Crowded field in Senate race |

Crowded field in Senate race

The First Senate District covers an area larger than some states, and an equally large number of candidates – three Democrats and four Republicans are vying for its vacant Senate seat.


Merita Callaway

Age: 58

Occupation: Calaveras County supervisor

Education: B.S. history, University of San Francisco

Home: Murphys, Calaveras County

Family: One child

Background: Calaveras County Supervisor 1993-present, California State Association of Counties Board Member

Callaway supports empowering local government and spending property taxes at the local level. She also supports universal health care, increased education spending and increased affordable housing.

“The best government is local,” according to Callaway, who said voters should support her because she can work with people to solve problems. “You draw your line in the sand on the right or the left but somewhere in between those two is a great solution.”

Callaway also stressed the importance of water conservation and said, “If we don’t come up with a water plan soon the decision will be made for us and no one will be happy.”

Callaway is happy about her chances in the race but said, “If nothing else I will be a better county supervisor for having run.”

Scott Gruendl

Age: 35

Occupation: County welfare manager

Education: B.A. public administration, California State University, Chico

Home: Chico

Family: Single

Background: Two terms on Chico Planning Commission, ran unsuccessfully for Chico City Council in 1992 and for the state Assembly in 1998

Gruendl became involved in politics after moving from Lake Tahoe where he worked as a ski instructor at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort before going to college. He now drafts budgets for Glen County and has already drafted legislation he would try to enact if elected.

Gruendl wants to reduce taxes on e-commerce, increase rural health care, crack down on domestic violence and increase education spending.

He believes the district would be better represented by a Democrat and said, “The fact is that we have had Republican representation and they haven’t done anything for rural California but sell us out to big cities.”

Gruendl said he had some success attracting conservative voters when he ran for the Assembly and is confident he will win the election. “I am really happy with this campaign,” he said. “People know I have good ideas.”

Thomas “Tom” Romero

Age: 60

Occupation: Middle school history teacher

Education: M.A. humanities, California State University, Dominguez Hills; B.A. history, California State University, Los Angeles

Home: Loomis

Family: Married with two children

Background: 1995-present, Regional director of the California Democratic Party, Democratic nominee for State Senate District One in 1992 and 1996

“Being a school teacher I have a great interest in education,” Romero said. “There needs to be more teachers in the Legislature because they are aware of the problems and have been there.”

Romero supports increased vocational training and wants to improve teacher qualification. He would also like improvements made to older suburban and urban areas to cut down on sprawl and would like to see a world class, statewide light rail system built in California.

“We need to deal with our problems in a pragmatic manner rather than how it fits our ideology,” said Romero, who said many conservative representatives have failed to do that.


Mary Andrews

Age: 61

Occupation: Realtor, small business owner

Education: Will graduate in May from California State University with a B.S. in public administration.

Home: Chico

Family: Married with two children

Background: 13 years on Chico City Council, served as mayor from 1990-1992 and as vice mayor in 1996

Andrews wants government to be less intrusive and more efficient, and she has dedicated her campaign to water issues. She disparaged the recent transfer of water rights to Southern California as wasteful and said, “If we have no water we have no economy and we have no environment.”

Andrews has raised very little money and has been forced to run a very personal campaign. She is one of the few candidates who came to South Lake Tahoe to meet with voters.

“I am a Republican but I have some very centrist views,” Andrews said. “And I feel that I am going to attract a lot of votes from both sides of the aisle.”

She has also spoken out against the negative campaign run by Daum and Oller and said “the whole thing smells like a fish market,” of Oller’s fund-raising practices.

R.K. “Skip” Daum

Age: 54

Occupation: Lobbyist

Education: B.A. English, Emerson College, Boston

Home: Truckee

Family: Married with two children

Background: Ten years in the U.S. Air Force, lobbied for children, medical workers, contractors, and for the aviation industry.

“What I am trying to do is offer people in this sprawling area efficient representation,” said Daum, who has never run for political office.

He has been accused of leading a nasty campaign against Oller but said he is merely trying to tell the truth about Oller’s ties to special interests.

“I am a middle of the road guy who has a quarter-century experience in the system and I will do what the people in my district want me to do, rather than what the political establishment wants me to do.”

Daum said he is interested in improving education and protecting the environment, but also wants to reduce taxes. He also wants to see dramatic improvements made to U.S. Highway 50.

“I am not doing this as a stepping stone,” Daum said. “I am doing it to serve the people for the next four years.”

Karen Knecht

Age: 47

Occupation: Nevada County supervisor

Home: Grass Valley

Family: Married with four children

Background: Two terms as Nevada County supervisor

Karen Knecht has been endorsed by the Sacramento Bee but has had trouble gaining attention during the campaign because of her small budget and because of her more wealthy and vocal opponents.

She has encouraged voters to support her because of her commitment to protecting farm land and small businesses, and improving infrastructure. She also promotes her ability to “rise above the Daum-Oller spat.”

Knecht was not available for comment last week but said that she made a difference as a county supervisor by maintaining natural resources, improving education, and by improving government efficiency.

Thomas “Rico” Oller

Age: 41

Occupation: Member of the State Assembly

Education: B.A. philosophy, California State University Stanislaus

Home: San Andreas

Family: Married with four children

Background: Member of the state Assembly since 1996

Oller has said he will continue to serve the people in the Senate as he did in the Assembly by focusing on the environment and trying to work with well with Democrats.

Oller said it is important to preserve Lake Tahoe while keeping it accessible. “It is a balancing act. You need to balance private property rights with what is best for the public and it is tough to do.”

He has said he wants to work for transportation improvements in Northern California including on U.S. Highway 50 and on State Route 89. Oller also said that he will continue to support legislation that is tough on crime and fiscally responsible.

Former Senator Tim Leslie has endorsed Oller, who said, “I think the greatest public service someone can do is raise a good family … but to take another step and serve as a public official is a very honorable thing to do.”

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