For the first time in his life, Oakland, Calif., engineer Bob McClain will cast a ballot for himself on Oct. 7 to be the state’s next governor. "It’s a once in a lifetime experience to run for governor...and I wouldn’t trade it for anything," says the 38-year-old junior port engineer with the Port of Oakland. "I think I could do a lot of good as the state governor."

Facing a $38-billion deficit, California voters may replace current Gov. Gray Davis (D), and several engineers based in the state say they want the job. Although some of the 135 candidates and 27 write-ins listed on the election recall ballot are likely in the race for entertainment and self-promotion, the three local engineers are running serious campaigns that have already cost them thousands of dollars.

"Engineers are professional problem solvers and that is what California needs right now," says Cheryl Bly-Chester, 45, owner of an environmental engineering firm in Rosewood, 150 miles north of Sacramento. "We do not view obstacles as ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ attacks, just more parameters to work into the definition of the problem."

Disgust with California’s current administration and a strong desire to fix the state’s finances and education system spurred McClain, Bly-Chester and structural engineer William B. Vaughn, 56, to pay thousands in fees and to build online campaign headquarters to spread information and collect donations.

Vaughn, owner of his own engineering firm in Lafayette, near San Francisco, is pushing a cause close to his professional heart–the state’s recently adopted building inspection code (ENR 9/15 p. 14). He strongly opposes it, claiming it is too expensive and will make structures less safe. "It requires retraining and re-certifying every staff member," Vaughn says. "New codes can introduce a lot of er-rors until everyone is trained and familiar with it."


McClain says the state could use someone with an engineer’s psyche. "When you are building a bridge or a building you have to be very careful because if you screw up, then people can die," says the University of California-Berkeley bachelor’s and master’s civil engineering graduate.

Bly-Chester’s race for governor began after a board meeting of the Sacramento post of the Society of American Military Engineers. She then spontaneously walked over to the Secretary of State’s Office to ask for details on the recall. A few days later, she threw her hat into the ring. Bly-Chester has a four-pronged approach for managing the state’s fiscal shortfall without raising taxes and for dealing with its excessive workers’ compensation costs.

Despite shoestring budgets, the engineer candidates are cautiously optimistic about their chances of being elected. "I am not discouraged because every day I’m getting more and more coverage," says Bly-Chester. But she admits to being bothered by more high-profile candidates who "will not change the status quo."

McClain is still busy appearing on local media and debating, but "I know my chances are somewhere between zero and slim," he says. "It’s not about winning. It’s been an education in daily civics."