A race for El Dorado County supervisor that’s heavily focused on development has gotten testy, with both candidates lobbing accusations.
The opponent of Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills – who is running for supervisor as her term in the Legislature expires – is questioning her motives for seeking the office and her support by special interests, including developers.
Gaines, in turn, is painting longtime fire district board member John Hidahl as a fiscally irresponsible Democrat in a conservative county. Hidahl, a retired aerospace engineer, has served on the El Dorado Hills fire district board for 33 years.
Gaines and Hidahl are competing to replace Supervisor Ron Mikulaco in District 1, which represents El Dorado Hills.
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Gaines has represented part of the county since 2011 as an assemblywoman. She replaced her husband, Ted Gaines, in the Assembly after he won a state Senate seat. She can’t run for re-election in the Assembly because of term limits.
Hidahl, 65, contends that Gaines moved to El Dorado Hills only to run for the supervisor’s job, which pays $76,000 a year. Her true political aspirations lie with her husband’s Senate seat when it opens in 2020, he said.
“Her primary motivation is to seek another state office,” Hidahl said.
Gaines, 57, said she is not considering her husband’s Senate seat at this time, adding that she is “100 percent committed to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.”
Beth Gaines said she and her family moved from Roseville to El Dorado Hills two years ago because they considered it the most attractive area in her legislative district.
Development and traffic have been major issues in the race for supervisor. As the rural county becomes more urbanized, residents have shown their concern about growth by approving restrictions on development in 2008 and again in June.
Hidahl said he supports “responsible growth” in the foothills but does not want to support high-density residential development because he said it doesn’t fit the county’s rural character. Development needs to be planned better than it has in the past, he said, with a greater emphasis on what it will mean for traffic.
Gaines has taken a similar position on development, saying the county needs to allow only the development called for in its general plan and assess the results on traffic. She said the general plan does have much more space available for development.
Hidahl said he differs from Gaines in that he won’t take campaign contributions from developers.
Through Sept. 24, Hidahl raised about $45,000, about half of which came from nonmonetary contributions in the form of videos produced for his website, according to Hidahl and reports filed with the county. Most of his monetary contributions have come from retirees.
Records filed with the county show Gaines has accepted contributions from development interests, including Winn Communities, the California Mortgage Association and the California Real Estate Political Action Committee. It’s not clear how much her total contributions are from development interests.
Gaines said she accepts campaign contributions from “anyone” yet is not beholden to any donor, an assessment Hidahl said he finds hard to believe.
Gaines has four active campaign committees, according to the secretary of state’s website: two for her Assembly office, one for the supervisor’s campaign, and another for the 2020 state Senate race.
Although Gaines said she is not currently interested in the Senate seat, her Senate campaign committee has raised $76,000 through the end of last month.
Gaines has spent more than $180,000 on the county supervisor race this year, including payments for two mailers that upset Hidahl and his supporters.
The mailers have similar content, making comparisons between Gaines and Hidahl and featuring an altered picture of Hidahl. A color picture of Gaines is placed next to a black-and-white picture of Hidahl holding a glass of wine.
The original picture of Hidahl was in color, taken at a Christmas party last year, and showed him wearing a shirt with a blood-donor emblem, which was edited out of the picture used in Gaines’ ads. Hidahl called the advertisements “distorted” and “mudslinging.”
Gaines defended the advertisements. “I took a picture and turned it black and white,” she said. “That’s not the real issue. The issue is all the things he’s done.”
Gaines criticized Hidahl’s record on the fire board, pointing to the findings of a 2011 grand jury report. Her mailers accused Hidahl of “fiscal mismanagement and deficit spending.”
The grand jury report found that the fire district had some of the highest salaries in the region and among the lowest number of service calls.
Hidahl said 90 percent of the grand jury’s findings were wrong, and the district submitted a response that was longer than the original report.