Credit: SLO County Board of Supervisors | Courtesy

At his election night party in Cayucos, Bruce Gibson wasn’t watching the news or checking results on his phone. He was shaking hands and thanking his supporters, offering them wine, cake and a night of dancing.

The current chair of San Luis Obispo County’s Board of Supervisors, Gibson ran for the District 2 seat against candidate Bruce Jones — a race coined the “Battle of the Bruces.”

Gibson has garnered 52.7% of the vote so far, or 6,166 total votes compared to Jones’ 5,513. Most of these votes were mailed ballots. For Jones, 1,369 people went to the polls to vote for him in person, and only 339 voted in-person for Gibson. 

For many of Gibson’s supporters, his years of experience as county supervisor were a big reason they kept showing up and voting for him. 

“He knows the North Coast, he knows us personally and professionally,” campaign volunteer John Nillon said. “He’s been here for a very, very long time, so he’s seen all the issues.”

The room was not only filled with supporters, but also close friends and neighbors. Before results were even announced, Gibson spent 20 minutes making a speech thanking these individuals. 

“I want this to be a celebration of an extraordinary group of people who have come together to do something,” Gibson said. 

As early polls showed Gibson in the lead, he and his supporters were in high spirits.

“It’s a very encouraging first result and I’m happy about it,” Gibson said.

Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner told Mustang News that Gibson having experience as a veteran legislator and now stepping into the more competitive District 2 seat puts him in a position to “really lead the board.” 

“It looks as though we will have a fairly strong, progressive Board of Supervisors — which hasn’t happened in decades,” Latner said. 

That shift will likely change the board’s approach to public policy, Latner said. He expects the board to especially start paying more attention to law enforcement reform and environmental policy. 

“We’ll hopefully finally start seriously addressing water issues in the county, which have been neglected for years,” Latner said. “So it’s going to be a very different board.”

Because of the county’s recent redistricting, this campaign was very different from Gibson’s previous campaigns.  Gibson lost parts of his previous district while gaining two-thirds of a new district, meaning Gibson and his team were campaigning to a new audience. 

“It’s a very different district,” Gibson said. “I had to go introduce myself to a whole bunch of people who I hadn’t really worked with, but that’s what we’ve been doing this year and it worked out pretty well.” 

Latner wrote an expert report evaluating the magnitude of the gerrymandering with the county’s new map. 

“Political scientists have a term when a political coalition or a political party goes too far in trying to stretch their advantage — and it goes from being a gerrymander to a dummymander,” Latner said. “And that seems to be the case here.”

Latner said Gibson’s success in the new district shows how Republican voter registration is spread too thin due to the new redistricting. With redistricting, Democrat voters are packed into the San Luis Obispo district, leaving the other districts with thin Republican majority margins and a lack of quality candidates.

“They may have gone too far,” Latner said. “One thing that may come back to bite them is that the quality of candidates matters. And Dr. Jones, just you know, wasn’t really a persuasive, quality candidate.”

Gibson plans to keep tackling the issues he’s been working on in his previous terms such as working on affordable housing and protecting coastal resources. He said he’ll be making homelessness his top priority. 

“We have got to get on top of homelessness — that’s everyone’s most obvious problem,” Gibson said. “It’s a disgrace that we see so many of our fellow citizens out unsheltered like they are. It’s gotten to a point where nobody can ignore it anymore.”

Despite the multiple issues Gibson plans to confront during his term, he said he is hopeful for an improved county. 

“I see so much potential for this county,” Gibson said. “I love this job. Public service has a really noble purpose and, when it works right, it’s a remarkable thing.”