On Tuesday, Los Olivos vintner and former Republican Assemblyman Brooks Firestone announced his candidacy for county supervisor of the fractious 3rd District.
Firestone’s announcement comes two weeks after current Supervisor Gail Marshall announced that she would not run for reelection. Marshall is currently three years into her second four-year term and it is little more than a year since she survived a bitterly fought recall election in a district that stretches from UCSB to Vandenberg Air Force Base and Los Alamos.
Firestone, 67, is known for the wine bearing his name and for his moderate Republican politics, the latter of which have caused trouble for him within his party.
After Democrat Walter Capps died of a heart attack in October 1997, Firestone entered the special election to replace Capps in the House of Representatives. He lost not only to Capps’ widow, current 22nd District Rep. Lois Capps, but also to a more conservative candidate from his own party. National pro-life groups poured money into the race and ran ads claiming he supported partial-birth abortions, though he had voted to ban state funding for the procedure except in certain situations.
More recently, Firestone ran in and lost a race for chair of the California Republican Party, trying, he said, “to bring the party back to its senses.”
He said his opinion of where the Republican party has to be was born out by the recent recall of Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“I was not in favor of the recall as such, but once it was a done deal I voted for him,” Firestone said. “My interpretation is that the people of California showed the Republican Party how to behave: fiscal responsibility and social moderation. They wanted governance, not preaching.”
Firestone said the acrimonious Marshall recall fight convinced him the 3rd District needs a supervisor with ties to both the agricultural north and the urban south. Marshall attracted the ire of the north by providing the third environmental vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. He said he developed such ties during his 31 years operating a vineyard in the Santa Ynez valley and while representing the 35th District in the State Assembly between 1994 and 1998, which included a stint as chair of the Higher Education Committee.
“I saw a need for my experience as a kind of bridge between the North and South. The vested interests in the county tend to be too enthusiastic and thereby not very effective,” Firestone said. “I feel I could represent the university to the county and the state. … It’s my impression that the university does not have the status in the community that it deserves. The community would rather focus on Halloween parties than Nobel prizes.”
Such differences in perception were often highlighted during the recall. Those differences are currently driving a petition by North County residents to break away from Santa Barbara and form a new county called Mission County. Firestone said he expects the secessionists will announce this week that they have collected enough signatures to send to the state for review and from there, eventually, to the ballot.
As the owner of a 450-acre vineyard that was the first in Santa Barbara County and has traded heavily on its location, Firestone said he is opposed to splitting the county and that he could help to heal the rift within the 3rd District.
“Firstly, I spent 30 years building Santa Barbara County up as a world-class wine region and being in a different county would be a problem,” Firestone said. “Secondly, as a supervisor, I would hope to be the kind of supervisor who would unite people.”
Firestone said he was against last year’s attempt to recall Marshall.
“I thought it was ill-advised. A waste of time, really,” Firestone said. “In the first place, there was no malfeasance. In the second place, I told the people who were doing it there was no way it was going through – without malfeasance, it couldn’t.”
The recall failed 47 percent to 53 percent in November of 2002. On election night, Marshall declined to say whether she would run for reelection and, a year later, she announced she would not.
“I always assumed that two terms would be an appropriate amount of time to give to my community, to the issues I felt were important,” Marshall said Tuesday. “I served two terms and went through a recall. I think there’s lots of bright and important people in the 3rd District and I think it’s time for someone else to step up.”
Marshall said she had yet to form an opinion on Firestone’s candidacy this early in the campaign.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to understand exactly what Brook’s agenda is or what his positions might be on important issues,” Marshall said. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on him until I have that information.”
Besides Firestone, only two other candidates have announced their candidacy: Los Olivos businessman Steven Pappas and Buellton resident and CHP Officer Dave King. Solvang City Councilman David Smyser, who had previously announced his candidacy, withdrew from the race in support of Firestone.