The last time Bill Sauser and Larry Johnston ran for the Mono County Board of Supervisors, the result was a razor-thin, five-vote victory for Johnston.
“I just didn’t put enough out there so people could understand the differences between us,” Sauser said in an interview, “and I’ll try to do that differently this time. I’m hoping I can convince enough people that the culture in Bridgeport has not changed in the last four years.
“Maybe in four years I won’t be able to change it either, but I say, ‘vote for change.’
“I also think some voters took me for granted and didn’t vote, and I’ve also heard some people didn’t vote for me because they wanted me to stay with recreation.”
Johnston, who does not often show his arid sense of humor from the dais in Bridgeport, has made something of an insider’s joke about his five-vote victory in 2010.
“I didn’t think it was that close,” he said, showing the bare hints of a smile. “I won by five votes! Whether it’s 1-0 or 10-0, it’s still baseball. You still win.”
In the June 3 county elections, the two face off again for a District 1 seat that encompasses Mammoth’s most urban district—the middle of town that includes Sauser’s neighborhood in what he still (he says “endearingly”) calls “The Ghetto” and Johnston’s neighborhood in The Trails.
They are as wildly different neighborhoods as the candidates themselves, and their campaigns are, too, so far.
On the one hand, there is Sauser, the gregarious long-time Mammoth recreation booster and Recreation Commission member. On the other is Johnston, a long-time urban planner who is on the quiet side of wonky, tangled problem solving.
Johnston is currently the chair of the Board of Supervisors. Sauser is currently the chair of the town’s recreation commission, but says his advocacy of recreation extends throughout the county.
Johnston said he will let his four-year board record speak for itself on a wide range of issues—from tough budget votes, green-energy initiatives, strategic planning, and environmentally sensitive issues such as the impact of a possible federal listing of the bi-state sage grouse and yellow legged frog.
“I have a record and a proven record, and what’s different is that I think people can count on me to do the right thing. It’s interesting, because whenever I get a chance, and you may have seen this at board meetings, that whenever something isn’t quite right, I try to correct it, and I’m always looking for making the average person’s life better.
“I study my [background] packets; I don’t wait until the meeting to open them and I ask questions. I’m diligent on that.
“I want my competitor to do the same thing if he wins.”
Sauser has taken his campaign onto a timeworn, but still valid platform, basing it on a strident advocacy of Mammoth Lakes, which he said is still under-appreciated by the Board of Supervisors and residents of the outlying communities in the county.
“The reason why Mammoth incorporated in the first place,” he said in an interview, “was because our money was going to Bridgeport and not being brought back in support of the town.
“There are a lot of people claiming a lot of things for why the town incorporated, but the bottom line is that the town needed to be in charge of its own destiny if it was going to grow and become the resort that the locals here, my parents included, wanted it to be.
“Mammoth is now some 70 percent of the county’s budget. And I have not seen a change in that dynamic in Bridgeport. At some point, even though Mammoth is required to pay into this, and I’m not suggesting we renegotiate to bring those taxes back to Mammoth, people here have a right to expect that their voice will be heard in the decisions at the county level, and that some of that money will be spent in a way that benefits not just the county, but the town as well.”
Johnston said he is well aware of the Town-County Divide, but suggested he might see a bit of the larger picture, such as the county’s role in providing health and mental health services and other social programs.
“The more people understand what the county does, the more people will realize there’s a whole lot happening. It’s often not a glamorous thing like it can be in town, like RecStrats, the MLRs, the Main Street projects, that kind of thing.
“We’re more about keeping the bottom from falling out of things. We’re there to catch you if you fall, and it’s a lot of money that’s bolstering the town for the ability to do this.
“At the same time, people in the outlying communities have to realize that 75 percent of that snowplow going down the street is funded from tax revenues in the general fund that is coming from the Town of Mammoth Lakes tax base, and I’ve been bullish on that.
“Whenever I get a chance to do that, I do, because they’re benefiting from a quality environment in the town.“It’s education, and you can’t get too far astray there and make it a political battle. You have to try to work properly, give information and hope the people can work with you on that.
“Let’s just keep moving ahead, and work collaboratively. We’re going the right direction. We have a few hurdles to go on, with the budget and so on, but we’ll get there.
“And if you get single focused, you’re not being effective. It’s as simple as that. You have to know about a lot of different things and I think that sets me apart from my competitor. I can get into a range of stuff I can quickly understand, analyze and have good ideas about creative problem solving.
“That might turn the tide.”