John Buttny has stepped out from Gail Marshall’s shadow and into the race for her 3rd District seat on the five-member Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Buttny, 65, who has been an executive assistant to Marshall for the past eight years, announced Saturday he will run for her post, which she will vacate in 2005 after serving two terms and surviving a close but failed recall attempt by her opponents. He said he will pick up his papers today and hold a press conference when he officially files his intent to run before Dec. 10.
“I’ve been doing this job for a long time,” Buttny said. “Nobody else came forward, and I figured we couldn’t give the seat away to Brooks Firestone.”
Firestone, who announced his candidacy Nov. 11, is the wealthy owner of Santa Barbara County’s Firestone Vineyard.
Marshall said Sunday that Buttny has “a very deep record of service with the county.”
“I think his chances are great,” Marshall said. “If anyone has the experience, he does.”
Buttny said he has lived and worked in Santa Barbara County since 1978. When he first moved to the area, he lived in Isla Vista on the 6800 block of Del Playa Drive with his family. He bought his first house in the county eight years later. He has served nearly 20 years as executive assistant, first to 3rd District Supervisor Bill Wallace, then to Marshall.
However, Marshall said that though she and Buttny hold similar views on quality of life issues, he has his own opinions.
“He’s going to go with the issues at his own pace,” Marshall said. “It’s a matter of priority and personality.”
Buttny said he supports environmental and social justice issues, like the living wage and renter’s rights. He said he advocates the preservation of the Gaviota Coastline and is opposed to additional offshore oil drilling. He said he is also pro-choice and against the death penalty.
Voters in Isla Vista are a critical factor in his election prospects, Buttny said.
“I think Brooks will be more popular with North County voters,” Buttny said, “but he needs Isla Vista and South County to win.”
Although a feasibility study concluded that Isla Vista cityhood was not financially practical, Buttny said some sort of self-government is necessary in order to tackle community issues.
“I don’t really know what kind [of self-government] – we’d have to get creative,” Buttny said. “It’s my belief that the only way we’re going to solve the more troubling issues [in Isla Vista], like drugs and alcohol – but mostly alcohol – is to have the community come up with solutions through their own self-rule.”
Buttny said he will spend time campaigning door-to-door throughout Isla Vista.
With the proposed county split initiative gaining enough signatures to place it before voters, candidates for the 3rd District seat are eager to show that they can adequately represent both sides. The initiative would divide Santa Barbara County into halves based on northern agricultural interests and southern urban and environmental interests.
During the November 2002 recall campaign, Marshall’s opponents often painted her as the swing vote on environmental issues benefiting the south coast over northern agricultural issues.
“Bridge-building is easy to say,” Buttny said, “but I’ve lived on both sides. I have a feel for those issues.”
Buttny said he already has a base of support in the north to build upon. He said he worked on negotiations between agricultural interests and environmentalists in the formulation of a countywide oak tree ordinance, which regulates removal of the trees by mandating that a certain number be replaced every time one is cut down.
In reaction to Buttny’s bid for the 3rd District seat, Firestone said he has a similar familiarity with issues affecting both North and South County, especially with issues regarding the University of California system. As the vice chair of higher education in the California State Assembly, Firestone said he has been to every UC campus and spent significant time at UCSB.
“I think it’s going to be a great and lively debate,” Firestone said Sunday. “I’ve lived for thirty-plus years in mid-county. I lived in Santa Barbara for a time, so technically I have lived in South County also.”
Buttny said he welcomes the only other candidate in the race, Steve Pappas, because he said Pappas’ conservative political affiliation will draw votes away from Firestone, not himself.
Pappas would not comment Sunday regarding Buttny’s characterization of the race.
“I’m planning to continue to run,” Pappas said. “I’m just going to do my thing, get my message out there, and let the people decide.”