On Nov. 4, voters in the South County will decide the balance of power on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors when they decide whether to give incumbent Caren Ray a full four years in office or replace her with Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton.
The stakes are high for voters countywide because the District 4 seat can be the swing vote between progressive supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill and conservative supervisors Debbie Arnold and Frank Mecham.
Last October, Ray was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve out the rest of the term of Paul Teixeira, who died of a heart attack in June 2013. The district includes Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Oceano.
Although Compton has been vague in her position on a variety of issues, the two candidates present voters with a clear contrast.
Compton, 51, a Republican, is co-owner with her husband of Valley Farm Supply. She is running on a platform of protecting property rights and agriculture and creating jobs. She lives in Nipomo.
Ray, 46, a Democrat, is a former high school teacher and previously served on the Arroyo Grande City Council. She is running on a platform of her government experience and bringing balance and consensus to the Board of Supervisors.
In a sign of the importance of the race, the campaigns have attracted large amounts of contributions. As of June 30, Compton had raised about $260,000 with Ray bringing in about $150,000 in contributions.
Both campaigns have received contributions from a variety of sources. However, agricultural interests are among Compton’s biggest donors while Ray’s biggest donors are developers and unions.
Political party donations have also played a significant role. To date, Compton has received more than $17,000 from the county Republican Party, plus $5,000 from the conservative Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County.
Ray has received $3,000 from the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party. Union contributors include $5,000 from the county Deputy Sheriff’s Association; $5,000 from the CDF Firefighters PAC; and $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 639.
On the issues, both candidates agree that water, or the scarcity of it, is the main crisis facing San Luis Obispo County and the one that is most on voters’ minds. But that’s where their agreement ends.
During her time in office, Ray has cast many votes regarding water, including several crucial votes about management of the dwindling Paso Robles groundwater basin. A year ago, she supported an emergency two-year moratorium on new well drilling and this year supported state legislation to allow the formation of a water management district for the Paso basin. That legislation, authored by Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian of San Luis Obispo, was recently signed by the governor.
Compton’s stance on water is less clear. Her campaign webpage says she supports a balanced approach to managing water in order to ensure adequate supplies for both agricultural and residential use but does not provide more detail.
She was out of town last week and did not provide specifics on several issues. She did, however, send an e-mail reply giving a broad view on the campaign.
Ray has criticized Compton for failing to talk in specifics. “She has carefully not taken a position on anything,” Ray said.
Each candidate has accused the other of bringing partisan politics into a position that is supposed to be nonpartisan. Ray has been the most vocal.
“My campaign has been about solutions, balance and issues while she is running a partisan and divisive campaign,” Ray said. “If the voters see that, the choice will be clear.”
Compton disagrees. Although both candidates have received support from their respective parties, Compton said she has been careful to avoid personal attacks and making pledges to political parties.
“I am out discussing the issues that are important to the people of this district,” she said in her initial email. “I have kept this discussion on a non-personal level and have discussed our difference on the issues.”
However, the starkest contrast between the two candidates is their general philosophy toward government.
Compton holds conservative or libertarian viewpoints that she believes are representative of the district. She frequently talks about protecting property rights and reducing government controls that limit personal freedoms.
“As I speak to residents and concerned citizens, their main issues seem to revolve around water, head of household jobs and the seeming ever-increasing regulations with regard to the business community which in turn hinder job creation,” she said.
Ray, on the other hand, believes government plays a crucial role in protecting quality of life in the district. Property rights should be balanced with environmental protection and wise resource management, she said.
“Lynn Compton saying she views everything through the prism of property rights is alarming,” she said. “That points to unbridled development and unregulated industry. Those are the things that lead us to becoming Bakersfield.”
The candidates have mixed views on several important issues facing the district — a proposed rail spur at the Phillips 66 refinery in Nipomo and a dust-control rule for Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
As a member of the county Air Pollution Control District, Ray has supported the rule that requires the park to implement measures to reduce dust from the dunes blowing onto the Nipomo Mesa and creating unhealthy air conditions.
Compton has not taken a specific position on the rule. Compton said she would support reasonable measures to protect the environment while recognizing that the park is an important component of the county’s tourism industry.
Neither candidate has taken a position on a proposed rail spur project that would allow the Phillips 66 refinery to receive crude oil via railroad rather than pipeline, which is the current delivery method. The issue has generated controversy among South County residents over fear that a rail accident could cause oil spills or a fire.
Ray said she is studying the issue and won’t take a position until the project comes before the Board of Supervisors. Compton has said she is waiting for the county’s environmental analysis of the project and recognizes there are pros and cons related to the project but the refinery is a source of good jobs.
One issue in the campaign that has captured much public attention has nothing to do with the candidates’ positions: A controversy surrounding an October fundraising event for the Compton campaign with a hobo costume theme.
The Ray campaign has criticized the event as insensitive to the plight of the homeless. The Compton camp responded that it is a harmless event planned for the historic Oceano train depot and has nothing to do with the homeless.
Constituents of District 4 may not get a chance to question both candidates about any of these issues at the same time. No debates or forums are currently planned between now and the election.
Ray is willing to debate, but Compton has said she would only participate in a debate moderated by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, who represented District 4 before moving on to the state Legislature. The Tribune has been trying for several weeks to arrange such a forum with a date that is agreeable to participants.