Laura Capps formally announced her candidacy for the Board of Supervisors at the Mission Rose Garden on Tuesday, starting her challenge to incumbent Das Williams with a promise to provide “leadership that listens.”
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 supporters beneath the baking afternoon sun, the Santa Barbara school board member did not mention her rival by name, but her 10-minute speech was replete with references to “trust” and “integrity,” at a time when Williams has been criticized for taking large campaign contributions from marijuana growers while writing the county ordinance that governs the industry.
Introduced by her eight-year old son, Oscar (joined by a raft of third grade pals), Capps stood before a group of mostly women backers (including her mother, former Rep. Lois Capps), and invoked the political values of her late father (Walter, who also represented Santa Barbara in Congress) in offering a rationale for her candidacy that focused as much on character as on issues.
“I think about my dad because that’s something that he spoke about a lot -- restoring the bonds of trust between the government and the people,” Capps said, recalling that his first campaign, like hers, was one of insurgency.
“So twenty-five years ago, when my dad bucked the political establishment and ran for Congress, he did that as a primary motivation, to restore the bonds of trust between government and its people.
“And that is my motivation as well. Especially now, especially now with our national government in despair, with our administration that could not be more alienating or out of touch, our local leaders need to be in touch with us, they need to be connected, they need to listen to us.”
The criticism of First District Supervisor Williams was clear, if indirect.
Not just pot. The political opportunity for Capps’s challenge was opened by community anger, centered in Carpinteria, about the county’s implementation of Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in California.
With surprising speed and ease, the cannabis industry has established a large footprint in the county, accompanied by loud complaints about skunky smells, disregard of neighborhood concerns and vexation over the industry’s apparent influence at the board.
Carpinteria represents only a small portion of the First District, however, and Capps wants to avoid being defined as a one-issue candidate in what will be an arduous effort to oust a fellow Democrat.
So in her announcement, she highlighted her work on the school board, on childhood poverty and hunger issues, and on the need to adapt local government policies and operations to the “new normal” of climate change extremes.
She also presented a broader message, portraying herself as a good government pragmatist free of special interest entanglements, a "passionate" liberal who nonetheless views the job of supervisor largely as a non-partisan responsibility.
“Unlike Congress, the county and local government is not partisan,” she said. “There’s not one side of the aisle when it comes to the county. There’s no ‘D’ or ‘R’ behind anybody’s name and that is for a very important and intentional reason – because local government serves the people, we’re on the front lines.”
“I’m a progressive through and through,” she added. “I have a 30-year career of working for progressive causes and for Democratic officials…But I believe on the county level and on the local level the approach that’s best taken, and if elected that's the question I'll ask myself, every day, on every vote and every issue -- what's best for the county.”
Das hit the ground running. In advance of the March 3 election, Capps begins several months behind Williams, who announced his re-election bid by e-blast long ago, in organizing her campaign.
Joined by other candidates for local offices who also have been endorsed by the Democratic Party, Williams has been walking precincts and canvassing his district for weeks, and has scheduled a major fundraiser to celebrate his birthday on a Condor Express cruise in mid-September.
When several gentlemen of the press sought to confront Capps after her speech about her insinuations about Williams' trustworthiness and transparency, she first tried to walk away, before this colloquy with a geezer newshound ensued:
Capps: That’s all, that’s all.
Reporter: You can run but you can’t hide.
Capps: I said my speech. That’s my speech, enjoy it.
Reporter: Obviously your implication was that Das has neither integrity nor does he listen.
Capps: I’m talking about what I want to do as county supervisor.
Reporter: But if you’re trying to oust an incumbent ,clearly your assumption must be that person doesn’t have those values.
Capps: I’m talking about leadership and what I want to do.
At which point, Capps campaign manager Zack Czajkowski dutifully hustled up.
“Can I borrow you, some people want to meet you,” he said, whisking his candidate away. "Thank you Jerry.”
There were no injuries.
Dem vs. Dem. One underlying political dynamic to follow in the race is the conflict between independent-minded Democratic women and the party's Central Committee, which tries to enforce a prohibition against non-endorsed Democrats challenging their anointed choice, to avoid Dem-on-Dem battles like this one.
The central committee endorsed Williams last month, weeks before Capps had made her intentions clear, and she was encouraged to stay out.
Besides Lois, other prominent women politicos on hand to cheer on Capps included former Supervisors Susan Rose and Janet Wolf; City College Trustee Marsha Croninger; SBUSD member Kate Ford; Planning Commissioner and former Mayor Sheila Lodge; Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz; Jordan benShea, vice president of the Community Environmental Council and coastal advocate Susan Jordan, who ran and lost a bitter state legislative race against Das several years ago.
Also on hand was a batch of journalists, besides the usual suspects Nick Welsh, Josh Molina and Tracy Lehr, including famed Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon and wife Mary, who live in Summerland; national political columnist and commentator Jeff Greenfield, who commutes between Noleta and the East Coast; award-winning local columnist Starshine Roshell and national reporter Ann Louise Bardach, who lives in Carp, has helped lead the charge against Das on pot and is backing Laura.
Family values. Before Capps gave her speech, the tone for the afternoon was set by the Rev. Anne Howard, of Trinity Episcopal Church.
A former student of Walter Capps at UCSB, she credited him for helping her find her vocation.
“In Walter’s class, I learned about the importance of integrity in public leadership,” she said.
“And so a couple of decades later I was thrilled to vote for him, and then for Lois for Congress. I knew how rare it was to be represented in Congress by someone with their integrity intact -- no secrets, no under the table contributions, no backroom deals…
“I came to see that very same commitment in Laura,” she added. “She has been a person of integrity and truth telling…I’m honored to stand with Laura as she brings integrity and transparency to our county government.”
No idea what she was referring to.
The unquestioned star of the show was Oscar, who was introduced by the Rev. Howard and given the weighty assignment of introducing the candidate:
“My name is Oscar. I’m eight years old. I go to Roosevelt Elementary School. I go to third grade and I hope you vote for my mom for county supervisor.”
And thus he fulfilled Franklin Roosevelt's famous three rules for public speaking: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
Images: Capps announces her candidacy with son Oscar standing in front of her and mother Lois behind; Pot -- it's everywhere; Supervisor Williams (Paul Wellman/SB Independent); SB Press Corps in pursuit of Capps (Josh Molina); Product from Pea Soup Andersen's, where Dem county committee meets; Rev. Anne Howard introduces Oscar; Oscar hands off the mic to the candidate.