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Change in the wind for council

POSTED August 17, 2010 11:38 p.m.

In two months and two and a half weeks, the face of the Turlock City Council may drastically change.

Councilman Ted Howze and Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher – the two staunchest conservatives on the council – will not seek reelection on Nov. 4.

To those not invested in Turlock politics, this may seem like a fairly minor shift. Council members come and council members go.

But since Howze and Spycher took office in 2006, the Turlock City Council has been unapologetically conservative.

The 2006-2008 council saw Councilman Kurt Vander Weide join Howze and Spycher to create an unstoppable conservative block, easily defeating Mayor John Lazar and Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher. In 2008, Councilwoman Mary Jackson replaced Hatcher, while Councilwoman Amy Bublak replaced Vander Weide.

While Jackson has largely taken Hatcher’s role as a liberal voice, Bublak has been more of a swing vote than Vander Weide was. She doesn’t stick to party lines, though she does oftentimes side with Howze and Spycher.

This division at council has led to standard 3-2 votes on controversial issues in recent years, with Howze and Spycher at odds with Jackson and Lazar and Bublak serving as the deciding vote.

The votes are certainly divisive, but they’re also an indication of a balanced council. Five people shouldn’t agree on every issue; it would be a clear sign of uniformity on a body which should be diverse.

That could all change in just a few months.

If Howze and Spycher are replaced by two conservative candidates, the balance will remain the same. But if just one liberal candidate wins, those contentious 3-2 votes will come down on the other side of the issue, more often than not.

I’ve heard mumblings around town that we’re in for a boring election. That, without Howze and Spycher, the race will be humdrum at best. And, obviously, no one is talking about the Mayoral race that Lazar is guaranteed to win without an opponent.

These naysayers couldn’t be farther from the truth. This election is an important barometer for the state of Turlock politics.

Do Turlockers want a return to the liberal council of 2006, warring against the entry of Wal-Mart Supercenters? Will the most conservative candidates win, potentially swinging the council back to 2006-2008 levels­? Or will Turlock prefer to maintain the status quo with a relatively balanced council?

This “boring” race will affect Turlock every day for the next four years.

Previously stalled projects like a proposed homeless shelter might be back on the table. A controversial Carnegie Arts Center for the conservative council might be a slam dunk on a more liberal board. Turlock’s tight ship of cost-reductions in the city budget might be loosened a bit, dipping farther into reserves to retain services despite declining revenues.

These are all hypothetical situations, let’s be clear. Many liberals support thrifty government, just as many conservatives support the arts and addressing the homeless.

But the fact remains that the direction Turlock is headed in December could be 180 degrees from where it’s going today.

So where will Turlock be this time next year?

I have no idea. But I’m excited about the prospect of the unknown.

After all, should that unknown turn out to be more bad than good, it’s only two years before voters will have the chance to shift the balance yet again. Is it too early to start thinking about Bublak and Jackson’s reelection?

To contact Alex Cantatore, cast a 3-2 vote in favor of establishing communications with a representative of the media, then e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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