RIVERSIDE – Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington will compete in a November runoff election in his bid to retain his 3rd District seat, and he will square off with a Hemet City Council member.
Washington easily led the three-candidate field in Tuesday’s primary election. Hemet City Councilwoman Shellie Milne outlasted Murrieta Mayor Randon Lane to win a spot in the runoff vote. Washington earned about 40 percent of the vote, well short of the 50 percent needed to win reelection
Washington was appointed to the 3rd District seat in March 2015. His two challengers claimed he hasn’t earned the right to continue representing the district.
“He was not elected by the people and is only there because of Gov. Jerry Brown,” Lane told City News Service.
Milne said Washington “runs on nothing. Show me where he has taken a stand and made a big difference? I can’t see any results.”
Washington countered that his opponents are relative novices given his 12 years as a Temecula City Council member, longtime civic activism and nearly 15 months on the Board of Supervisors.
“A lot of different people are supporting me because they know I’m a man of integrity and achievement,” the supervisor told CNS. “I have an understanding of business and the private sector and have achieved some things as an elected official.”
The retired Delta Airlines pilot was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Stone, who was elected to the state Senate.
Since that time, Washington has been involved in two fiscal year budget cycles and cast numerous votes on issues ranging from marijuana regulation to vacation home rentals.
But his lack of participation on other votes has drawn criticism, lately from the Lane camp, which called out Washington for occasions that he recused himself on matters concerning the Temecula Valley Wine Country.
“The wine country is the number one industry in southwest Riverside County, but Mr. Washington cannot vote on wine country issues because of a conflict of interest that he knew he had before he took office,” Lane said, pointing out that the supervisor abstained from casting a vote seven times over 12 months. In the last month alone, Washington has opted out of two votes for the same reason.
The supervisor has a six-figure stake in the Europa Village Winery, according to campaign finance disclosures. He also has investments in Murrieta and Perris.
“The votes on the wine country projects were 4-0 without me. They would’ve been 5-0 if I’d taken part. People need to understand I’m doing the right thing here by recusing myself,” he told CNS.
Milne, a Tea Party activist who has served on the Hemet City Council since 2012 and helps run a family-owned excavation business, also criticized Washington for idling himself on wine country debates but said his apparent lack of “philosophy about the role of government” is equally concerning.
“People supported me for city council because they knew I’d do what I said I’d do,” Milne told CNS. “I’ve led the charge on term limits, capping council members’ pay, getting rid of benefits for council members. I’ve been proactive in pushing for privatization of government functions to save money.”
“It can be frustrating to have a bunch of people yell at me and tell me to do it their way. But I’m not going to betray the trust constituents placed in me,” she said.
Lane and Milne spotlighted what she characterized as Washington’s tendency to “cave” in the face of opposition.
The supervisor has reversed himself on two notable occasions. The first was last summer when the board moved to hire an outside firm to audit county public safety agencies, which are in yearly deficits. Washington initially went against his colleagues but a few weeks later joined them in authorizing bids to find an auditor.
Not long afterward, he led the board in voting to discontinue an inmate ride program in French Valley, where residents’ complaints had prompted Stone to establish a voucher system so that detainees released from the Southwest Detention Center could afford a cab and not loiter in residential areas.
Washington didn’t feel the effort was worth it, based on a sheriff’s analysis, but after hearing from constituents, he changed his mind weeks later and got the program reinstated.
The supervisor said going forward the county budget “has to be priority No. 1.”
“We need to find efficiencies and implement new ways of doing business,” he said. “We need to keep investment in infrastructure that pays a return. We have a changing economy, and the county needs to diversify with more educational and job opportunities to help us weather the next downturn.”
Lane, a Southern California Gas Co. representative, said the county is plagued with “too much red tape” and needs to better meet residents’ and commercial interests’ needs.
“I hear horror stories from people about the bureaucracy,” he said. “In Murrieta, we have a system for permitting projects that’s very transparent. People know what they’re going to pay from start to finish. The county process isn’t clear.”
Milne described the county’s current structure as “one bureaucratic agency lording over another.”
“There are things that can be cut and services that can be delivered at a more competitive price,” she said. “Government shouldn’t be such a large employer. Public works and flood control – there are small companies that can perform this work. If the public sector unions don’t like what I propose, I’ll stand up to them. We have to hold the fiscal line.”
Lane said the county’s estimated $100 million deficit in the coming fiscal year cries out for attention.
“The county’s over-spent,” he said. “There needs to be a top-to-bottom review of all agencies, not just a handful, so we know whether jobs are being duplicated and identify what’s being done wrong.”
Washington said he’s generally opposed to layoffs to fix the deficit.
“We don’t have enough people now to get the job done,” he said. “It’s not a viable solution.”