Politics & Government

District 2 candidates trade jabs

Two distinct views divide the political turf in the race for the District 2 seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Susan Anderson, a two-term incumbent, says she has a solid record of service and that the county is in sound financial shape.

But challengers Brian Calhoun, a Fresno City Council member, and Paul Dictos, a certified public accountant, see the county in fiscal crisis and rail against the idea of the status quo.

Voters will decide among the candidates on June 3. If no one wins more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will take place in November in the district that includes much of north Fresno and parts of Clovis and the unincorporated area.

The campaign has followed a typical political pattern, with the candidates trading sharp jabs in the media and at debates.

Last week, for example, both Calhoun and Dictos cried foul after word circulated that the county would delay release of its budget until after the election. Anderson and others dismissed talk of political maneuvering to benefit her campaign.

Just after Calhoun declared his candidacy last summer, Anderson raised his drunken driving arrest in 2004 that occurred hours after he won re-election to the City Council. Calhoun, who has apologized for the mistake, has painted her as virtually unknown in the district she represents.

Dictos charges that Anderson is too close to employee unions and that Calhoun hasn't managed the city budget any better than Anderson has handled the county's. Anderson said Dictos' statements about a deficit are "designed to mislead people."

Tom Holyoke, an assistant professor of political science at California State University, Fresno, said the campaign is tracking on a familiar pattern. He said incumbents generally start any race with a basic advantage.

"Challengers need to make a compelling argument to the public that there is a need for change," Holyoke said. And focusing on finances "in a fairly conservative place like Fresno County -- that resonates."

Anderson, who holds a law degree, didn't have any opposition to retain her seat in 2004. Today, she cites her 21 years with the county -- as a deputy district attorney, the county clerk and as supervisor -- in saying she's best qualified for the District 2 job.

Anderson said her accomplishments on the board include leading the way for the new juvenile justice campus, working with a foster care oversight committee and helping create an enterprise zone to assist existing and future businesses.

She said she wants to continue work on issues such as economic development, farmland preservation, children's programs, public safety and mental health.

Last year, for the first time ever, Anderson voted against the county's current spending plan and described it as an "Enron budget." The county cut hundreds of mainly vacant jobs, curtailed some services and required departments to delay some hiring to save money.

Still, Anderson rebuffs her opponents' financial criticism -- "they really don't understand the county" -- and says the county's struggles are similar to others across the state.

She said the board has taken steps to reduce its retirement costs by introducing a less expensive tier for new employees. She's also part of a committee working on next year's budget.

But Calhoun, ending an eight-year council run due to term limits, said Anderson "deserves criticism" for her handling of county finances. He said city finances are healthier.

Calhoun panned Anderson for supporting large salary increases for employees and for her management of the pension system -- a growing drain on the bottom line.

Calhoun, formerly a county supervisor in Wisconsin, said he has a platform for change, while with Anderson, "it's business as usual."

In part, Calhoun said, he wants to create a commission to study and suggest improvements in county government and convert the county's top administrative post to an elected position -- providing more independence.

He also wants to pass term limits, cap annual salary increases and stop year-round fundraising for county supervisors.

Calhoun said he could have chosen to run for mayor in Fresno -- another job on the June 3 ballot -- but said he preferred to work for change in the county: "You need somebody to challenge the status quo."

Dictos has focused his campaign on financial concerns, saying the county is in a fiscal crisis that isn't being addressed by the current leadership.

In part, Dictos said, the county faces massive debt and deficits tied partly to its retirement system and overspending. He noted that ratings on two of the county's big pension bonds recently were downgraded.

County officials say ratings dropped because bond agencies downgraded the company insuring the bonds; they also say the change doesn't affect the county.

Dictos said the county is in trouble partly because it has departed from conservative roots. He said the board has been "out of control" with salary increases for employees.

County leaders also don't understand the depth of the money problem, he said. The board "needs someone with a real financial background."

He said the county must tighten its belt, freeze hiring and salary increases and hire competent administrators -- and fire them if they don't do the job. It also should perform management audits to ensure departments are running properly and efficiently, he said.

In recent years, Dictos has run for several elected offices, including county auditor and the State Center Community College District board. Dictos said he was recruited for one race and has contended for other offices where he could apply his financial expertise.

Dictos' campaign is self-financed.

Campaign statements show Anderson has the most support from public employee unions, according to an analysis by The Bee. More than a quarter of her fundraising comes from county unions; business and building industry sectors run close behind.

Calhoun's political bank account is dominated by the building industry, which represents about 55% of his contributions, according to the analysis.