Until last week, I wouldn’t have wagered a plug nickel that a 32-year-old political neophyte would spring from nowhere and topple our Republican establishment’s grande dame politico. But I was a campaign geek for novice candidate David Blakely who, back in the day, also shocked the establishment. So it’s possible.
Some background: I was dragooned on short notice to fill this space on behalf of The Trib’s regular lefty, Tom Fulks. As a counterpoint to Andrea Seastrand's recent column on Lynn Compton, I opted to write on Jimmy Paulding’s chance of victory. Since opinion journalism is founded on facts, it seemed wise for me to gather a few.
I began by attaching myself to a pair of Paulding volunteers canvassing a Nipomo neighborhood.
Retirees Pete Peterson and Gee Gee Southward moved here from the Bay Area recently and bought a nice home. “We came for the air and the Central Coast life-style,” Gee Gee said. But after settling in, they discovered the South County’s pollution problem, “caused by those damned dune buggies.”
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The Board of Supervisors’ inability to seriously address the problem riled them. When they heard about Paulding and his commitment to heal the board’s dysfunction, they enlisted.
So I asked to follow along.
Our first encounter was at the door of a stucco home on a one-acre lot near Nipomo’s regional park. According to Pete’s special cell phone app, it’s a Republican household.
A goateed guy in a Nike T-shirt greets us. He knows about the supervisors’ dysfunction. He’s heard about Paulding. He’s still undecided.
Gee Gee, a former teacher, delivers the reasoning: “Only Paulding can heal this toxic board!”
Pete follows up: “Yes, Jimmy’s a registered Democrat, but he’s of a new generation, and no radical.”
Within minutes, Nike guy accepts a yard sign and promises to vote Paulding.
A third of voters canvassed announced support for Paulding. Many accepted yard signs. Others were either not home or still undecided.
Our final encounter was at the home of Junell L. Peterson, directly across from the newly constructed Community Health Center on Tejas Place.
Peterson hates the health center. “It’s decimated my life,” she says. “The street parking, the horns, the glare, the cigarette butts." She blames Compton for its existence.
I thanked Pete and Gee Gee for their indulgence and moved on. I needed to sense the bigger picture. So I sought the campaign’s canvassing coordinator, Ronda McKible, who filled me in.
“We started knocking on doors last fall,” she said. “With over 100 volunteers, we’ve canvassed over 15,000 homes. They come from Paso Robles and Atascadero. We've got retirees from the Trilogy, Cypress Ridge and Black Lake. Families are bringing their children in hopes of introducing them to civic responsibility. Students from Cal Poly have helped crank out an entire precinct in one day.
“In the beginning, our goal was simple — get Jimmy’s name out and make people aware of the upcoming election.
“Now that our yard signs are up everywhere, the job has gotten a bit easier. Jimmy’s name recognition has skyrocketed. Our focus now is on issues, providing voters the right information to make educated decisions, then getting them to the polls."
I thanked McKible and headed over to a Paulding campaign event at Arroyo Grande’s Strother Park, where I encountered The Trib’s ace reporter, Monica Vaughan. She and a videographer were there to put Paulding on the spot.
Unlike Ms. Vaughan, my chief interest wasn’t Jimmy, but his mother, Sue.
On a note card I’d copied a quotation from Rose Kennedy that I thought would prompt an interesting response.
“What greater aspiration and challenge are there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?”
I passed Sue Paulding the card. Reading it, her face darkened. Then she stared straight into me.
“Jimmy and his sister were both born premature. Both spent months in hospital on death’s threshold. Jimmy’s dad and I prayed fervently for their lives. Thank God, our prayers were answered. Throughout, we drew strength from an Old Testament passage from Isaiah.”
She repeated it from memory:
“They will be called oaks of righteousness … a planting of the Lord.”
“It’s a metaphor for living in a way that pleases God,” she said. “That’s the way we raised them.”
Get ready, SLO Sups. Jimmy’s coming.
Jay Salter has lived in Atascadero for 40 years with his wife, Tina. He is a retired union organizer and was founding president of the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. He is among the liberal writers published every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.