Jardine: District 3 race was a partisan affair

A couple of observations from Tuesday's election:

The still-iffy and supposedly nonpartisan District 3 supervisors' race between Terry Withrow and Bill Lyons is turning out to be partisan after all.

PG&E's power grab, Proposition 16, came much closer to passing than it should have.

First, the Withrow-Lyons race.

Before the election, it seemed a lock that Lyons -- the state's former secretary of agriculture under Gov. Davis -- would ride his name recognition to victory. Instead, Withrow holds an 89-vote lead as of Friday afternoon as folks at the Stanislaus County election's office continue to process mail ballots.

So how did this race for a nonpartisan office become partisan?

Withrow is a Republican. Lyons is a Democrat. Withrow no doubt ran an aggressive campaign.

But he also benefitted from a Republican primary ballot that included a high-profile gubernatorial candidates' race between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner. The ballot also involved the party's U.S. Senate primary, which Carly Fiorina won.

Within our region, the Republican races for Congress and the Legislature dominated the news and the street corners.

The Democratic ballot seemed boring by comparison.

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer faced no serious opposition while Rep. Dennis Cardoza ran unopposed.

Ultimately, in a countywide voter turnout of 31 percent, Republican voters were more motivated than Democrats.

To wit: Stanislaus County has nearly 15,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, yet Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by 6,000 in this election and accounted for 49.9 percent of all ballots cast.

That is helping to propel Withrow toward an upset. And it also made a partisan race out of one that's supposed to be nonpartisan.

Now, on to PG&E's failed attempt to hijack the future of the power business in California.

Had it passed, Proposition 16 would have forced government agencies to seek approval of two-thirds of their voters to begin or expand power operations.

Voters have short memories. PG&E's parent company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, withholding for a time the property taxes it owed counties, including Stanislaus. Then it turned around and paid out $17.5 million in bonuses to its executives. It has spent millions on trying to stop competition, including when the Modesto Irrigation District began selling power in Oakdale and other areas of the county.

PG&E claims it can't compete against the public agencies -- the MID and Turlock Irrigation District qualify -- because PG&E pays taxes and they don't. Yet it found $45 million to spend on promoting Proposition 16 instead of offering a rate cut to be more competitive. To the contrary, PG&E has rate increases pending.

Competing has never been the company's goal.

Proposition 16 got creamed in the more populated Northern California counties, where PG&E does much of its business.

The measure scored well in some Southern California counties where PG&E isn't the major energy provider, getting more than 50 percent in Ventura, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Imperial and Inyo counties, and over 60 percent in San Bernardino.

The pro-Proposition 16 advertising campaign played well to the kind of anti-government sentiment that arises when the Legislature must hack $25 billion from the budget.

Here's the weirdness: Until the release of new results Friday, the ballot measure actually led in Stanislaus County, where a big chunk of residents have for decades enjoyed the lower power rates offered by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts.

Hand PG&E a monopoly on energy? Why not just post your Social Security number on Facebook?

"No" votes finally crept ahead Friday. Still, it was close enough to all but guarantee a return to the ballot in a not-too-distant future election.

In the meantime, take a deep breath but keep your pen handy.

The November election will be here before you know it.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or