Contra Costa Supervisor Gayle Uilkema's death last week is spurring talk about whether someone ought to fill the remaining six months of her term.
The issue is further confused by the process under way in Alameda County, where supervisors are interviewing applicants to fill their former colleague Nadia Lockyer's seat. Lockyer, you may recall, resigned after a tragic public meltdown.
Unlike their counterparts to the west, however, Contra Costa supervisors cannot fill a vacancy on their board. State law assigns that job to the governor; however, it is not mandatory nor does it come with a deadline.
The incongruity between the neighboring counties is rooted in the law under which each was formed: Alameda is one of 14 charter counties in California, which have greater home rule powers than general law counties such as Contra Costa. (As a side note, Contra Costa supervisors in 1998 rejected placing a charter county measure before voters.)
Whether Gov. Jerry Brown exercises his appointment authority is contingent on a couple of things.
First, voters may make their own choice in the June 5 election among three candidates: Danville Mayor Candace Andersen, Contra Costa Community College District President Tomi Van de Brooke or solar technology professor Sean White.
If one of the three wins 50 percent plus one vote on election day, he or she will win the seat outright.
Brown could easily appoint the victor, who would
If none attains a majority vote, would the governor choose a place-holder, seat one of two runoff candidates or stay out of the fray?
The latter appears most prudent.
By the time Brown's office vetted and chose an interim supervisor, there would only be a few months left in the term. Unless an experienced person stepped forward quickly, the job's heavy learning curve would bury a newcomer before the ink dried on his or her new stationery.
For the Democratic governor, installing one of the top-two June finishers in a nonpartisan office also is problematic.
It would presumably boost the chosen individual's odds of victory in November. However, voters may well interpret the act as unwelcome meddling at a time when Brown is looking for broad support for a statewide tax measure.
If Brown selects Andersen, a Republican targeted by labor interests in the county, he angers his own party.
If Brown opts for Van de Brooke, local voters may resent the implications of a Democratic governor throwing his weight behind a member of his party running for a nonpartisan seat.
That said, governors do wade into Contra Costa politics. Among the recent examples:
For now, anyway, whether or not Brown will write a chapter in Contra Costa's political timeline all hinges on what happens on election day.
GOT POLITICS?: The unsuccessful Contra Costa clean water fee election last month lost in unincorporated communities and 18 of the county's 19 cities. Only El Cerrito property owners supported it. See the city-by-city list at the Political Blotter, www.ibabuzz.com/politics.
AND FINALLY: Like potholes and highways, death is bipartisan.
Uilkema's memorial service Thursday drew dozens of the county's movers and shakers from both major political parties.
Uilkema was a lifelong Republican, although she astutely avoided partisan labels or rhetoric. It wasn't her nature, nor would it have served her particularly well in a county dominated by Democrats.
But I can easily imagine her flashing her trademark smile to see standing near each other in the communion line at her funeral U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, of Lafayette.
"See," she might have said, "miracles do happen."
Uilkema was an unapologetic optimist who over the years challenged -- always gently and with humor -- my tendency as a reporter to not only view the glass as half empty, but the rim cracked and its contents foul.
Of course, she could just as easily have been referring to my rare presence at Mass.