Rare challenge in Placer County supervisor race

05/19/2014 12:00 AM

05/18/2014 8:01 PM

Five-term Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt faces his first challenge in eight years, a notable exception considering that 10 other county elected officials are unopposed this June.

Regy Bronner, a 71-year-old retired business executive who moved from the Bay Area to live at Sun City Lincoln Hills, is running against Weygandt on a platform of creating more jobs. Residential neighborhoods have sprouted throughout the fast-growing county, and Bronner believes there needs to be a better balance between jobs and homes.

“These are farmers, lawyers and insurance agents. They don’t know how to talk the high-tech,” Bronner said, referring to the county’s leaders. “None of them have the technical background or business development side. I’ve done that for 30 years. I know who you have to talk to.”

Weygandt, the 62-year-old incumbent, says his considerable experience is an asset for the board. He has lived in Placer County since 1961 and noted that he has earned the endorsement of high-profile county leaders, including all of his fellow supervisors and Sheriff Ed Bonner.

“My challenger is new to Placer County, but obviously my roots are very deep. Background and relationships are necessary to make things work,” Weygandt said.

The nonpartisan District 2 seat represents northwest Rocklin, the city of Lincoln and surrounding rural areas. The supervisor job pays $30,000 annually and no benefits, as the fiscally conservative county provides its supervisors the lowest compensation among boards in the Sacramento region. But the position comes with power and prestige, as the county of more than 350,000 people ramps up development and growth.

The two candidates are registered in different parties – Weygandt, a Republican and Bronner, a Democrat – but both support ongoing growth in the region.

Bronner talked recently about how the county needed to grow middle-class jobs, noting that many of the existing jobs in retail, for instance, pay minimum wage.

He said he “used to go every year up to Sand Hill Road and ask for a cup full of money.” The famous road in Menlo Park is notable for its high concentration of venture capital firms. Bronner, working in sales and business development at companies, said he participated in several initial public offerings for software companies. He was previously employed at First Data, First Image and Nexprise, among others.

Weygandt said the county has plenty of high-paying jobs and pointed to the county’s relatively low unemployment rate. Placer County’s unemployment rate sits at 6.1 percent, while the statewide average is 7.8 percent, according to the latest figures from the Employment Development Department.

“It’s easy to make those types of statements, but that’s just not accurate,” Weygandt said of Bronner’s jobs criticism. “Our unemployment rate is lower than the Sacramento region and California.”

Bronner has positioned himself as a fresh face, ready to deliver change for constituents.

“Time for some new hands and some new eyes,” Bronner said.

He said Placer leaders should solicit more public opinion when deciding how to plan development. “We’re not at all prepared for the development wave,” he said. “People need to be consulted.”

Weygandt’s seat is the only Placer County office with a challenger this election. The other 10 incumbents – from the district attorney to the county superintendent of schools – face no opposition.

Jeff Flint, a political consultant familiar with Placer County politics and president of FSB Core Strategies in Sacramento, said he believes the race drew a challenger because Weygandt failed to register to run until late in the game.

“That gave some hope that he wasn’t running,” said Flint, who considers Weygandt a heavy favorite to win a sixth term.

The last competitive election for the District 2 seat took place in 2006, which Weygandt called a “grand election” because his opponent, Jerry Simmons, set a record for election spending in Placer County. In that race, Simmons spent at least $416,790, of which about $200,000 came from developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and his associates.

Tsakopoulos’ son, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, spent another $111,219 on ads bashing Weygandt for initially raising questions about the family’s plan to build a private university on donated farmland.

Weygandt collected $394,980 in contributions, including $79,000 from the United Auburn Indian Community, which operates Thunder Valley Casino.

In the end, Weygandt won with more than 70 percent of the vote.

The race this year has seen paltry fundraising by comparison, with each candidate reporting about $10,000 in cash on hand at the end of March. But the candidates in recent weeks have launched a final blitz with yard signs, community meetings and lots of handshakes. Bronner has criticized Weygandt for being a career politician and “as dug in as a tick on a hairy dog.”

Weygandt took the comparison in stride and said the “tick is going to be stuck to that dog working on the same relationships and will continue to get the same levels of success.”

For his part, Weygandt took credit for the “high quality of life” county residents enjoy.

“I’m going to continue to behave in exactly the same way,” he said. “We draw a line on change that diminishes our community.”

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