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OP-ED: Familiar faces
July 29, 2013, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

This November’s ballot will include some familiar names. In addition to the incumbents running for re-election, there will be at least two former councilmembers hoping to return to the dais.

Diane Howard, who served on the Redwood City Council for the full term of 16 years from 1994-2009, is mounting a comeback campaign for the seat Jeff Ira is vacating. In San Carlos, former councilwoman Inge Tiegel Doherty, who served from 2001-2007, hopes to return to her former post. Meanwhile, Tom Mohr, former president of Cañada College and superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District, is seeking a seat on the San Mateo County Community College District Board.

There’s nothing novel about elected officials moving from one position to another or occasionally returning to a post they once held. Since term limits, that has become the new norm. That is not possible in the state Legislature. The term limit ban is for life. But not in local government. Take the case of Joe Simitian. He started out as a Palo Alto school board member. Then he went on to the Palo Alto City Council. From there it was the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He then served as a state Assemblyman and state Senator. When he was recently termed out of the state Senate, he decided to run for his old seat on the Board of Supervisors. No surprise, as a popular familiar face (with ample campaign funds), he was re-elected. In Mountain View and Millbrae, where there are eight-year term limits, it’s not unusual for a termed-out councilmember to run again in two years.


Voters may say they hunger for new faces and a fresh approach but they usually prefer the devil they know to someone unknown. Warren Slocum, for many years San Mateo county’s elected chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder, was able to win election to the Board of Supervisors because of name recognition. Tom Mohr, very popular in the communities he has served, also has a leg up in his first try for elected office. Congress has no term limits and it’s rare an incumbent in our mostly gerrymandered party districts gets the heave-ho. It did happen to longtime — 40 years — East Bay Congressman Pete Stark who, constituents felt, had stayed too long and was becoming ineffective. A young challenger, Eric Swalwell, won the seat. One of the most watched elections this fall will be in the South Bay where newcomer Ro Khanna hopes to do the same to longtime San Jose Congressman Mike Honda.


Some time has passed since both Howard and Doherty served on their respective councils. They are competing against incumbents plus some new faces. So it may not be a slam dunk. Howard will be facing, among others, Ernie Schmidt, who is on the Redwood City Planning Commission and had an unsuccessful bid for the Board of Supervisors. Two incumbents are also running. Doherty will be facing Karen Clapper, who was recently appointed to the San Carlos City Council to fill the seat of Andy Klein; newcomer Cameron Johnson; and incumbents Robert Grassilli and Matt Grocott. These San Carlos candidates have all pulled papers to run. Others have announced they might run.

In Burlingame, there will definitely be a new councilmember as 12-year veteran Cathy Baylock steps down. No term limits in Burlingame. In Belmont, Coralin Feierbach is also giving up her seat. No term limits there either. So along with some familiar names, the November ballot will include some new faces and more options.


In Congress, however, we have not benefited from the most recent new crop — the Republican tea party members. Many of them never held elected office before and most all of them have a dim view of government. They don’t believe in compromise even with more moderate members of their own party. They have little in common with the New Englanders who made up the original tea party. The latter went on to become abolitionists, the enemies of slavery. These new tea party folks are primarily white male southerners. They have little in common with southerners Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, George Marshall, William Byrd or Sam Nunn. Instead, they resemble Faulkner’s fictional Flem Snopes and his itinerant farmer clan, some of whom worked their way to the top, became mayors, senators and governors. Flem Snopes never would have voted for food stamps. A cotton subsidy, yes. Just like U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee who voted against food stamps for the poor but over the years his farm has received $3.5 million in federal agricultural subsidies much of it for cotton.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at



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