Notebook: Virginia Wins Lottery, Brian & Elrawd Tag Team, Laura Crushes Cash Race, Power Rankings
Updated: Oct 6
Virginia Alvarez was the biggest winner in the Santa Barbara school board race last week -- not for anything done or said -- but because she won a very special lottery.
The random drawing to determine the order of candidates on the ballot, as routinely conducted by election officials, ended with her name on the top spot among the eight who registered for the contest for three board seats.
So voters in the far-flung Santa Barbara Unified School District received mail ballots with names listed in ALL CAPS like this:
ELRAWD JOHN MACLEARN
SEBASTIAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ-FALON
As a political horserace matter, it’s kind of a big deal: Political scientists who have researched the election phenomena which they describe as "name order effect, " have shown that appearing first on the ballot carries a demonstrable advantage.
It can range from a point or two in races between well-known candidates -- up to as much as 10 points in low-profile campaigns featuring little known contenders (in one weird race, which featured two unknown guys both named "Green," the impact was measured at 20 points, as recounted in a peer-reviewed journal. But we digress).
Among the eggheads who've studied it is Darren P. Grant of Sam Houston State University, who researched 24 partisan primaries in Texas in 2014 that involved randomized order of candidates by county. Applying a "multivariate regression approach," he presented his findings in a paper called, "The Ballot Order Effect Is Huge: Evidence from Texas."
Except for a few high-profile, high-information races, the ballot order effect is large, especially in down-ballot races and judicial positions. In these, going from last to first on the ballot raises a candidate’s vote share by nearly ten percentage points.
As one of the few intriguing local campaigns in a presidential year, the SB school board campaign has attracted a fair amount of local media attention, but still qualifies as what political professionals call a "low information race," here in our little, semi-arid news desert, which likely bumps the importance of the name order effect.
For Alvarez, the political challenge is to wrest a seat from one of the three incumbents, who start with the advantage of being better known publicly – Laura Capps, Jackie Reid and Wendy Sims-Moten – simply from being in the mix of news stories about SB schools for the past four years.
Virginia is a quality candidate who's captured an estimable portion of key organizational endorsements on the merits. So if she succeeds, it won't merely be because her name came first on the ballot. But it can't hurt.
The Change Brothers. In an apparent bid to demonstrate the power of synergy, realtor Brian Campbell and health inspector Elrawd MacLearn, have been campaigning together with the slogan “Change is Needed.”
Promoting a greater voice for parents and an early return to classrooms in their online ads, the two more broadly represent a challenge to the lefty policies and politics of the three board incumbents, as they made clear in a joint, hour-long appearance on "Freedom Matters," the public affairs show hosted by bombastic iconoclast (iconoclastic bombast?) and Carpinteria city council candidate Mark McIntire.
In response to McIntire's questions, both Campbell and MacLearn had choice words for the district’s implicit bias training contract with the non-profit Just Communities; the board’s adoption of the controversial "Teen Talk" sex ed program; the ideological orientation of new Ethnic Studies classes; and SBUSD’s dual language immersion instruction. Elrawd called out "critical race theory" as the philosophical foundation for too many board policies, throwing a local spotlight on a fraught issue that also is playing out nationally, amid Donald Trump's recent order to end all government diversity training programs that incorporate such teachings.
MacLarean, who is Black, criticized teaching materials, including some from Just Communities, that categorize whites as a class as “oppressors” in social, political and economic systems presented as being shaped by structural racism.
"That is...discriminatory against anyone who’s a white person," he said. "And that’s just not true."
Campbell described several of the board’s policies as "Divisive... separating children by race and pitting child against child.”
You can watch the whole thing here.
The Money Chase. Campaign finance reports are still trickling in to the county election office website, but it’s pretty clear that Capps, running hard to finish first, is going to dominate the dash for cash.
Laura raised $34,034 through Sept. 24 and, not having spent much to date except for lawn signs, has $27,307 cash on hand going into the campaign’s final month, documents show.
Her contributor list of more than 30 pages, with many $100 donations, represents a mix of local lib activists (eg. Kate Parker, Dave Davis, Rev. Mark Asman, EJ Borah); national green types (former Al Gore strategist Marla Romash); local philanthropists (Anne Towbes); current and former elected officials (ex-mayors Sheila, Marty, Hal - not to mention ex-state lawmaker Pedro Nava and Former Everything Jack O’Connell); Usual Suspects among the Montecito Women’s Checkbook Mafia ($1K from Sara MM), plus the actor Jeff Bridges, who works with Capps on food and hunger programs.
At press time, MacLearn's was the only other campaign finance statement posted. He reported raising $6,850 through the filing deadline, including $1K each from communications strategist John Davies, ex-Apple exec Michael Barnik and investor Peter Bohlinger. Since the filing deadline, he's also accepted $5,300 from a group called "Impact Education" whose web site is here.
We asked Elrawd for more info on the group and he emailed this back: "I’m not sure! According to their website they’re described as a “non-partisan co-op.” Hope that helps."
Rumor of the week (denied). Capps' aggressive money-raising, for a race she'd probably win if she went to sleep for the next month, quite naturally raised suspicions in cynical insider precincts, where the Rumor of the Week alleged that she's stockpiling cash to run for mayor next year.
"False rumor," Capps texted us, when we sought comment. "I'm committed to our schools, especially now during the pandemic, and am not running for mayor. And am grateful for all the support!"
Chapter 356 in the Perils of Over-Reporting.
Do endorsements matter? There's an endless and irreconcilable argument within political circles about the overall importance of campaign endorsements, but there's no doubt that some matter more than others.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County endorsement currently is the most influential in many races (at least since the cops and firefighters largely retreated a few years ago from the big-foot role they previously played in SB campaigns), both as a signifier for partisan voters in an area of high Dem registration, and as a source of volunteers and other resources (not to mention its' frequent connection to the professional services of campaign consultant Mollie Culver).
Right behind the Dem Party, however, Newsmakers ranks the SB Independent's endorsements, not least because they come with a built-in fan base gleaned from the paper's countywide readership among arts and entertainment junkies, progressive activists, local political cognoscenti, vaping hipsters and high-voting propensity Boomers (other key endorsements include Democratic Women, Women's Political Committee, CAUSE and, in this race, the SB Teachers Association).
Nick Welsh, Marianne Partridge, Jean Yamamura and other editorial staffers do the Lord's work in digging into virtually every local race and issue, interviewing countless candidates and -- despite an occasional spectacular fail -- make cogent and substantive arguments on behalf of their picks.
Here's a look at who's endorsing whom in the SB race:
Democratic Party of SB County Capps, Reid, Sims-Moten
SB County Republican Party Campbell, MacLearn
SB Independent Alvarez, Capps, Sims-Moten
Democratic Women Alvarez, Capps, Sims-Moten
Women’s Political Committee Capps, Reid, Sims-Moten
SB Teachers Association Alvarez, Capps, Sims-Moten
California School Employees Assn. Alvarez, Capps, Sims-Moten
CAUSE Action Fund Alvarez, Reid, Sims-Moten
Sierra Club Capps, Reid, Sims-Moten
Montecito Journal Alvarez, Capps, Sims-Moten
Job well done: Mega-kudos to Delaney Smith, ace education reporter for the Indy, who did terrific work in the awkward job of moderating Zoom forums, for both the SB and Goleta Union school board races, which you can find here and here.
Who's up, who's down. One month before Election Day, with voting already underway for a week, here is a totally subjective and data-free perspective on where the seven candidate** race stands today, according to odds relayed by our Las Vegas Deputy Bureau Chief Nick (Mr. Beef) Bistecca di Manzo.
1-Laura Capps. Up to her eyeballs in campaign cash, she has the luxury of sending targeted mail throughout the spread-out district.
2-Wendy Sims-Moten. The only contender who's been endorsed by everybody.
3-Virginia Alvarez. Top ballot listing a gift and radio ads are smart.
4-Jackie Reid. Needs a visibility boost.
5-Elrawd MacLearn. Taking on Critical Race Theory a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
6-Brian Campbell. Needs more focused messaging.
7-Monie de Wit. Grousing at late approval of ballot handbooks is legit, but not a voting issue.
Campaign sign of the week (courtesy Dan Siebert).
** There are eight candidates listed on the ballot, seven of whom are actively campaigning. Sebastian Antonio Fernandez-Falon remains a no-show.
Images: See how they run (all-free-downloads.com); Alvarez campaign photo; Elrawd-Brian ad via Edhat; Capps Zoom image; Cat (awwmemes.com); Award envelope (bigstockphoto.com); Independent candidates Zoom forum; Delaney courtesy mug; Power Rankings (nascar.com).