On Saturday, conservative council member Frank Hotchkiss won big props at a Republican anti-tax rally - and also managed to obtain something Newsmakers has tried to get for weeks:
A straight answer on where rival Angel Martinez stands on the Measure C sales tax increase.
“All the other candidates support it,” Hotchkiss told a cheering noontime crowd of about 80 anti-taxers at the Courthouse. “Please tell all your friends that Hotchkiss is the only guy who doesn’t want Measure C.”
Over the last month, Martinez publicly has vacillated about the $22 million proposed tax increase on the Nov, 7 ballot. After the GOP event, however, the Hotchkiss statement capacitated us to ask the Martinez campaign if Frank was telling the truth by stating that he is the only wannabe amid the five-person mayoral field to oppose the sales tax increase.
“Angel will be listed as an endorser for Measure C,” campaign strategist Brian Robinson responded.
Why all the mystery? In two previous interviews, Martinez provided muddled answers to questions about Measure C, suggesting he opposes it – without ever quite saying so.
On Newsmakers TV on August 31, Angel said he would have structured and presented the tax measure differently, had he been mayor. When pressed, he said this:
Q: So you're against it?
A: I'm against the current state of it, I am.
When we asked again this week, he emailed this response:
I'm against the fact that it is going into the general fund, allowing the possibility that it will be used for things other than infrastructure and a new police headquarters.
"That said, we desperately need investment in our infrastructure. It should have been a bond measure. And may end up as that before all is said and done."
Battle for the right. As a political matter, Martinez has succeeded to date in taking away market share from Hotchkiss on the conservative side of the spectrum, especially among business executives, donors and organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Realtors and Hospitality Santa Barbara, which represents the tourist industry, not to mention his millennial entrepreneurial fans in the Funk Zone.
In that context, his hemming and hawing on Measure C may have been an effort to attract more hardcore conservative Republican homeowners, who are very reliable voters, in a bid to position himself as the alpha center-right candidate in a race that also includes three Democrats – ex-mayor Hal Conklin and council members Cathy Murillo and Bendy White.
Let’s be blunt: it’s a bad look.
The rationale for the Martinez candidacy is that he stands for significant change, versus the status quo represented by his four opponents, creatures of City Hall all. Trying to have it both ways with too-clever-by-half obfuscations on a crucial issue facing voters, however, doesn’t exactly scream “new leadership,"
Plus: it’s been something of an open secret that Martinez always intended to back Measure C. Three reliable sources who attended a recent Yes-on-C strategy meeting independently recalled that Ken Oplinger, executive director of the Chamber, which backs Martinez, told the group that he had an unqualified assurance that Angel would allow his name to be used as an endorser on the pro-Measure C web site and other campaign materials.
You can read more than you ever wanted to know about Measure C in our recent post on the subject, which is here.
Read our lips. The Courthouse rally that Hotchkiss spoke to was backed by the County Republican Central Committee, which previously endorsed him.
Although Measure C came up, the real focus was the new 47 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, phased in over 10 years, recently approved by the Democrat-dominated Legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown as Senate Bill 1.
Although the $52 billion in new gas tax revenue is supposed to go towards highway construction and repair and other infrastructure projects, it was hard to find someone in attendance who believes that will happen.
Republicans are mounting a statewide campaign to repeal the gas tax, and the state GOP hopes to use the issue during next year’s legislative and congressional elections to try to regain some political relevance in California, at a time when only one-in-four voters is registered with the party.
Among those speaking was Andrea Seastrand, Santa Barbara’s former House representative, who complained the gax tax increase – which begins on Nov, 1 with a 14-cent hike – hurts “the poor, seniors and working people.”
Seastrand acknowledged that repealing the tax is an uphill fight but said to loud cheers that “the people can do amazing things,”
At one point, she referenced “Galaxy Quest,” a 1999 comedy science fiction movie starring Tim Allen, to make her point,
“Remember what the little alien said,?” she asked the crowd, among which many seemed uncertain, at best. “Never surrender, never give up."
Coming tomorrow: An advance look at Monday night’s big League of Women Voters forum featuring the five candidates for mayor,
Images: Frank Hotchkiss addresses Saturday anti-tax rally at Courthouse; Angel Martinez; former city council candidate Bonnie Raisin expresses her view on the new state gas tax increase; former Rep. Andrea Seastrand invoked a small alien against the tax.
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