Aaron West, The Triplicate

Formerly unopposed Dist. 3 candidate maps out priorities

We have a race.

District 3 voters now have a choice for who will represent them on the Board of Supervisors after a Smith River resident filed as an official write-in candidate on May 20, the last day to sign up.

John Roberts, the new challenger, will face Chris Howard, whose name will be on the ballot in the June 3 election. Roberts said that he felt like voters should have a choice in the election, so he decided to throw his hat in the ring.

"I had to hustle outside the post office to get the signatures," Roberts said, referring to the 20 signatures he needed from registered District 3 voters to qualify as a write-in candidate. "The most humbling thing I've ever had to do was get strangers to sign paperwork for me."

As a write-in candidate, Roberts' didn't need to pay the $325.16 filing fee, but his name won't be on the ballot, and he wasn't able to write a candidate's statement.

Roberts acknowledged that his late entry into the race would probably be his downfall, but he said he felt his candidacy was necessary because he didn't think Howard had made enough of an effort to connect with voters.

"I don't feel that democracy should be given away," Roberts said. "I don't really have much of a chance to win, but I'm looking at this being a referendum on [Howard] by saying that people are disturbed that he hasn't come out and tried to make contact with the voters. I think the person who is going for a position needs to work to build the trust and confidence in themselves."

For his part, Howard said he has campaigned a lot, talking to voters as well as attending both the Smith River and Ship Ashore Neighborhood Watch forums, and speaking at the latter of the two. Joni Forsht, neighborhood watch coordinator, confirmed Howard's attendance at those forums.

Howard also said he welcomed an opponent in the race.

"I had really hoped that someone else would run. I think people need to have choices."

Howard, who has lived in Del Norte since 1994, is the general manager of Alexandre EcoDairy Farms.

He has been involved in various community organizations, including the Del Norte County Planning Commission and the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. He has also served on Caltrans' Native American Advisory Committee and the California Environmental Protection Agency Tribal Advisory Committee.

A biologist, he moved to Del Norte to study spotted owls for Rellim Redwood. During his time in the county since then he has also been a wildlife survey coordinator for Green Diamond Resource Company as well as director of public relations, economic development and environmental services for Elk Valley Rancheria. He also helped establish Alexandre Kids LLC, which sells eggs from organically fed free-range chickens.

As his resume might suggest, Howard said his passion lies in the agriculture industry, which he feels is an underutilized resource in Del Norte - something he said he would work to change as a supervisor.

"If agriculture goes away, then the community goes away," he said.

Howard also mentioned education and dependency on social services as local issues he would plan on tackling as supervisor. He said that social services are the biggest part of the county's budget, and in order to reduce their cost, "we have to go upstream."

"Improving education revolves around that," he said. "For us to sit by as a government not helping is wrong."

Roberts, the recently announced challenger, is a self-described foreigner to politics, but he said that he thinks that could work in his favor. He said his principal reason for running was that he felt Howard was taking his unopposed status too lightly and it seemed that his opponent felt "entitled" to the supervisor position.

"I'm not a politician or a very public person, so this is all alien to me," he said. "But I have a good work ethic, and I could be a good supervisor. I wouldn't take the position for granted."

Roberts, who is retired, said he moved to Smith River in 2005 after working for IBM in San Jose for twenty years, but he's owned property in Del Norte since the '80s. Like his opponent, he also said one of his chief passions was the agriculture industry, which he called "the key to the county's future."

He also said he's concerned with the county supervisors' salaries and thinks they should be cut 25andndash;50 percent. Roberts said he'd like to see that money go to other departments where the money could be used to upgrade outdated hardware and software, which he described as a "glaring problem."

Roberts said he's active in the Smith River community, where he serves on a historical preservation group, as well as on the Smith River Days committee, and he has donated time and resources to the community.

In regard to the Jefferson state movement, both Howard and Roberts said that under-representation is a big issue for Del Norte. Howard said that it should be left up to the people to decide while Roberts said that without important financial details he would be against the idea.

"This take that they have that they'll make all that up when they get independence - that's poor financial planning," he said.

Reach Aaron West at awest@triplicate.com.