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Two SLO County supervisors have launched their 2020 re-election campaigns. Why so early?

San Luis Obispo County supervisors Debbie Arnold and John Peschong announced this week they will each be running for re-election in 2020.

If it seems early for a campaign announcement, that’s because it is.

Coming up in 2020, California will hold its primary election in March instead of June, a strategy to increase the state’s influence in presidential elections. Vote-by-mail ballots will be sent out by the county clerk in about a year. As a result, some candidates are getting a jump sooner than before.

Arnold, who was recently elected chair of the board, and Peschong are part of a three-person conservative majority along with South County supervisor Lynn Compton. Compton was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2018.

They announced their re-election campaigns Monday on Paso Robles radio station KPRL. No challengers have announced yet.

Water is a big issue

The largest issue facing North County supervisors is how to manage water, specifically groundwater, while negotiating the state’s requirement to create a sustainable groundwater management plan and determine what that means for water use at large and small farms, as well as by residential users.

Meanwhile, residents in the area have raised alarm about large agricultural operations drilling deep wells that deplete neighboring groundwater levels, particularly in fractured rock on the west side.

What, exactly, the board will do about that is yet to be seen. Arnold has suggested interest in some kind of regulation on new wells but has promised only to ask for more information.

“It’s going to take a lot of oversight and protection. It’s important to me that the county looks at water systems that we’re seeing pop up all over the county that may be infringing on other property owners’ rights,” Arnold said in a phone interview with The Tribune. “Since we know now we can’t just keep continuing to increase demand for our groundwater, we have to govern it in a fair way for all property owners.”

Arnold, whose family ranches, grows grapes and has a winery, says that consideration led to her controversial vote against a private water district having voting rights in the newly formed agency group that will determine how to manage groundwater in the future. Both Peschong and Compton voted with her.

It would be Arnold’s third term representing District 5, which includes Atascadero, California Valley, Creston, Pozo, Santa Margarita and parts of Templeton, Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo.

Peschong’s priorities

Peschong, who is a partner in a Sacramento-based political consulting firm and a former regional leader for the Republican National Committee, said he is focused on two things related to water: Advocating to make sure that small landowners who use less water are exempt from any potential tax on groundwater, and finding ways to recharge the groundwater basin.

His role, he said, is “making sure the residents in the county covered by the groundwater sustainability plan are treated fairly.”

Public safety will likely be another focus for the two politicians who nearly always vote alike.

Arnold will highlight that she successfully advocated for the county to prioritize road maintenance in the budget, resulting in millions of local dollars going to repairs, while Peschong will remind voters that he acquired funding for two new deputies for the North County.

This would be Peschong’s second term representing District 1, which includes Adelaide, Lake Nacimiento communities, Paso Robles, San Miguel, Shandon and Templeton.

He served as chair of the board during his first term, a time that saw high tension and disagreement between the board majority and the two liberal supervisors: Adam Hill, who is up for re-election in 2020 and Bruce Gibson, who was re-elected in 2018.

Contention seems to have evolved into collaboration in recent months, something that Peschong touts as a result of working with different-minded supervisors on ad-hoc committees on controversial topics like how to manage Pirate’s Cove and affordable housing.

That is the tactic he would like to take, he said, when problem-solving how to potentially take on additional costs to help floundering rural fire departments across the county.

“I like this collaborative ability to get things done. Nobody’s going to get everything they want,” Peschong said. “Everyone should have a say in what happens in our community, and that’s what I do to try to bring people together.”

Both candidates have filed paperwork with the county to begin raising money for their campaigns.

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