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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Commentary: Provenza Candidate to Beat for Supervisor?

It is very early to be sure, but reading both Bob Dunning's column on Thursday and Matt Rexroad's blog on Saturday where he said, "Many people in Davis seem to think he is the one to beat," the question that comes forth to me is whether current School Board Member Jim Provenza is the candidate to beat to replace Mariko Yamada as the 4th District Yolo County Supervisor.

Dunning writes:
Forget the politics, forget the potential issues, forget what your mama taught you about seizing the day, if Provenza runs, he's a lock … no one else is even close … like Helen Thomson, one of the most revered political figures in this town's history, Provenza has never been a candidate for City Council, which means his reputation remains untarnished … put simply, his solid-citizen, agenda-less work on the Davis school board makes him hard — if not impossible — to beat …
While I suspect that Dunning's support at least in part stems from Provenza's strong advocacy for keeping Valley Oak schools open, I think he is correct that Provenza will be tough to beat. One needs to look no further to the broad range of support that Provenza has already wrapped up.

We look at the elected officials who chose to stand behind him. The venerable Davis icon Maynard Skinner--former Mayor, many time councilmember, who has at times been identified with the progressive era though he himself was not a progressive and at times has supported measures like Measure X. Then there is Ted Puntillo, the recently retired Davis City Councilmember who was part of the pro-growth, pro-Covell village council majority.

We also have school board member and colleague Gina Daleiden who was Don Saylor's campaign manager. Board Member Sheila Allen has supported candidates on either side of the fence including Souza but also Lamar Heystek. On the left we have Lamar Heystek, vanguard of the Davis Progressives on the City Council and finally, Mariko Yamada who currently holds the seat and candidate for the 8th Assembly District.

Not at the event but supporting Provenza include several other notables including former Mayor and vanguard of the Progressive era, Bill Kopper, former City Councilmember Jerry Kaneko, and Lea Rosenberg will be Mr. Provenza's treasurer.

But even the elected officials do not tell the full story. In the crowd was a hugely diverse group. On the left, such progressive stalwarts as Pam Nieberg and Norma Turner (among many others). You have the Davis Democratic club contingent that includes Betty Weir, Bob Bockwinkel, and John Chendo. You also have people like Sheryl Patterson who ran Mike Levy's city council campaign.

You saw a group of people supporting Jim Provenza that you do not normally see together at the same time supporting anyone less than Governor or President--and sometimes not even then.

While I had known Jim Provenza for some time, it was only recently that I really saw him in action. And what I saw is despite his somewhat moderate demeanor was an avid and strong fighter and advocate for the causes that he believed in. The first time in action was when dealing with the issue of harassment. It was his work that led to strong new language that enforced a consistent policy against harassment based on things such as sexual orientation and gender identity. He not only pushed that issue through but he held Superintendent David Murphy to his language even as Murphy was trying to equivocate and water it down.

More recently and with greater fanfare he was a strong and forceful advocate for keeping Valley Oak open--and he fought hard, he tried several different approaches to find a third vote to join himself and Sheila Allen. In the end, he could not find one but it was not for lack of trying.

The most impressive part of it all was that through it all he remained respectful, measured, and dignified. He showed us that one can fight for their ideals and still be genteel--a rare quality indeed. And to a large measure that is reflected in the broad range of support that Provenza has. He can disagree with people without being disagreeable.

Provenza said at a recent school board meeting that in working with the legislature through his job with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, he learned a valuable lesson, that you can be strong opponents on one issue and strong allies on the next one. Thus you never want to burn your bridges. This seems to me exactly the kind of leadership that the fourth district and Yolo County wants. These qualities make Provenza a tough candidate to beat.

That is not to say that there will not be tough competition. Richard Harris, who has a long legislative history including work with Vic Fazio as District Director is strongly considering a run. John Ferrera who is Senator Denise Ducheney's Chief of Staff has told people behind the scenes that he is running. Both of these individuals could indeed be formidable, although few people really have heard of Ferrera and neither of them can match the broad name recognition and even broader support that Provenza has right now. At this point, this is Provenza's race to win, one of the other candidates will have to take it from him and that will not be easy.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting