The biggest winner at a key gathering of hardcore Democratic Party activists in Santa Barbara over the weekend was a scrupulously fair and endlessly patient grassroots volunteer named David Atkins.
The challenging task of herding political cats fell to Atkins, as four local hopefuls -- Mayor Cathy Murillo, SB Councilmember Jason Dominguez, City College Trustee Jonathan Abboud and women’s health advocate Elsa Granados – competed for the state party endorsement of their bids for the 37th Assembly District seat.
The (all rise) Region 10 Director of the California Democratic Party, which includes Santa Barbara, Ventura and SLO counties, Atkins presided over an endorsement process only slightly more complicated than quantum physics, as dozens of activists representing state leadership, county central committees, local clubs and elected officials met inside the main library’s Faulkner Gallery – while others checked in via email.
Not for nothing did Will Rogers say, “I am not a member of any organized political party – I am a Democrat.”
In the end, none of the four candidates hit the 70 percent vote threshold needed to secure the endorsement -- nor even the 50 percent level needed to bring the question before next month’s state convention (don’t ask).
As a practical matter, this means that no one will carry the Democratic Party seal of approval into the March 3, 2020 primary election– an imprimatur that can be a critical signifier in a race like this one, which political professionals term a “low information” contest.
As a political matter, however, the event nevertheless represented an intriguing early test of strength. Some winners and losers:
Cathy Murillo. Alcadesa finished second, with 19 of 68 votes cast (28 percent), but the fact that no one else won endorsement was a tactical victory, as it freezes in place her early front-runner position. Beyond name recognition, Cathy is likely to enjoy advantages on funding (think: organized labor) and organization (viz: strategist Mollie Culver and her Sacramento connections); notably, she also was the only candidate to actually mention state issues (e.g. Prop. 13, AB 5, rent control legislation now on the governor’s desk), as her rivals offered little evidence they’ve given much thought to what goes on in Sacramento.
Jonathan Abboud. The 27-year old director of the Isla Vista Community Services District finished first – with 24 votes (35 percent) a tribute to organizing skills honed at UCSB and on the country central committee, as well as his political base among young woke progressive activists. That cohort does not necessarily align with the universe of 250,000 voters in the March primary, however, and it’s a plain fact that campaigning in the sprawling 37th Assembly District is far different than running in IV.
Dem Women. Board members of SB’s autonomous Democratic Women’s club – along with incumbent Assembly member Monique Limon and state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson -- voted “no endorsement,” a stance that captured one-fourth of the ballots. That puts a premium on the club’s endorsement vote, set for after registration closes in December, and keeps both Monique and Beth above the fray of an intraparty contest that could turn into a brawl.
Jason Dominguez. Putting aside the troublesome fact that he’s running for Assembly while simultaneously seeking council re-election, Jason won a grand total of six votes -- 6, count ‘em, 6 -- a reflection of his gnarly relationships with influential party insiders. That said, Jason’s independent streak could appeal to Ventura County voters, who generally are more moderate than Santa Barbara libs.
Elsa Granados.The executive director of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (formerly the Rape Crisis Center) is a lifelong Democrat making her first run for office. A legislative seat is a tough entry-level job to win, however, and she captured only four votes.
Steve Bennett. After much speculation, the Ventura County Supervisor was MIA on Saturday. Bennett famously quit a congressional race several years ago, and his no-show secures his reputation as a political window shopper.
Images: David Atkins; Cathy Murillo; Jonathan Abboud; Monique Limon; Jason Dominguez; Elsa Granados (Paul Wellman/Santa Barbara Independent); Steve Bennett.