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Political machines in motion
The appearance of campaign signs up over the weekend of Aug. 29-30 has signaled the beginning of the campaign season.

Politics in small cities like Ceres is mostly a two-month spectator sport for the masses but a roll-up-the-sleeves time of hard work for the competitors. Often it is the one who works hardest and connect the best who win.

Campaign signs are popping up, heralding another local campaign. Signs are up for incumbent councilmen Ken Lane and Chris Vierra and challenger Mike Kline. Signs are also popping up for the Ceres School Board race.

Vierra, who is vice mayor, said he has "about 10 blisters" to show for it a weekend of planting about eight signs at key locations in Ceres. He had about six more to plant last weekend, with the help of Ken Groves, a politically active Ceres resident.

Besides the physical labor of slamming pothole diggers into the hard ground, there's the effort to raise money, design signs, knock on doors, and get out the vote on election day, which falls on Nov. 8 this year.

"This election will have such a low turnout and if that happens I want to be able to look back at the election and say I gave it my all and didn't leave anything off the table," said Vierra. "I will work hard. I don't want to leave anything to chance."

Still fresh in Vierra's mind was seeing how a friend, Vito Chiesa trumped conventional wisdom that pegged former Sheriff Les Weidman prevailing in the District 2 Supervisorial race. Chiesa worked hard to win the race and is county supervisor today.

"Vito Chiesa was a friend of mine and I was one of the first to endorse him," said Vierra. "Most people didn't give him much of a chance and he walked the precincts and lo and behold he won.

Kline, who lost two School Board elections and was narrowly defeated in his 2005 council race, expects to spend less than $15,000. That's about twice than the $8,500 he spent last campaign.

The losses have energized him to try harder, he said. Kline said he's recruited volunteers to post signs and walk more precincts than he was able to walk as one man last go around.

"It's disenchanting (to lose). It was a blow. I did everything I could, short of hiring a consultant and ... "to come so close and not win, it was hard."

Kline said he has a limited number of signs out and is currently calling property owners to get permission to place both 4-foot by 4-foot signs and smaller yard signs.

Incumbent Councilman Ken Lane, an old pro at campaigning successfully for Measures H, J and U, anticipates raising and spending between $12,000 and $20,000.

"Mail is getting so expensive, you have to do your mail-outs," said Lane. "You basically have to run two campaigns, one for the absentee campaign before ballots get out and then for Election Day."

Absentee ballots generally are sent out in the early part of October and can be returned anytime before Election Day.

There's also the costs of newspaper ads - he plans to run four full-page ads in the Courier - as well as printing campaign materials.

Vierra expects to spend $15,000 to $20,000 in his re-election bid, more than the $12,000 spent for four years. That covers an estimated $3,000 for a slick mailer and $2,450 in yard signs and the larger 4-foot by 8-foot road signs that cost $55 apiece.

Vierra hired a consultant to help run his last campaign but he will be saving the expense this year, saying that "they didn't really do anything that I couldn't do myself." He's designing the slick mailer that will be going out next month.

Vierra has raised about $5,000 so far and is teaming up with Lane for a joint reception fundraiser on Oct. 1 at the Clinton Whitmore Mansion.

Candidates who don't raise enough money must decide if they want to spend personal funds. There's always the option of loaning your campaign the money and hope that campaign funds come in later to pay off the debt.

"I hope not to put my own money into it," said Vierra. "I've raised $5,000 so far and still have a number of fundraisers coming up."

Selling one's self is not necessarily something that comes naturally to office seekers. But Lane seems comfortable knocking on doors and talking to voters.

"I think more this time than ever I am enjoying it because I am an incumbent and I am look forwrad to hitting door to door and hearing from the people about things they're concerned with. As elected officials we don't hear a lot from the people."

"It's okay," said Vierra of campaigning. "It's great in that it gets your name back out there. It kind of renews everyone's interest in what's going on but it's a lot of work and a lot of time and effort. I will door to door myself. In fact I'm getting started pretty soon."

Kline views it similarly, calling the door to door walks a "necessity."

"If things are going positively," said Kline, "then you really get into the campaign mode. I get the chance to hear some of the voices that don't normally get heard. If people say they're glad that you're running ... the feeling makes me want to go more and more.

"I've had a couple of negative feedbacks. It's mostly, 'Why would you want to get involved in city government when they're going to do what they want to in the first place?' My response is if they attend the meetings and get involved then you'll have the opportunity to express their opinion."

All the candidates say that they will be running clean campaigns.

Kline said he knows battling incumbents is always a challenge but said "I will not go negative and I don't care how negative they get.

"This time around I think it's going to be tougher. The consensus is that it's going to be low voter turnout. There's no issues on the ballot. There's only the City Council and the School Board on the ballot."

Also agreeing to conduct a clean campaign is Vierra who said "the voters will vote for whoever they want. I'm confident with what we've accomplished as a council and would like to think the residents have seen what we've done."

Kline said he's not ready to discuss what his campaign themes will be but said he sees himself with the advantage of being an outsider.

"I have a different approach to ... public safety, infrastructure, sewer and water. I feel I have a different outlook being a new person in the circle than what's normally being done. I am more inclined to say what I think rather than go with the flow or go with the consensus. I have to convince the voters that I'm not just a follower."

Kline takes exception to the council action taken in 2007 when the council had to make an appointment to the Ceres City Council upon the death of Councilman Rob Phipps. Kline has come in third place in the Nov. 6, 2007 election, falling short when he attained 1,197 votes behind Phipps' 1,348 votes. Phipps died before he could be seated. Kline feels he should have been the automatic consideration to replace Phipps. Instead, the council invited interested citizens to apply - Kline was one of them - yet the council passed him up for Bret Durosette.

"I am not going to say it was unfair," said Kline, but added "the other people did not even try to campaign."

Lane said his campaign strategy will center on reminding the voters what the council has accomplished. He has adopted the theme of "I Stand For You."

He said the council has been conservative and fiscally prudent and made cuts to preserve police and fire service levels. Both Lane and Vierra have secured the endorsements of the Ceres Police Officers Association and Ceres Firefighters Association.

"It's a job ... it takes the time and effort to put into it to be effective in the community. I didn't like having to raise sewer and water rates but there's no choice. The state mandates that we do things and we have to comply."