Del Norte is now Republican country

August 28, 2001 11:00 pm

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

The political tables turned in Del Norte County this week.

For the first time in the countys history, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats, by one person.

According to the county clerks office, there are now 4,862 registered Republicans and 4,861 Democrats.

What enabled us to make so much progress is the population of correctional officers there, said Dean Andal, a former state Assembly member from Stockton and now a Republican office holder on the state Board of Equalization.

Andal said as a member of a Republican political action committee, he worked to make Del Norte County swing toward the GOP.

I think the change started when Pelican Bay opened. The correctional officers and officers who have retired and stayed there are changing the political landscape, he said.

Even though the spread is only a difference of one body, the change is significant and comes as a surprise to Gerald Cochran, county Assessor and longtime member of the Democratic Central Committee here.

For 150 years, Del Norte County has been overwhelmingly Democrat. Cochran said just last year or so, there were 1,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

We were all workers. We were fishermen, mill workers, lumbermen and all good Democrats, Cochran said.

But we lost all those jobs and theyre being replaced by correctional officers who are notoriously conservative, he added.

More than anything else, however, what made the local community Democrat was its small town, hang-together attitude, according to Cochran, who grew up here in the 1940s.

You knew your neighbors and you did what you had to to help each other out, he said.

More and more northern and central valley counties are turning Republican, according to Andal.

The partys aggressive campaign to sign people up has changed majorities in Trinity, San Joaquin and Del Norte counties. Two other targeted counties which Andal is hoping to convert are Stanislaus and Merced counties.

We do two things: recruit local volunteers and pay people to sit in front of stores to register people, Andal said, and it has paid off for the party.

This may give us more Republican representatives in the state Assembly, he added.

Currently Del Norte County is represented by Democrat Virginia Strom-Martin in the Assembly and by Democrat Wes Chesbro in the state Senate.