Dave Long dunked his opponent Jack Hooper in Tuesday's election, capping a bare-knuckle fight for Merced Irrigation District's open seat.
Hooper, who's held the District 3 seat since 1989, was walloped by his opponent receiving only 731 votes compared to Long's 2,112.
Long's win ended a $20,000 race filled with accusations and acrimony that may change the balance of power in an agency often at odds over finance, management-style and transparency.
Long, who thanked Hooper for 20 years of service on Tuesday night, said he can't predict what his victory will mean for the district. "Hopefully it's going to bring forward thinking and positive changes," he said.
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Hooper could not to be reached for comment.
The election comes at a time of vulnerability for the nonprofit public agency, as state water supplies dwindle and urban and environmental water needs increasingly compete with farmers. The state's precarious water picture has made the outcome of the district's ongoing dam relicensing more important as well. The relicensing could mean less water for farmers and more for fish.
While these issues overshadowed the election, internal troubles plagued the district. Two lawsuits claiming racial discrimination cast doubt on MID's management, and disagreements over transparency and finances have split the board.
Long's election could mean a changing of the guard since the district's two voices of opposition, Suzy Hultgren and Will Hunter, may gain an ally in Long. Hunter, for example, gave Long's campaign $1,000 and is a personal friend.
The real hot-button issue for MID has been water sales. And it was central in this election. Potential water sales and a fee increase earlier this year -- both controversial -- troubled many area farmers.
Hooper said he supports water sales in some cases, arguing they are the only way the district has been able to make up its water deficits.
Long, who argues against water sales, has said selling water, even for environmental purposes, sends the wrong message to state and federal water managers. The agency should tighten its belt and raise fees if it needs new revenue, not sell water, he said.
But Hooper contends water sales raise needed funds for the district and send a message of good will to state and federal water managers.
These contentious issues heated up an election in which both candidates threw mud at one another.
Hooper accused Long of taking money and support from outside interests. And Long said Hooper voted to sell water to Los Angeles.
Both candidates spent a good deal of money in the race. Combined, the two raised a third of the total dollars the six candidates in Merced's mayoral and city council races raised.
Long, an almond processor who currently sits on the East Side Water District, outspent his opponent by 3-to-1 and collected a list of endorsements that included state senators and local leaders, among others. Just a few of his local backers included Mike Gallo, Robert Rucker, Robert Ayers and Mike Salvadori.
Long collected almost $17,000 for his run, while Hooper, who has a Ph.D. in economics and runs several agricultural businesses, collected more than $4,000, which he donated to his own campaign.
Long not only raised a hefty sum for an irrigation district election, but he called in a big-gun political consultant to help run his campaign. Mike Lynch, who was congressman Gary Condit's chief of staff, consulted for Long's campaign.
The backdrop to the campaign has been one of water crisis on the state level. A three year drought has increasingly pit thirsty cities and farmers against environmentalists and fisherman. With Delta fisheries in decline, water deliveries to Westside farmers and Southern California have been cut or threatened with reduction.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.