The Kenwood Press
News: 04/15/2016

Rhinehart rides again

First District Supervisor candidate has different perspective

Jay Gamel

Keith Rhinehart is anything but your average candidate for just about any office you can think of, but he brings a very personal perspective to his campaign, with a shoestring budget and a head full of ideas about how government should operate.

For starters, he won’t accept any donations over $24, because that would require reporting the donor’s name and address under campaign fundraising laws. He doesn’t ask anyone for money, either, but has a web page that points to, a crowd funding company.

“I will not accept any endorsements from elected officials, candidates or former elected officials,” he writes in campaign literature. “I owe no favors, nor will I owe favors after the election.”

A resident of Sonoma County and the First District since the age of nine, Rhinehart is a retired UPS executive who first drove for the company before accepting a job in management. Since his retirement in 2008, he has pursued a life-long love of rock and roll – guitarist and singer – along with an abiding passion for politics and education.

He is a substitute teacher in several county school districts.

Rhinehart, 63, first ran for First District supervisor in 2012. He ran for the job in the Fourth District in 2014, but had to withdraw early for personal reasons. He is not currently married and has grown children, a daughter in Novato and a son living near Ft. Worth, Texas.

With a rugged face, gray tinged beard, and most often seen sporting a checkered shirt and cowboy hat, it’s hard to pin a label on Rhinehart. He has a wide range of opinions about fixing government, from pension reform to road repair funding, property rights and equal pay, supporting local business and providing expanded education for everyone.

He believes in preserving Sonoma County’s open spaces and wants to find housing for the homeless.

Rhinehart’s campaign motto, “One Person, One Vote” means that he would represent all the citizens of the district, and not just those who provide financial support, something he finds intrinsically reprehensible.

“It means I don’t care how much money you have, I will do my best to represent all of you and base my decisions on what’s fair and equitable to all residents.”

His first brush with politics was a run for high school president at Montgomery High, a race he lost to Brad Bollinger, now editor and publisher of the North Bay Business Journal. After he retired, he began to wonder if the State of California was aligned with Sonoma County over the issue of medical marijuana as he read conflicting accounts of local, state and federal laws clashing in local law enforcement.

“I understood later it was a federal mandate with federal funds for interdiction,” he said. “But it piqued my interest, jailing people for something that was supposed to be legal under California laws.”

He later became incensed at the stories about Sonoma County’s ballooning pension liabilities and believes there are un-pursued avenues of legal redress to roll back the increases that the county approved back in 2002 and 2003 without public comment or oversight.

He holds the county responsible for a lack of foresight in failing to provide enough reserves to weather the recession of 2008 and 2009.

“It didn’t seem to me to have been done responsibly with foresight to anticipate the things that could go wrong,” he said. “I couldn’t understand how, while I chased a private career for a decent retirement, commuting to San Francisco for 13 years, all of a sudden public service employees who had traditionally worked for less, were retiring at 105 percent of last salary or better.”

“I started digging into the politics of Sonoma County and discovering how the two sides fund the candidates,” he said.

The “sides” Rhinehart refers to are the environmental versus the business interests that seem to dominate most election rhetoric.

“I think that our local politics reflect national politics,” Rhinehart observed. “Too much about money and not about residents. There are 490,000 people in the county and many people are left out of the conversation. That’s why I want to serve, to serve the residents, not the people who give me money, loan me their names, and simply vote for me.”

Rhinehart believes that pension reform can free up enough money to pay for road repairs without raising taxes. He would be looking for an independent legal expert to determine if the pension increases were legal.

“The job requires you to make decisions you think are the best for the community regardless of who is yelling or whispering in your ear,” he said.

Rhinehart is running against incumbent Susan Gorin, and Gina Cuclis, president of the Sonoma County Board of Education. The election is June 7.