May 28, 2018
UPDATE FROM A POLITICAL JUNKIE
Final Thoughts (& Predictions) on Marin's June Ballot, the Statewide Races and Propositions, and Looking Ahead to November
May 28, 2018
By Greg Brockbank
LOCAL NONPARTISAN RACES FOR PUBLICLY ELECTED OFFICES
[Editor's Note: Greg's opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the MCBA. His election predictions should in no way be taken as voting recommendations. MCBA does not endorse candidates for any office. In full disclosure, Greg has publicly endorsed Ms. Anna Pletcher and Shelly Scott and his endorsement is listed on their websites.]
As noted in my last column two months ago (from which surprisingly little has changed), Marin elects five supervisors, four department heads, the councils of 11 towns and cities, the members of 19 school boards, and representatives on dozens of special districts (mostly water, fire protection, community services, and public utilities), for a total of about 250 elected officials on over 60 public bodies. Most elections are in November, though a few boards have chosen to hold theirs in June. A few boards have “primaries” in June, where the top two have a run-off in November.
Most of our local nonpartisan elections were, until a couple years ago, in odd-numbered years, but a new state law requires all elections to move to even-numbered years if the turnout is significantly higher (which it is in Marin, given our outstanding turnout in presidential and, to a lesser extent, gubernatorial years). There were a few potential new elections in this June’s election, and there is one actual one on the ballot – the Corte Madera Town Council.
Most of the open seats on the above boards had no challengers, leaving only five actual contests for seven seats amongst them. Three of these seats are for the Corte Madera Town Council, one is for County Supervisor from the Novato area, and three of the four elected county department heads have contested elections.
COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Incumbent JUDY ARNOLD of Novato (well-known, well-established, well-funded, and well-endorsed) is running for her fourth term, but she’s now 77 years old, and some think it’s time for a change.
Challenger TONI SHROYER, after losing narrowly to Arnold four years ago as an unknown, is still angry and hyper-critical of Arnold and the rest of the Board of Supervisors. She’s done a few things in the community, but not as many as one might expect from a serious candidate for county supervisor. Her followers tend to also be angry, anti-tax, anti-housing, and conservative.
Even though Shroyer herself is nominally a Democrat, she didn’t seek the Marin Democratic Party endorsement, which went to Arnold. Most Dems are hoping that the anti-incumbent fervor of four years ago is no longer in effect, so Arnold should easily prevail this time.
COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: 24-year incumbent Mary Jane Burke is being challenged for the first time ever by MATT NAGLE, a West Marin school principal. Nagle wants more attention paid to Mexican-American and other immigrants, which is good, but he’s no match, especially without really campaigning, for the hugely popular and effective Burke.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Two of the three candidates are currently deputy district attorneys — A.J. BRADY and LORI FRUGOLI. Frugoli, with 27 years in the department — preceded by years on the San Rafael Police Dept. and Marin Sheriff’s Dept.— is the “old boy” in the race, as evidenced by her endorsement from the former elected DAs, and much of law enforcement. She promises increased safety for Marin. A.J. BRADY, a ten-year veteran of the DA’s office, has been active in forwarding restorative justice and opposes the death penalty and is endorsed by the Marin County Prosecutors Association. ANNA PLETCHER is the outsider in the race; she has an impressive record as a ten-year federal prosecutor fighting white-collar crime. She argues that her management experience of overseeing 25 attorneys is transferable and that the DA’s office is ripe for change. I think the DA, beyond just running the office, sets an important tone for law enforcement in Marin, and I predict Pletcher will come in first, but with less than 50%, and there will be a runoff in November, probably with Frugoli.
ASSESSOR/RECORDER: SHELLY SCOTT has been the frontrunner since the incumbent, to whom she lost eight years ago, announced his retirement last December. And she has a good chance of getting over 50% of the vote and avoiding a November runoff. In addition to her run for the office eight years ago, she has been a Novato School Board member since then, and has worked in the office for 30 years, in all three divisions. The other two candidates, BRIAN KARR, and JENNY MATTSON, seem to be political newbies, and I don’t see much evidence of their campaigns.
CORTE MADERA TOWN COUNCIL: There are four candidates for the three open seats here. I expect incumbent BOB RAVASIO (who lost his re-election race four years ago but was subsequently appointed to a seat when someone resigned mid-term) will probably win a full four-year term, despite his recent automobile accident injuries, as well as local activists DAVID KUNHARDT and ELI BECKMAN.
MARIN’S PARTISAN RACES FOR CONGRESS AND STATE LEGISLATURE
Below are my blurbs on these three races from my last column two months ago, because, again, nothing’s changed. Although incumbents do sometimes get beaten, it’s rare, and even more rare when the challengers aren’t raising enough money to get past one percent of the incumbents’ war chests. And I admit that as the campaign Treasurer of one of the challengers.
All voters, regardless of party, now get the same ballot in the June primaries (thanks to Prop. 14 in 2010), and the "top two” go on to the final election in November — even when the top two candidates are the same two people in June and in November, and both are from the same party.
CONGRESS: JARED HUFFMAN is running for his fourth two-year term, and will once again be challenged by Republican DALE MENSING of Garberville and Democrat ANDY CAFFREY of Van Nuys (formerly of Mendocino County, from where he ran this race two years ago; there’s no requirement that congressional candidates or members live in the district they represent.) Jared usually gets 70+% of the vote, and this year is unlikely to be any different.
STATE SENATE: MIKE McGUIRE, the 38-year-old energizer bunny from Healdsburg, who had already served on his local school board, city council, and Board of Supervisors before getting to the state senate, will be running for his second four-year term, challenged only by fellow Democrat and perennial candidate RONNIE JACOBY of Santa Rosa, a former city councilwoman.
STATE ASSEMBLY: MARC LEVINE is running for his fourth two-year term. Many progressives are not happy with him, and he is being challenged by first-time candidate but long-time progressive activist DAN MONTE, who is thus far struggling to raise money. Levine had in excess of $1M in his campaign coffers to start the campaign.
U.S. SENATE: DIANNE FEINSTEIN was first elected in 1992, but is now 84 years old. She is being challenged by fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, who just stepped down as President Pro Tem of the State Senate; more progressive than Feinstein, he actually got more votes than she did from the several thousand delegates at the State Democratic Party’s convention in February. However, in November, where these two top candidates will inevitably be the only ones on the ballot, Feinstein will presumably get most of the Republican votes, in addition to her advantages as the incumbent, with name recognition, far more money, and nearly 26 years in that office.
GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM has the been the frontrunner since he was the first to enter the race, has always been first in fundraising, and consistently, in the polls, although ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA narrowed the gap briefly a few months ago. The race now seems to be a two-way race for the number-two spot between Villaraigosa and the major Republican, John Cox, for the right to face Newsom in November. Newsom, even though he’s quite progressive, would wipe out Cox, but might have a problem with the slightly more conservative Villaraigosa, who could get most of the Republican votes.
LT. GOVERNOR: The top three, in no particular order, are probably former State Bar President JEFF BLEICH (also former Chair of the California State University Trustees, former ambassador to Australia, and endorsed by the Marin IJ May 24), State Senator ED HERNANDEZ, and former Ambassador (to Hungary) ELENI KOUNALAKIS. A possible wild card is GAYLE MCLAUGHLIN, the extremely progressive former Richmond mayor who is running as an independent, with little money but tons of volunteers and social media, commanding as she does many in the Bernie Sanders army.
ATTORNEY GENERAL: It’s still appointed incumbent XAVIER BECERRA versus Insurance Commissioner DAVE JONES and will be exclusively those two in November. When Kamala Harris went to the US Senate last year, Governor Jerry Brown appointed L.A. Congressman Becerra to fill out the final two years of her term. Jones (a former Sacramento City Councilman and State Assemblyman) is being termed out of his current office. He began running for A.G. three years ago, locking up the endorsements of the majority of Democratic activists and local office holders and raising a considerable amount of money. But Becerra has also done well in money-raising and is now about even with the more progressive Jones.
Not surprisingly, the race has gotten a bit nastier. Becerra lobbed a few accusations a few months ago that Jones was dishonest in claiming he’d gotten “zero oil money,” when he’d gotten a tiny contribution from a gas station owner. Recently, Jones has accused Becerra of failing to do a number of things besides suing Trump (and not even that, often or early enough). Endorsements by newspapers and major elected officials are split. But regardless of the vote total in June, the race may still change shape before the November election.
STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: State Assemblyman TONY THURMOND, from Richmond, seems to be the front-runner, with his major opponent being MARSHALL TUCK, who lost a race for this seat four years ago to then-incumbent Tom Torlakson, now terming out. Current TV commercials portray Tuck as a successful school reformer, and Thurmond as relatively inexperienced and a failure in school success efforts as a former school board member, so maybe we shouldn’t count Tuck out. Tuck is a big supporter of charter schools, which are becoming more controversial in recent years, and in fact many progressive candidates now refuse to take money from charter school sources, as it seems more and more charter schools are being owned and operated by private, profit-seeking corporate chains. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who really like charter schools, even if the for-profit minority are perhaps ruining their reputation.
STATE TREASURER: State Board of Equalization Member (and former S.F. Supervisor) FIONA MA seems basically unopposed for this open seat.
STATE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: State Senator Ricardo Lara seems poised to win this open seat, also relatively unopposed.
SECRETARY OF STATE: Incumbent ALEX PADILLA should cruise easily to a second term.
STATE CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE also has no serious opposition for a second term.
STATE BALLOT MEASURES
You may recall that a recent change in the law put only Legislature-sponsored ballot measures on the June ballot in even numbered years, and the ones put on the ballot by citizen signatures all go on in November (which is making those elections more crowded than ever). Usually in June, there are only a couple or so, but this time there are five (again, all from the Legislature), and to sum it all up, the California League of Women Voters recommends voting yes on all of them except the middle one – Prop. 70.
Prop 68: California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act
This relatively large bond, like its predecessors, is sometimes called a “Christmas Tree,” with ornaments to appeal to (and induce votes from) many groups. But they are good causes, and we are, in my opinion, still underinvested in most of these areas.
Prop 69: Motor Vehicle Fees and Taxes
This would restrict existing transportation revenues paid at the pump (gas taxes) and registration fees to ONLY road and transportation improvement projects. There’s no real opposition.
Prop 70: Greenhouse Gas Reduction Reserve Fund
This would require approval by 2/3 of legislators to approve funding projects from the cap-and-trade program, starting in six years. Opponents says this could lead to deadlocks, inefficiency, and poor decisions.
Prop 71: Effective Date of Initiatives
Currently a ballot measure becomes law the day after the election, but sometimes the results are close and in doubt for several weeks. This would change the effective date to five days after the Secretary of State certifies the results. It has no real opposition.
Prop 72: Property Taxation: New Construction: Rainwater Capture System
This would add an exclusion from additional property taxes for new rainwater capture systems. Again, we should always try to use taxes to discourage bad behavior, and tax exemptions or credits to incentivize good behavior, as this measure does.
U.S. SENATE: Everyone wants to know if the Democrats can take back the Senate in November in what is expected to be a blue wave (size not yet known), but the road to success is narrow. Of the 33 Senatorial seats up nationwide this year, only ten of them are held by Republicans, and except in Nevada (the only state Trump lost among those ten; the others are deep red), most of the incumbent Republicans look pretty secure – although there is a chance for a few upsets. Meanwhile, there are ten incumbent Democrats running for re-election in states won by Donald Trump, and five of them are currently trailing in the polls. But they say a month is an eternity in politics, so five months (until the November election) is more than enough time for the polls to reflect a reversal of fortune for the currently trailing Democrats if that blue wave indeed materializes, and is big enough, and holds. So the Democrats do have a chance to take control, but they would have to keep all their seats and take Nevada (50/50 at present) and one other state (e.g., Arizona, Kentucky, or Mississippi – all possible).
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The party in the White House nearly always loses seats in the mid-term elections, and the less popular the President is, the more seats are likely to be lost. Donald Trump’s approval ratings have set record lows for a first-year President (starting in the high 40s), and dropped throughout last year (to the low or mid-30s), although recent polls show he’s bounced back to the low 40s in recent weeks (50% in Orange County in mid-May), allegedly due to the tax bill which is somehow still viewed positively by surprisingly too many people. The Democrats need to flip 23 seats, which is doable with presidential approval ratings around 40, but in a huge wave year, they could take at least twice that number. Several could come from California, as we have 14 Republican Congress members (out of 53), seven of whom are in districts won by Hillary Clinton (but four of which are in Orange County, where likely voters approve of Trump’s agenda by an astounding 2-1). There are huge mobilizations from Democrats in those counties (with help from neighboring counties) to take those seats.
Greg Brockbank is a 30-plus-year attorney and civic and political activist, having served for 22 years on the College of Marin Board of Trustees and then on the San Rafael City Council. He is the senior member and immediate past chair of the Marin Democratic Party governing board and has attended 30 state Democratic conventions. For over 20 years, he has provided numerous groups with detailed lists of the contact info for all candidates for Marin’s local offices, and appears as a commentator and election-night co-host on public access television.