly into the board seat next to four other Republicans, including Central Republican Committee honcho and District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini. Olsen, who has run for local and state office and is entirely familiar with the filing process, knew the drill. She filed Friday.

In the end, it probably won’t matter. Like O’Brien, Olsen is a smart, likable, popular, well-connected and respected politician with great name recognition. She served on the Modesto City Council before running for state office, where she rose to lead Assembly Republicans.

Of course, there’s still this little technicality called the election in June followed by a runoff in November if necessary, assuming someone else files.

Olsen said she won’t be surprised if an opponent emerges between now and quitting time Wednesday.

“I welcome an opponent,” she said. “Never once have I run unopposed. It’s part of the democratic process.”

So is campaigning. She established a decided edge in that Friday when advertisements featuring O’Brien endorsing her began appearing on social media platforms, including The Bee’s and San Francisco Chronicle’s pages. While writing this column, I clicked on to make certain I was using one of these words properly. Her ad popped up, linking to her Web page and campaign spiel.

She also scheduled radio campaign spots to begin airing Saturday. While O’Brien sat on his announcement, Olsen used her time wisely. The online ads were created earlier this week.

“I had to be respectful of the timeline,” she said. “It wasn’t my place to tell people he wasn’t running.”

A bit of intrigue here: Olsen terms out of the Assembly at year’s end. She announced in January that she wouldn’t move up to challenge incumbent state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat whose 5th District includes Riverbank, Modesto and Salida in Stanislaus County. But Olsen did leave open the possibility of taking a couple of years off and then running for the 8th District seat held by Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte. Berryhill terms out in 2018.

Scuttlebutt – that trusted source – suggested O’Brien would run for Berryhill’s seat, which covers Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Tulare counties. However, on Friday he told The Bee’s Ken Carlson that he will not be running for state office.

So, would that leave open the door for Olsen to serve two years as a supervisor and then run to replace Berryhill? She represented much of that same vast landscape when she was elected to represent Assembly District 25 in 2010.

I put that question to her Friday in Grover Norquist-like terms: Would she sign a pledge vowing to complete her full four-year term as county supervisor?

She promised she would not bolt her supervisor job midterm.

“I believe in fulfilling my commitments,” she said. “I have every intention of serving my entire term as supervisor.”

As for affixing her signature to a pledge, akin to Norquist’s anti-tax pledges, no thanks.

“I do not sign any pledges,” Olsen said. “I believe only in my pledges to my constituents.”

Of course, all this hinges upon her winning the supervisor’s seat in June.

That O’Brien hand-picked his successor gives Olsen a 50-yard head start in a race she’d likely win with ease anyway.

Some might call that an unfair advantage. Others will call it by its proper name: politics.