Mike Dunbar

Unexpected. Bublak gives up some power

Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, left, takes the oath of office with new council members Nicole Larson, middle, and Andrew Nosrati, right, in Turlock last week.
Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, left, takes the oath of office with new council members Nicole Larson, middle, and Andrew Nosrati, right, in Turlock last week. aalfaro@modbee.com

Before the election of 2018 gets lost in the froth leading up to 2020, we’ve got a couple of observations.

First, we’re glad we endorsed Amy Bublak. That’s because she did something we’ve never seen a politician do before. Her first act as mayor of Turlock was to give up some power.

Authority, in whatever form, can be used as a bargaining chip. And every politician needs chips to win whatever game they’re playing. But Bublak’s said it was wrong for Turlock’s mayor to single-handedly commit the city to legal agreements. She called it transparency, we say simply “Hear! Hear!”

Choosing Turlock’s mayor was as difficult as it was important. With this action, Bublak is off to a good start.

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: “Personnel is policy.” It means that virtually every appointee to government office arrives with a specific point of view, or an agenda. So you can get a clue about an administration’s direction by looking at who gets appointed to boards, commissions and big jobs. Drilling deeper, you can also get an idea of whom a chief exec trusts in seeing whom he or she asks for recommendations to do those jobs.

We’ve heard there were 15 names on the list Adam Gray provided at the request of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. We haven’t seen it, but Gray doesn’t hide his priorities – water fairness, healthcare, transportation, education. Anyone he recommends likely shares those concerns. We’ve also heard that Modesto’s Bill Lyons is up for a second round of state service if asked. He was Secretary of Food and Agriculture from 1999-2004.

If ever we needed a reminder of the importance of appointments, we got it Wednesday. It was stunning to see four appointed State Water Board members ignore the clear objectives of Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor asked that “voluntary settlement agreements” be reached between the state and water districts with rights on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. Two cabinet secretaries helped achieve part of his goal. But four of his appointed board members opted instead to go a different direction. They voted for an outdated and scientifically suspect staff proposal that will undoubtedly be challenged in court.

It’s unlikely that went unnoticed by Gov.-elect Newsom. Perhaps there are names on his list who might better understand how good policy gets made.

THE BLUE WAVE that washed away so many Republicans didn’t reach all the way to the mountains – the reddest region in oh-so-blue California. And that’s a little bit of shame in at least one sense. It deprived our state of someone with a truly novel campaign platform.

Tom Hallinan, a centrist Democrat from Stanislaus County, promised to do one thing if elected to the antiquated, scandal-ridden and unnecessary Board of Equalization: Help get rid of it. It was a smart promise that should have appealed as much to Republicans as to Democrats. But up in the thin air of Lassen and Siskiyou counties, voters simply couldn’t read past the “D” behind Hallinan’s name, voting instead for termed-out Republican Ted Gaines.

The BOE has only five districts, and the 1st covers or touches 30 counties. Though he lost in 21 counties, Hallinan still amassed 1.3 million votes – perhaps becoming the first person from Stanislaus County ever to do that in a single election. It was by far the closest of any BOE race.

Mike Dunbar is the editorial page editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star: 209-578-2325