WatchSonoma Watch

Pension activist Ken Churchill joins race for north county supervisor


Santa Rosa winemaker Ken Churchill, an advocate of overhauling public workers’ pensions, has jumped into the race to replace Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire.

“I have been trying for several years now to get the supervisors to move pension reform forward and it just hasn’t been successful,” Churchill said, explaining his last-minute move to enter the race, just days before the filing deadline for the June 3 primary.

Ken Churchill.

Ken Churchill.

Churchill said he had been supportive of the candidacy of Healdsburg City Councilman Tom Chambers, who had touted his business experience as an engineer, manager, and consultant in several manufacturing firms. Chambers, however, dropped out of the race in February, citing his inability to gain momentum because of his relatively late start in the campaign.

Churchill, 60, joins Windsor City Councilwoman Deb Fudge, former Obama administration official James Gore, former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano, and Keith Rhinehart, a former UPS supervisor and part-time teacher. All entered the race late last year and are already well into their fundraising efforts.

The sprawling 4th District extends to the Mendocino County line and includes parts of north Santa Rosa, along with all of Wikiup-Larkfield, Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale. The deadline for candidates to file is Wednesday.

If none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent in the June election, the top two vote-getters will face off in a November runoff.

McGuire is not running for re-election so he can pursue the state Senate seat being vacated by Santa Rosa Democrat Noreen Evans.

Churchill admitted that he is getting a late start, but said he hoped to tap into his contacts in past philanthropic efforts, including the restoration of the historic farmhouse that now serves as home to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Churchill is a founding member of the government watchdog group New Sonoma, a vocal critic of the county on fiscal issues. He is also a member of the Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association.

Churchill is best known for his relentless criticism of the Board of Supervisors for a series of votes 12 years ago that increased pension benefits now received by more than 1,000 county retirees and promised to thousands more current county workers. Churchill claims the move was not conducted lawfully and imposed unsustainable costs on taxpayers. Since then, county pension costs, including bond debt, are up more than 360 percent.

Churchill’s crusade has earned him the wrath of public employee unions, who say he and other pension reform advocates are unfairly scapegoating county workers. Churchill said he is resigned to the idea the unions will vigorously oppose his candidacy.

“I’m going to get slammed like crazy … but so be it,” he said.

Churchill’s background as a fiscal hawk will play well with business interests, said Sonoma State University political science professor David McCuan. But it is not clear whether he can extend that traction beyond the issue of public pensions, McCuan said, much the way anti-tax activists gained prominence amid California’s high-profile battle over the 1978 property tax limitation measure known as Proposition 13.

Churchill denied he is a one-issue candidate, saying he will apply his business background to managing the county’s finances. Although the election is non-partisan, he described himself politically as a “liberal Democrat.”

He grew up in Moraga, in Contra Costa County, and earned a business degree from Diablo Valley College. He started in business as a solar energy consultant, but that stint ended in 1985 when the federal government ended subsidies for solar projects.

He and wife, Susan, then founded Berkeley-based ACC Environmental Consultants, working with building owners to contain asbestos and other environmental hazards during renovations. He remains on the board of the company but sold the venture to his employees in 2000.

He and his wife moved to Sonoma County in 2000 and now run Churchill Cellars in Santa Rosa, producing small-lot pinot noir.

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BeerCountry.

19 Responses to “Pension activist Ken Churchill joins race for north county supervisor”

  1. Sean Cannon says:

    Large corporations have 100s of lawyers finding anyway they can to get out of paying taxes. Others hide there money in offshore accounts. A 700 billion dollar defense budget but public employees pensions is the issue?

  2. Andrew Simpson says:

    Plato had the idea that perfect government didn’t make everyone happy; but rendered just governance. Ken won’t make everyone happy. He will listen. Then make decisions informed by facts, infused with justice.

  3. GAJ says:

    Ken is not “attacking” Pensions but rather the over top increases of the early 2000′s.

    I believe he thinks the pensions as they were in 1998, while quite generous, were nevertheless sustainable.

    That is not true at all today.

  4. Antonia Cansino says:

    “He started in business as a solar energy consultant, but that stint ended in 1985 when the federal government ended subsidies for solar projects”
    Wait, so his whole business was making money off the government subsidies of solar but he is attacking people for getting a government pension? Hypocrite much?

  5. Jake says:

    Some on this site would have us all believe (and I don’t believe these submitters believe) public unions are little, benign clubs like the Lions or Girl Scouts out to just do good works in the world.

    The truth is they are destroying local and state government with their single focus on pensions, public pay, benefits and political power. They pull the strings of the politicians in this state and to a large degree in the democrat party nationwide.

    Do not be deceived, SEIU and the other public unions do not act on behalf or in the name of citizens. They act on behalf of SEIU and the other public unions.

    The fangs need to be pulled and the restart button pushed.

  6. Sally Montana says:

    Wait Churchill didn’t mind basing his whole business on goverment subsidies of solar and he changed business ” when the govt stopped funding” but he is attacking workers who actually pay into their pensions ?! Sounds like the typical business hypocrite- subsidies for me and nothing for you!

  7. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Nancy-the county does use civil service rules so you are wrong there. Secondly, all unions can expect for their paltry donations is a voice at the table. Big corporate America (big corporate whine and that’s not a mispelling-in this county)has spent 15X, that’s FIFTEEN times what unions have spent in election across the country and that mostly to fix elections to keep minorities, the aged, students from voting.

    I don’t understand this anti union hatred. Union membership has declined to less than 12% and the money just isn’t there anymore. Most working people benefit from the activities of unions past and present. Safety in the job, protecting the environment, decent wages with benefits, overtime, 40 hour work weeks, vacation and sick leave being offered AND NO CHILDREN WORKING IN SALT MINES. If you think these laws will remain on the books after the demise of unions, well you are wrong. They are already being decimated by Republican legislatures across the country.

    Unions work to improve the working conditions for all workers. Unions are not a working person enemy.

  8. hunter says:

    It certainly would be a refreshing change to be represented by someone whose first priority is the taxpayers!

  9. Henry Bernard says:

    Imagine Churchill as 5th District Supervisor, Wysocky as Controller, and Sonoma County’s 3 (union) Stooges Shirley, Sue and Mike (“the hardest worker in the room” though, apparently, given his refusal of his Chairman responsibilities, only after having been moved on to Sacracmento) finding themselves outflanked by Rabbit’s pragmatism.

    We can dream, can’t we?

  10. Nancy Hair says:

    We desperately need a highly analytical, practical supervisor like Ken, who looks under all the rocks. I’m very impressed by the deep spadework he’s done on county pensions and ‘clean’ power. Ken won’t be just another ribbon cutter or feather nester who is in office mainly to collect the comfortable supervisors’ salary and the luscious pension and other benefits. Let’s vote for someone who will keep the proverbial train from running off the rails and maybe even get it to run on time. Thanks for running, Ken.

  11. Jake says:

    Poor Mr. Churchill better prepare for a full frontal attack from the public unions. They will try to destroy him. Everything they can dig up on him or make up will be used. SEIU will not tolerate any challenges to its hold on the elected officials and its pension schemes.

  12. R.B. Fish says:

    If Ken describes himself as a “liberal Democrat” there will no money behind him. They are a lot more problems that face this count that he could find a more responsive electorate. What does he think about illegal immigration, pot legalization, over development, the non smart SMART train,gangs,etc.

  13. bear says:

    Somewhere in this issue of the PD, someone mentioned the “millions of dollars” that public employees are going to collect.

    You are delusional. You are obsessed by the benefits of the 1%, while the earned benefits of the 99% are ignored.

    Just like the folks on TV who will get you out of your IRS, credit card or student loan debt. Freeloaders!

    We are all enduring the consequences of unregulated, tax-cutting, unfunded war policies of the foolish political party that starts with an “R.”

    Consider the 99% of public employees who suffer from your prejudices. Do you REALLY think that Unions representing 7% of the population are running a scam on you? Think again.

  14. Clay says:

    Very pleased to see Ken’s commitment and commend all those who make the sacrifice to run for office. I have been impressed by Ken’s environmental leadership at the Laguna de Santa Rosa and his well researched information regarding Sonoma County’s Financial issues. He adds real value and I wish him all the best.

  15. GAJ says:

    Ken will be David in a fight with Goliath but trying to return Pension rules to where they were in 1998 is a worthy subject for discussion during the campaign.

    CalPers’ deception in 1999, promising that enhanced Pensions grandfathered in for all employees would have no effect on local budgets, is what created this mess.

    Time to roll the clock back and get back to the sustainable and equitable system that existed pre 1999.

    Best of luck Ken.

    Another issue Ken will bring front and center is the abysmal state of our Road Maintenance.

    Hopefully Ken will also push to eliminate pensions altogether for the Board of Supervisors.

    If our State Legislators don’t get Pensions neither should our County Sups.

  16. Nancy says:

    The public pension crisis in Sonoma County and in California will not be resolved until SEIU and the other public unions are legally abolished.

    The public unions are the most power force in politics and control most of the elected representatives.

    California needs to return to a civil service type of system without public unions calling all of the shots.

  17. Jim says:

    This guy thinks he can get elected by talking about public pension overhaul? Does he not understand that every politician in this state, at every level, is under the control of the union money?

    Yeah, this isn’t news. He can’t win.

  18. PapaESoCo says:

    Hmmm, should make for a more interesting and diverse race. Once again, the chorus: Anybody but Fudge!

  19. Don says:

    That you Ken….a voice of reason!