In the most extraordinary collection of political talent since Thomas Jefferson dined alone, more than two dozen current, former and wannabe SB and Goleta elected officials last Saturday trooped to the Dem Women club's bash featuring Congresshuman Katie Porter.
Amid a fervid atmosphere of air kisses, manly handshakes, embryonic mischief-making and garden-variety pandering, generated by the 200-plus political junkies who turned out for a sold-out luncheon of speechifying, spongy sea bass and iced tea, Newsmakers kept an eye on our favorite pair of rival Dems – Supervisor Das Williams and School Board veep Laura Capps.
With Dem Women preparing to endorse next month in the First District, where Laura has thrown down an insurgent challenge to Das’s re-election, it wasn’t hard to place our early bets on that looming tactical skirmish.
As all the electeds were introduced by club prez Christian Pizarro or emcee Hannah Beth Jackson, a process that took only, oh say, 13 or 14 hours, Laura easily skunked Das on the applause-o-meter. Capps also seemed to have done more advance work, scoring a head table seat (with the aforementioned guest of honor and Hannah Beth, plus Salud Carbajal, Monique Limon and Congresswoman Emeritus/Mom Lois Capps) while Williams enjoyed more challenging sight lines to the dais.
That was before Porter got up to speak.
In her introduction, the Orange County Representative, a legal expert on consumer affairs, tipped her hat to Hannah Beth (for passing an enacted bill requiring women on corporate boards) and Monique (for her legislation regulating the pay day loan industry).
Then Porter, the single mother of three little kids, delivered a considerably more personal encomium to Laura. She recalled reading an op-ed Capps published in the Washington Post a few months back, recounting what it was like to grow up the child of elected officeholders, in which she argued Congress should be more “family friendly."
Porter said that, as a freshwoman House member, the piece greatly calmed her parental anxiety.
“I thought" after reading it, "I’d like my kids to turn out like Laura Capps,” she said.
Alas, our view of Das was obstructed from Newsmakers's seat across the room, but we distinctly remember hoping that his seatmates, ex-Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell and SB Alcadesa Cathy Murillo, were trained in the Heimlich maneuver.
Tree huggers heart Das. That said, Williams did have some very positive news to impart on behalf of his campaign, when we chatted briefly before lunch, disclosing that he’d just won the Sierra Club’s endorsement of his re-election bid.
The importance of endorsements in political campaigns is usually wayyy overstated, but there are a few non-partisan ones – the cops and firefighters come to mind – that matter a lot, as major signifiers for voters who may not pay great attention to campaigns, but who want to cast a ballot for someone who shares their fundamental values.
The Sierra Club's seal of approval is among that category, particularly in this supes race, where both Das and Laura have long history and records as passionate environmentalists.
Das promptly featured the endorsement – “So honored to be supported by the Sierra Club!” -- from the club’s Los Padres Chapter (SB and Ventura Counties) on social media, and it won’t be long before it’s also plastered all over his mailers, in advance of the March 3, 2020 election.
Asked for comment, Capps said that she wasn’t given a chance to compete for the endorsement.
“I have so much respect for the Sierra Club and applaud my fellow community members for being an active part of such a strong organization,” she said, in a statement emailed to us.
"I have devoted my career and personal passion to environmental conservation and fighting climate change -- both on the national and local level," she added. “Even with this background and proven commitment, I was not given the chance to participate in the Sierra Club endorsement process, nor was I interviewed or contacted to be informed of the endorsement decision.
“While I have great respect for the organization and look forward to working with them should I become Supervisor, their endorsement process is not one that merits their excellent reputation.”
So there's that.
P.S. The happiest person we encountered at the event was SB council member Meagan Harmon, who'd decided to splurge on a date weekend at the resort with endlessly forbearing spouse Nick, after dumping the kid at her only-too-happy-to-oblige mother's in Lompoc.
Eastside update. The most notable moment in the League of Women Voter’s recent forum for District 1 city council candidates came when challenger Alejandra Gutierrez took a swing at incumbent Jason Dominguez – and the ref jumped in to block it.
“I don’t know how Jason Dominguez is going to do this,” Alejandra said after the District 1 council member made some promise, “while he runs for two offices.”
Barely before her sentence finished, Gutierrez found herself admonished by the League’s moderator, who reminded her that the group’s decorum – tsk, tsk -- prohibits referencing one’s opponent.
The slight smile Jason wore throughout the two-hour affair grew a little broader.
Putting aside the League’s traditional politesse, (call us old-fashioned, but Newsmakers thinks campaigns are about candidates drawing contrasts so voters can make informed choices), it seems likely that Alejandra nonetheless would benefit from repeating that line of attack in every conversation she has with every voter between now and Nov. 3.
In a low, low, low information campaign like this one, there’s something, um, two-faced about Jason telling Eastsiders that he’s running again for City Hall to address their problems while not mentioning that, by the way, he’s simultaneously seeking a seat in the state Legislature -- at another election in four months.
For Gutierrez, the criticism not only highlights Jason’s two-track campaign strategy, it also aligns with her own message: of, by and for the neighborhood, she's the head of the Franklin Services Center, who’s spent two decades working and serving the needs of her neighbors, and is running for council to keep doing that, not to clamber up the political ladder.
Dominguez seems surprised, if not hurt, when asked about the probity of asking city voters for support without noting that, oh by the way, I may not be around that long cuz: Sacramento.
.“It’s not a voting issue,” he told Newsmakers, when we first confronted him about it last spring. Uh, okay.
His defense: Gregg Hart pulled a very similar play in 2017, when he captured a new term on council knowing full well he was immediately going to jump into a race for the supervisors.
We got after Smilin’ Gregg for that one too.
Whither the Mesa? The biggest political fool’s errand in town is predicting the winner in the council race on the Mesa, where five earnest and well-spoken candidates, three of them well funded, are competing to succeed District 2 council member Randy Rowse.
The conventional wisdom (this is your recurring reminder that The Conventional Wisdom Is Always Wrong) says that it’s a two way race between longtime Planning Commissioner Mike Jordan, who’s running on his impressive resume of civic experience, and Teri Jory, who’s campaigning as the PhD-Black Belt tribune of the grassroots.
Don’t sleep, however, on realtor Brian Campbell, the Howard Beal of the contest, whose jeremiads on homelessness strike a chord within some voter cohorts; Luis Esparza, a smart, pleasant, non-partisan type making his second run, or Tavis Boise, an exuberant 20-something who speaks Millennial.
So confounding is the shape of this race that we’re sponsoring a special Newsmakers Election Contest to add a little extra drama to the campaign.
To enter this once-in-a-lifetime event:
1. Email us your predicted 1-5 ORDER OF FINISH in District 2 (email@example.com).
2. Include the TOTAL NUMBER OF VOTES you forecast will be cast in the district election, for possible tiebreaker purposes.
You’ll automatically become eligible for big prizes. We’ll tell you what they are as soon as we figure it out.
Images: Lois and Laura Capps flanking Rep. Katie Porter; Das Williams Facebook post about his Sierra Club endorsement; Alejandra Gutierrez; Place Your Bets (aynrand.se).