Old Guard Seeing Challenge From Young Turks In YV

(October 23)  Of the nine candidates vying in the race for the three positions up for grabs in this year’s Yucca Valley Town Council race, four appear to have secured the inside track, that is, the greatest degree of viability when measured by the criteria traditionally applied in determining frontrunner status. By virtue of high name recognition and proven records of impacting the political direction of this physically isolated patch of humanity in the vast Mojave Desert, incumbents Merl Abel and Bob Leone along with challengers Ron Cohen and Lori Herbel appear to have advanced to the front of the pack.
Given the matrix of the nine candidates vying for the three seats, a real horserace is in play, complete with its intrinsic septic challenges, that is ones that are literally septic as the major issue facing the 20,700 person community is a projected bill of over $135,000,000 for only the first phase of sewage treatment facilities needed to keep the California Water Quality Control Board from taking drastic action against the city in May 2016.
In a town long heavily dominated politically by the Gemini Star personality machines of Pastor Jerel Hagerman and Congressman Paul Cook and their tight knit affiliates such as the father and son politicians, of Pastor Roger Dean  Mayes and his son, Chad, only one of the four frontrunners bubbles automatically to the top of that largest chamber of voters: incumbent Merl Abel.
The others seemingly holding strong in the race so far, incumbent Bob Leone, past Councilwoman Lori Herbel, and the freshman politician Ron Cohen, have all built their voting blocks from a more diverse crowd influenced less by star personalities and more by issues.  Not surprisingly, all three of these have criticized major decisions by Merle Abel such as the payment of over  $120,000 to disgraced ex-town manager Mark Nuaimi, and a failed ballot initiative to impose an additional one percent sales tax for the town council to spend at its discretion.
Ron Cohen quite visibly became the lead spokesman for an initiative to recall present councilmen Huntington and Lombardo.  He and his wrestling cohorts were seen defending the impromptu free speech encampment created by Ed Montgomery at the intersection of 247 and Highway 62 against a hammer-wielding thug.  Fellow recall organizer Lori Herbel likewise walked door to door and others manned tables at the local Stater Brothers to collect over 2,700 signatures of  town citizens who were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” about numerous policy blunders made by  Abel and three of his council colleagues.  Incumbent Bob Leone’s support for the recall was much more circumspect but he made clear his sustained disagreements with all the other members of the council at the time.  Leone served on the council in previous years but left the council dais two election cycles ago, only to return in a special election held last year. During his most recent tenure on the council, Leone was the lone negative vote on several decisions of the council firmly aligning Leone, whether he wants to publicize it or not, with the new powerful voting block that Herbel and Cohen congregated against the established old guard block steered by Hagerman/Cook.
The calculations of the vote include a total registration pool of about 10,000 registered.  Significantly, Herbel and Cohen and their fellows added about 500 votes to the rolls during the recall campaign.  Presumptively, a large percent of those voters remain interested in changing Town Hall.  In a presidential year, the total number of voters is near 4,000 votes, of which the “Pastor Block” is about 2,500 votes depending on the threat level of the non-block candidates.
With a candidate pool of nine candidates, many of whom are themselves Pastor Block candidates but with low name recognition outside the block, the potential for dilution and softening of the block is high despite the weighty opposition such as Cohen and Herbel.
New candidates Rick Dennison, Jeff Drozd, Charles McHenry, Susan Simmons, and to a much lesser extent the “I did and do inhale marijuana”  Brian Watson, all will draw some votes from the Pastor Block if for no other reason than a vote for “someone like me” identity politics.  Dennison: local firemen, Drozd: special education teachers, McHenry: friends of the Library and National Parks, Simmons: small business owners.
So with three lead and powerful dissenters in the race for three seats, the probability appears that at least two of the counter-reactionaries will progress to the dais, perhaps all three.
Random fortune placed past-councilmember Lori Herbel’s name at the top of the list on the ballot and political mavens say that alone will produce a few percentage points of advantage.  Bob Leone has already served on the council four separate times and while he makes his own decisions, he has not raised so much of the ire of the establishment to anger too many people.  So the likely wildcards for the third seat appears to include Abel whose normal voting block is diluted, and Cohen whose voting block is new and untested.
And between Abel and Cohen are some intense contrasts of attributes which some voters use to make their selection to represent them: soft-spoken/outspoken, Christian faith/Jewish faith, public employee/corporate employee, “people skills”/“systems skills,” political conservative/political liberal.
–Sentinel Morongo Basin Correspondent

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