Editorial: Candidates, be ready with answers

As expected, local campaigns already are attracting big money; as Tribune reporter Bob Cuddy recently reported, the usual contingent of interest groups, labor unions, business leaders and community activists is weighing in with donations.

The identity of one of the biggest donors, though, comes as a surprise. South County rancher H.D. Perrett and his wife, Carol, have contributed $17,800 to local campaigns — an amount that easily ranks them among the largest contributors in these early filing periods.

Some background: The Perretts tried a couple of times to have the county line adjusted so that their ranchland, now in San Luis Obispo County, would be shifted to Santa Barbara County. It was speculated that they eventually wanted the land annexed to Santa Maria — a pro-growth city that would be more likely to allow a housing development on the property.

The SLO County Board of Supervisors denied the request for the boundary change — a wise move that we applauded.

Now, we learn that the Perretts have contributed $7,800 to Etta Waterfield, a former Santa Maria planning commissioner who hopes to be the Republican nominee for Sam Blakeslee’s seat in the state Assembly. They’ve donated an additional $10,000 to Mike Zimmerman, a South County attorney running for the seat on the Board of Supervisors now held by Katcho Achadjian.

That’s led some voters to wonder whether the couple intends to renew their proposal for a boundary adjustment.

We hope that is not the case. That was a bad idea then, and we believe it’s still a bad idea. Not only would the county lose much-needed property tax revenue, it also would relinquish control over the property if it were developed someday. Even though South County — particularly Nipomo — would be most affected by the growth, our county would not have the final say over design, density, traffic improvements, environmental protections and other conditions.

If H.D. Perrett does want to develop his land — something he has denied so far — we believe it would be far better for him to say as much and work with San Luis Obispo County officials to see what might be possible.

Certainly, the Perretts — and all other donors — are entitled to make campaign contributions to whomever they please.

But in this era of follow-the-money skepticism, voters are bound to raise probing questions about the motivation behind large donations. We urge all candidates to be prepared to provide substantive answers.