Newsmakers with JR
11 Tuesdays to Go: Power Rankings in St. George Flap; City Hall Cathy Blooper; Recall Update
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Antediluvian male chauvinist blather spouted by developer Ed St. George last week has galvanized women community leaders while generating support for City Council member Meagan Harmon as she seeks election for the first time.
Raise your hand if you had "St. George sexist comments on Josh Molina's podcast" as an issue on your District 6 Election Bingo Card.
The statements by the controversial St. George (you can catch up here and here), which belittled, patronized and condescended to appointed council member Harmon, triggered some ferocious pushback from the Women's Political Committee, with multitudes from Santa Barbara's political-media ecosystem enlisting in the action.
Seventy-seven days before Election Day on Nov 2, here are our thoroughly unscientific political ratings of how key players emerged from the fallout, thick with clouds of righteous outrage, justified indignation, he-said-what astonishment and self-seeking virtue signaling.
1-Meagan Harmon. Led by the ubiquitous Luz Reyes-Martin , the WPC swiftly rounded up more than 150 signatures on an open letter of censure, charging St. George with "sexism and misogyny" (aimed directly and specifically at the developer, it oddly did not name him). Featuring a who's who of the Democratic establishment, prominent women leaders and a small squad of male allies (which included a couple of cynical sexists - you know who you are) the statement effectively positions Harmon as a feminist cynosure, representing the unequivocal right to make career and family decisions free of Mad Men-era values and patriarchal judgment.
2-Josh Molina. The hardest workin' man in show business has labored long and hard on his "Santa Barbara Talks" podcast for over a year and finally gained a breakthrough moment by asking St,. George a few direct questions about the District 6 race and then having the good sense to keep quiet while Ed's loose lips produced a self-indictment. Maybe our Freedom of the Press purism makes us over-sensitive, but we found troubling WPC's low-key jab at Josh for giving the developer "a platform," a red flag data point that reveals the tendency of some progressives amid our tribal political atmosphere to decry old-school journalism that isn't propaganda for Team Blue.
3-Paul Casey. As the outgoing City Administrator heads for the exit on his own terms, effective Sept. 10, he can relish watching arch-nemesis St. George take one in the shorts, after Big Ed spent the past few years doing all he could to undermine Casey and try (unsuccessfully) to round up four votes on City Council to get him fired. As Khan Noonien Singh famously said, revenge is a dish best served cold.
4-Randy Rowse. The brain trust of the WPC may have wondered if they didn't cast their net seeking support a bit too far afield after Rowse added his moniker to the list of signatories on the Boo-Ed letter. A pragmatic moderate who's what passes for a conservative in this town, recall that Randy cast a decisive vote while still on council to appoint Harmon to the District 6 seat in the first place, and thereafter quietly mentored her in the mysterious ways of City Hall.
5-Nina Johnson. The veteran City Hall insider made a splash when she announced a few weeks ago that she would challenge Harmon in District 6, but had barely laced up her running shoes when the St. George uproar began. The developer, whose views on women appear more or less aligned with the Taliban's, in the same interview made some favorable noises about Johnson, sending political splatter her way just as voters are beginning to tune into the election. In the words of the immortal Joey Adams, with friends like this, who needs enemies?
6-Montecito Journal. We've got to ask - wasn't the Montecito Sanitary District doing anything this week? After getting scooped by the Indy's Tyler Hayden, not to mention Newsmakers, the MoJo bookended the St. George story in this week's edition, with EIC Gwyn Lurie devoting her weekly editor's note to a shooting-at-lifeboats philippic, while the redoubtable Nick Masuda rehashed the matter in his political column. Better to overkill than to be killed. Or something.
7-Deborah Schwartz. Planning Commissioner Schwartz has paid her dues in Santa Barbara women's political circles, but her name is notably absent from the WPC letter, the only major candidate for mayor not listed. As every school child knows, St. George backs her mayoral bid, and has beat the bushes to drum up money on her behalf; as he put it in an Ed-speak mass email: "if you feel inclined to send a 1000 dollars to a worthy cause send it to Deborah’s campaign www.schwartzforsb.com she is a LONGTERM solution candidate."
8-James Joyce. The long shot mayoral hopeful, and "Coffee with a Black Guy" guy, is in a deep early hole in campaign fundraising. Mired in fourth place, he needs to climb over one rival at a time to get back in the race to emerge as the chief foil to Mayor Cathy Murillo. Taking a stand with the WPC affords a point of contrast with his first target.
9-Newsmakers. The genial host of our weekly roundtable show got called out on social media, by no less a figure than superstar columnist Starshine Roshell, for suggesting that all the sturm und drang might be a teeny bit of an overreaction, performative umbrage about some boneheaded off-the-cuff comments by a guy who barely qualifies as a Public Figure, let alone a public official. In the process, it seems, JR snarked that critics might be in need of "fainting couches," a phrase that until 12 minutes ago was a fine, time-honored entry in the Political Writers Book of Cliches but now apparently is verboten. Who knew?
10-Ed St. George. A blue-collar, what-you-see-is-what-you-get-guy like St George didn't get to be as rich as Plutus without making a few enemies, perhaps a few more than was necessary, and with the contemptuous tripe he tossed Harmon's way on Josh's show, he provided all his foes a chance to twist the knife. We hear he's now off on another Italian odyssey, but guess he'll be back in the middle of our enduring civic soap opera before long.
This where her quote goes. Among the knocks on Mayor Cathy Murillo is that she's not only in thrall to public employee unions, but also thoroughly dependent on city staff and bureaucracy, almost invariably following rather than displaying leadership on policy issues.
Refuting that rap didn't get any easier for the mayor on Tuesday, when a city employee prematurely blasted a mass email announcing that longtime city executive Rebecca Bjork would take over as interim City Administrator once Casey departs in September.
This is how the top two paragraphs of the email read:
"The City Council appointed Rebecca Bjork interim City Administrator effective September 11, 2021. Ms. Bjork brings continuity and a deep knowledge of City operations to the day to day management of the City operations.
"It would be great if we could have a quote from the Mayor here. Maybe – 'I am confident the City will be in good hands with Rebecca, she has a strong commitment to the organization and a record of continuous improvement for operations.'”
All righty then.
Four minutes and 49 seconds later, the same bureaucrat who inadvertently sent the message sent a second email to recall the first, which, naturally, only called more attention to the original.
A few minutes after that, we emailed the mayor, requesting a quote about whether or not city staff always write her quotes. We await her reply.
Recall update. Biggest news in the campaign over the fast-approaching attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, is not that Republican front-runner Larry Elder believes climate change is a "crock" or that the Democratic alternative favorite is a 29-year old YouTube influencer but that a substantive lawsuit has been filed challenging the whole goofy election.
The suit, from two L.A. citizens, followed by just a few days a widely-publicized op-ed by two prominent legal scholars, published in the New York Times, calling into question the constitutionality of the recall process, which allows a replacement governor to be selected with far fewer votes than an ousted chief executive might win in trying to hold the position.
"But some outside experts are questioning the validity of California's recall ballot just as polls suggest Newsom could be vulnerable. Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and law and economics professor Aaron Edlin raised eyebrows this week with a New York Times op-ed calling for a lawsuit challenging California's two-question recall ballot. Voters will first choose whether to recall Newsom, then pick a replacement candidate on the same ballot who would take over should the governor be ousted.
"Chemerinsky and Edlin argue that California's recall process violates the constitutional doctrine that all voters should get an equal say. By allowing the governor to be recalled by a majority vote, then replaced by whoever gets a plurality of the subsequent vote, the winner could end up with far fewer votes than the incumbent received. If recent polls hold true, millions more voters could choose to keep Newsom in office on the first question than select leading GOP contender Larry Elder on the second question."
Because mail ballots began being sent out this week, it's uncertain whether a court would choose to intervene in an election that effectively already has begun. It would be a great irony - and a great political story - if Newsom lost the recall and then decided to challenge the results legally after the fact, however.
Sort of like Trump.
Correction: An earlier.version of this post incorrectly described Randy Rowse as a onetime Republican. He has never been registered GOP. Newsmakers regrets the error.
Images: latino.nascar.com; Cathy Murillo (newsmakers photo); Gavin Newsom (sfchronicle).