San Bernardino County voters ended what is likely one of the state's most colorful political eras by ousting incumbent District 3 Supervisor Neil Derry, a Republican, in favor of Democrat James Ramos, former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
Ramos heavily outspent Derry, who was hobbled by his past ties to one of the more colorful episodes of political corruption in California political history. In the late 2000s, the county's Board of Supervisors was a wracked by a scandal involving the Colonies commercial development in Upland, which resulted in criminal charges against former Supervisor and Assessor Bill Postmus, accused with three others of accepting $100,000 bribes. Postmus was also arrested on methamphetamine possession charges in 2009. The outwash of the scandal also tainted fellow Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who is leaving his seat as 1st District Supervisor after losing the primary race for the 8th Congressional District.
Derry's involvement in the general corruption-plagued atmosphere surrounding the Board involved a $5,000 campaign contribution from developer Arnold Stubblefield, which Derry was alleged to have directed to a Postmus-controlled PAC so that his campaign could avoid listing Stubblefield as a contributor. As a result, Derry was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor in 2011 for violating campaign finance laws. He pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge in a plea deal and was sentenced to three years' probation.
Ramos' campaign leaned heavily on the campaign donation laundering charges, which seemed to sway even some conservative voters suspicious of "corrupt politicians." Derry counter-campaigned alleging undue casino sympathies, Ramos' split loyalty between San Bernardino County voters and the San Manuel tribe, and alleged involvement with organized crime, but that obviously didn't count much with district voters. Derry conceded the election early Election Night, faced with a 7,000-vote lead for Ramos.
Ramos now becomes the county's first Native supervisor, and a Democrat -- though not a particularly partisan Democrat -- in a diversely conservative district. His first months in office should prove interesting.
Chris Clarke is an environmental writer of two decades standing. Director of Desert Biodiversity, he writes from Joshua Tree regularly at his acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing and comments on desert issues on KCET weekly. Read his recent posts here.