You read it here first. Business consultant Tom Widroe, former aide to prominent local Republican officeholders, is taking over as executive director of the venerable Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, replacing Joe Armendariz, the longtime leader of the organization.
Founded in 1956 by several of the largest oil companies in Santa Barbara, then among the largest sources of local property taxes, the Taxpayers Association today describes itself as "a non-partisan, countywide civic advocacy group" espousing private sector economic gorwth and cost-effective government.
Widroe worked for the late Supervisor Willy Chamberlain, former Assemblyman and Supervisor Brooks Firestone and ex-Rep. Elton Gallegly, and also served a brief stint as chair of the Republican Party county central committee.
In an interview with Newsmakers, however, Widroe said he wants to rejuvenate the group and reposition it more broadly, away from serving as a predictable, knee-jerk, anti-tax "watchdog" into more of a "collaborative" player in local public policy debates, by attracting new business, labor, education, housing, non-profit and cannabis industry leaders to its membership and board.
"The Taxpayers Association is not a Republican organization," he said.
As a political matter, Widroe's effort represents an opportunity to provide a platform for conservative voices, at a time when the county's political leanings have grown steadily more liberal -- but when local governments suddenly face serious, long-term budget shortfalls induced by the pandemic, putting a premium on policy ideas that can boost tax revenues by spurring economic growth.
Pointing to housing and cannabis as two key industries that could boost the economy, for example, he said that local government efforts to socially engineer "affordable" units restrict both housing production and employment, while over-taxation and over-regulation of pot production and retail operations are hindering an industry that could provide more good-paying jobs. He also made clear that the Taxpayers Association's original mission, to protect and support the oil industry in the county, remains a priority.
"We still need to be bullish on the oil and gas industry," Widroe said.
Fun with numbers. At first glance, county election results suggest that Widroe's belief in a political market for conservative policy ideas is far-fetched.
The most prominent candidate running on a conservative platform was Andy Caldwell, the Republican challenger to Rep. Salud Carbajal (and a longtime ally of Armendariz, the departed director of the Taxpayers Association); Caldwell is trailing the Democratic incumbent in the Santa Barbara County portion of the 24th Congressional District by 37-to-63 percent.
This is a worse showing, even than that of Justin Fareed, the 2016 GOP nominee, who lost to Carbajal in the county 43-to-57 percent.
At the same time, however, Santa Barbara County voters solidly rejected state Prop.15, which would have amended California's landmark Proposition 13 property tax cut and resulted in higher taxes on commercial properties, with 52 percent of voters opposing and just 48 percent voting "yes" -- a suggestion that while local voters may rebuff the messengers of fiscal conservatism, they do not altogether reject the message.
Now there's pictures: Gov. Gavin Newsom's political embarrassment over his attendance at a birthday celebration for an influential Sacramento lobbyist at a spendy, Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa County - in apparent violation of his own pandemic guidelines - grew more mortifying Wednesday when L.A.'s Fox 11 News obtained photos of the affair.
The pictures show that a) neither Newsom nor anyone else was wearing a mask while sitting very close to one another; b) 12 people from six different households attended, another violation of state restrictions; c) the party wasn't actually held outdoors after all, but in a dining room with three walls, a roof and a sliding glass door.
And, oh yeah, two of the guests were the chief executive and chief lobbyist for the, um, California Medical Association.
From the TV report:
"FOX 11 spoke to the woman who took the photos and told us: 'While we were there we realized there was a very loud party going on in a room 20 feet from us. It was a bit annoying since you're spending hard-earned money to go there.'
"She said, 'It got louder and louder and so they had some sliding glass doors that they were able to close, so then it was a closed-off room but you could still hear them with how loud they were.'
"'I just happened to look over and realize 'hey is that Gavin Newsom, who is that?' And I did ask one of the waitresses and she confirmed it was, so I was able to take a couple of photos.
"'I was able to document this especially since nobody was wearing a mask. It was a very large group of people shoulder to shoulder, something that he's always telling us not to do so yeah it was a bit annoying for sure,' the woman said.
"After the woman heard his public apology she said, 'I was surprised because it didn’t look like he was uncomfortable being there until the very end until people were looking at him and staring at him as he was leaving the room.'"
So there's that.
Images: Tom Widroe; Gavin Newsom (far left) chowing down with too many friends at the French Lundry restauarant (FOX 11 News).