RECYCLING Chris Rogers, successful candidate for Assembly District 2 in the 2024 primary election, removes the large sign he had posted at Bell’s Ambulance, at University and Powell, on March 25. He will reuse it for the Nov. 5 general election against Republican Mike Greer in a two-way race for the North Coast district seat. (Christian Kallen photo)

Chris Rogers, the youthful Santa Rosa City Council member who challenged California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks for the Assembly District 2 seat, has been keeping a cautiously optimistic eye on the final results of the March 5 primary election. But the latest figures show that it now looks like a sure thing that he will get second-place in the primary—good enough to make the general election ballot in November.

Rogers, 36, maintained a narrow lead throughout the post-election day tabulations. “We were feeling pretty good that it was headed that direction for a couple of weeks, as we saw the returns come in,” he said.

Rogers’ current total (as of March 25) shows him holding a 1,500-vote lead over Hicks, a narrow margin that should be enough to claim the right to represent the Democratic Party on the Nov. 5 ballot. Even with a handful of outstanding ballots yet to be counted in all counties in the district (Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties), there don’t appear to be enough to change the results as they stand today.

CANDIDATE ROGERS At an early January outreach meeting at Black Oak Coffee, Chris Rogers introduced himself to Healdsburg voters. (Christian Kallen photo)

The election results must be officially certified by April 12, if not before.

First place in the primary went to Republican Mike Greer (27.4%), but Democrats hold a significant vote registration advantage over Republicans in the district which makes Rogers the favored candidate to replace retiring Jim Wood.

However, said Greer, “I certainly think I have a chance because people are tired of what’s happening in education and political mandates that are making life difficult for everyone. My campaign is not one of Republican-Democrat but [the] quality of life you want and the opportunity to achieve it.”

It wasn’t until Friday, March 22, that Hicks (with 18.4% of the vote total) conceded the race to Rogers (19.5%) by phone, following up with a press release. “Today, I congratulated Councilmember Chris Rogers and wished him all the best. I know the North Coast will continue to be well represented in the State Assembly and I look forward to the opportunity to work with him to deliver for the North Coast.”

Several days before Hicks himself conceded, the other Sonoma County Democratic candidate, Healdsburg’s Ariel Kelley, called Rogers to congratulate him. “He ran a great campaign, and I have no doubt that he’ll fight tooth-and-nail for the North Coast in the Assembly,” Kelley said.

The vote reflected a significant split between the northern counties in the five-county district and those in the south, specifically Sonoma County. In Trinity and Del Norte counties, Greer won more than 50% of the vote, with Hicks invariably the most favored Democrat. Only in Sonoma County did Rogers’ percentage jump to 30.9%, roughly that of Hicks and Kelley combined.

The Campaign

Hicks characterized the race as “hotly contested,” not least because the party chair managed to amass double the amount of Political Action Committee (PAC) resources than any of the other candidates. However Kelley’s sister, Shoshana Ungerleider, underwrote a massive direct mail campaign that tarnished Hicks with the “carpetbagger” label among other charges.

That campaign may have succeeded in denting Hicks’ armor, but it did little to elevate Kelley, who finished in fourth place (14%) behind Greer, Rogers and Hicks. Yurok leader Frankie Myers came in fifth (12.7%), with Ted Williams (6.9%) of Mendocino County rounding out the list of active candidates.

Helene Rouvier, the vice-chair of the Progressive Caucus for the state Democratic Party and a critic of Hicks’ decision to run for the seat while simultaneously serving as the state’s party chair, said of the result, “We are very relieved that we have a progressive candidate born and raised in this district, that knows our interests, and has a record of working for us, being our representative in the legislature.” She was disappointed however that, once again, a Sonoma County politician won the right to represent the entire North Coast.

With all the news about negative campaigning and what turned out to be a razor-thin margin between making the general election ballot and falling short, Rogers was convinced it was personal contact that made the difference.

“We ran the most extensive field campaign,” Rogers said. “We knocked on over 10,000 doors. We did phone banks, we did text banks. When you’re knocking on the door, obviously you’re trying to convince somebody to vote for your candidate.

“But if somebody’s particularly enthusiastic,” he continued, “you make sure that they’re going to be on your get-out-the-vote efforts. You are going to make sure that that person actually did in fact vote.”

As the race came down to the wire in early March, said Rogers, “We had identified 1,600 people who were not every-time voters, but were likely to vote, that we knew were supportive. And then when you’ve got a winning margin that’s around 1,500 votes, and you had 1,600 people that you were targeting to make sure voted, it looks pretty effective.”

Now What?

But with seven long months between the primary and the general election, Rogers knows that the real campaign has just begun. Those recent months in the field from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border helped broaden the former Santa Rosa mayor’s perspective of the issues that are important to a broader constituency.

“I do want to work on universal healthcare, and I’m starting to talk with folks over in Sacramento about what that might look like,” he said. “I do want to work on energy and utility issues and make sure that, particularly right now where we’re seeing yet another PG&E increase coming through, that the CPUC is held accountable to do their job and act as a rate payer advocate.”

Rogers, who with his wife Sarah Bellak is expecting their first child in late May, will return to campaign mode soon, this time presenting a unified message with his fellow Democratic candidates to retain the party’s hold on Assembly District 2.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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