With 163 days left before California’s March 3 primary election, the decision by Monique Limon to give up her Assembly seat to run for the state Senate resolves the most crucial unanswered question about Santa Barbara politics in 2020.
The second-term state lawmaker drove insiders, ambitious strivers, hungry campaign consultants, geezer gossip mongers and assorted other hacks and flacks nearly nuts with her six-month fulmination on the matter, during which much of the local political world was effectively frozen in place.
Monique kept her own counsel until the decision was made, even after she blew by a self-imposed 60 day deadline for announcing her plans, as she routinely deflected questions about the latest rumor of the week by saying, “until you hear from it from me, don’t believe it.”
To her credit, and far more importantly, she also kept her eye on the ball throughout, as she focused on racking up a strong legislative session that included passage of a bill to reform the payday loan industry that preys on poor people, and another that offers the first official action in decades to push for public access to the beaches at Hollister Ranch, the last stretch of California coastline that stands in violation of the state constitution.
Now she's a prohibitive front-runner to replace the termed-out Hannah Beth Jackson, and we won't be surprised if she clears the field.
Here are five takeaways from The Decision.
1-Cathy overplayed her hand. Mayor Cathy Murillo publicly floated a big old trial balloon about running for the senate a few weeks ago, apparently based on bad information that Monique was going to stay put, a Zeppelin that now lies in a collapsed and crumpled heap on the ground.
In getting it aloft, our 27 percent mayor enlisted willing helpers amid the local media ecosystem (we name no names, although Newsmakers didn't fall for it); "It's exciting to contemplate this and imagine serving the community in a new way," she said at the time (Seriously? Gack.) and now she’s left to explain away the wreckage -- or pivot to a run for Assembly.
2-Jason’s two-track strategy. As we first reported back in June, SB Councilman Jason Dominguez has been quietly seeking support for a legislative run for months (for whichever seat Limon didn’t go for) while simultaneously seeking re-election to his Eastside City Council seat.
Mysteriously, neither Alejandra Gutierrez nor Cruzito Cruz, Jason’s two council opponents, so far have made much of a fuss about the implied insult to the voters of District 1; now that Monique has clarified things, however, a Dominguez legislative race is no longer theoretical – he will have to announce his candidacy sometime – so it should become a more urgent and salient political issue.
3-The AB37 race is wide open. Beyond Jason, now look for Jonathan Abboud, SBCC Trustee representing I.V. and acolyte of behind-the-scenes local Dem boss Daraka Larimore-Hall, to announce quickly; in recent days he’s been squirming like a new puppy in dropping not-very-subtle hints on his Facebook page.
Don’t be surprised, however, if the campaign draws more contestants: Cathy, for starters, would be a major factor, not to mention Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett and Elsa Granados, executive director of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (formerly known as the Rape Crisis Center), both of whom, we hear, have expressed interest in the gig.
4-Magical Thinkers Disappointed. Again. In recent days, some conflict-averse Dem libs have fervently put their hopes and prayers behind a scenario whereby Monique would run for re-election and Supervisor Das Williams would slide over to run for Senate, avoiding the politically awkward Dem-on-Dem match-up for First District Supervisor between him and school board member Laura Capps.
The day before Limon’s announcement, Das told us there was “zero chance” of that happening; any doubt that he’s preparing to go to the mattresses against Laura may be permanently erased with word that Darcel Elliot, his longtime operative and wingperson, is taking a leave from working for him at the county to get the re-elect campaign humming.
5-A win for Beth. Behind-the-scenes, Senator Jackson had cajoled and wheedled Monique to run for the 19th SD seat, viewing the question of her successor as part of her own legacy. In Limon, Jackson sees a virtual mirror image of her own politics and style: both are high-energy idealists with strong work ethics and a zest for homework, as well as ideological twins.
To wit: A fascinating, data-set report on political polarization in the Legislature, recently published by Cal Matters ranked every lawmaker on a 0-100 scale, from most liberal to most conservative; Limon got a super-lib score of 3.7 in the Assembly, while Jackson set the pace for lefties in the senate, with a perfect score of zero.
You could look it up.
Images: What's Next (depositphotos.com); Cathy Murillo; Jason Dominguez; Jonathan Abboud; Das Williams; Laura Capps; Hannah Beth-Jackson.