Dec 03, 2019
The Brockbank Political Report
Marin’s November Race Results, a Preview of the Local Marin Races on March 3rd, and Yet Another Update on the Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates
Dec 03, 2019
By Greg Brockbank
Note: The views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect those of MCBA nor is this column an endorsement of any candidate.
LAST MONTH’S ELECTION RESULTSYou may recall that last month marked the last regularly scheduled odd-numbered year local elections in Marin (and other places as well); all of those elections have now moved to even-numbered years. In fact, all of them had already moved except for four cities that were given a little more time. Of those four cities, there was no election on the ballot in Larkspur, since only two candidates (Scott Candell and Gabriel Paulson), both new, filed to run for two seats, with both incumbents stepping down.
Of the other three, two (Fairfax and San Anselmo) had “traditional” at-large elections for two seats each. The third, Novato, had Marin’s first-ever district elections — three of them — all of which were contested and on the ballot. San Rafael will join Novato next year as the second city with district elections.
With one incumbent stepping down, that left Renee Goddard as the only incumbent running and hence a frontrunner. The other frontrunner was Cindy Swift — both were endorsed early by the only two countywide political endorsing groups: the Marin Democratic Party (technically, the Democratic Central Committee of Marin, or DCCM), and the Marin Women’s PAC (MWPAC). Not surprisingly, Goddard finished first by a healthy margin.
Swift had an equally strong second-place finish on election night, but over the course of the next few weeks, her lead shrank and disappeared to the ultimate winner, Stephanie Hellman. That surprised many, as Hellman was not as experienced or well-connected in town, except perhaps with Frank Egger, the 40-year councilmember who has since run for and won other offices, but for some years now has fought what he considers to be excessive housing in Fairfax. Apparently that sentiment won the day for Hellman, along with a last-minute get-out-the-vote drive.
As in Fairfax, we had one incumbent stepping down, and the remaining one, Ford Greene, running for a fourth four-year term. Also running were Steve Burdo, who lost his first two attempts at this office six and two years ago; Tom King, making his second try; and new candidate Kim Pipkin. Despite having lost twice before, Burdo seemed like the frontrunner from the outset, and in fact he received every group endorsement offered (quite unusual), including being the only candidate endorsed by the Marin IJ, and indeed he came in as the top vote-getter by a comfortable margin.
Incumbent Ford Greene was expected to win as well, as a hard-working and efficient canvasser, and generally mainstream Democrat who has many devoted fans in town. He did win, but he came in well behind Burdo, and almost lost at the end of the counting to newcomer Pipkin, who was endorsed by the MWPAC (Greene was endorsed by neither the DCCM or the MWPAC). Greene’s detractors note that he litigated against the town some years ago (he is an attorney himself and says he was defending himself against an attempt to drive him from his home) and has gotten into verbal altercations with the then-city manager and more recently with Pipkin immediately after a candidates forum this fall.
Here, two incumbents stepped down (one a few months ago), so there were two open seats, including in District 1, where well-endorsed and well-funded Susan Wernick handily beat Jim Petray, who someone said seemed like he was running to be the city’s CPA. In District 3, incumbent (and current Mayor) Eric Lucan, is now a well-respected veteran and mainstream Democrat about to begin his third term. Despite still being in his 30s and still ambitious, he won handily over Kevin Morrison, who ran citywide two years ago, and this time was even more of a bomb-thrower, distributing copies of his call for Lucan to step down because the city was a mess, financially and otherwise, and only he had the answers; the voters disagreed. Finally in District 5, another open seat, Amy Peele prevailed (again, with the two big group endorsements, plus those of many political insiders, and plenty of funding) over local realtor and HOA President Marie Hoch, as well as Melissa Galliani, who dropped out about halfway through the race.
A LOOK AT MARIN’S LOCAL ELECTIONS ON THE MARCH BALLOTThe even-numbered-year “primary” election (still called that despite our relatively new “top-two” system taking away some of the meaning of the word ”primary”) was once again moved up in an attempt to give California some clout in selecting the presidential nominees. This time the early date is March 3rd, immediately after the traditional first four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) have their caucuses and primaries in February, and when we will be joined by a large number of other states also on March 3rd — thus dubbing that date as next year’s Super Tuesday.
In addition to the highest office being on the ballot, there will also be the “lowest” offices: the county central committees for the political parties, including the DCCM, even though they are rarely on the ballot, and voters have rarely heard of most of the names on it, and rarely do any of the candidates ever campaign in any meaningful way. These races are an exception to the top-two system, and only the voters registered in a particular party may vote for the candidates in those races. The other partisan races (House of Representative in Congress, and State Assembly in the Legislature) operate under the top-two system, and Jared Huffman and Marc Levine will be re-elected to their two offices, after running in both March and November, regardless of party and primary victory margin, likely again without any serious challengers.
Although most of the local nonpartisan races have always been in the general elections in the fall, and will continue to be (with an even larger number of them starting this fall), there have always been, and still are, a few in the primary election, with a few more added this year as they were forced to move (either to the primary or general elections). Among the races that have always been on this ballot, the most important offices are the county supervisor races (three this time). Other races include several town councils (with two added this year for the first time) and two sanitary districts.
COUNTY SUPERVISOR RACES
In District 2 (Ross Valley and Southern San Rafael), incumbent Katie Rice is running for re-election to a third full term, after being appointed almost a decade ago to fill out the term of her now-deceased former boss, Hal Brown. She was an excellent supervisorial aide, but no one knew how good a supervisor she’d be (very good indeed, as it turned out), or how good a candidate, and that question was answered again four years ago, when she handily beat a current city councilmember and a former city councilmember, while avoiding a runoff, which most thought she’d be unable to do. No challengers filed against her at the deadline of 5:00 December 6th, so she gets another term without having to campaign for the next few months, which incumbents always hope for, but which really is a disservice to the voters, the body on which they serve, and to democracy, as well as to the candidate themselves, to be deprived of a campaign, even if it does save them a little time.
In District 3 (Southern Marin, including Mill Valley, Tiburon, Belvedere, and Sausalito), Kate Sears is retiring after about a decade, and like Rice, after starting with filling out the term of her deceased predecessor, Charles McGlashan. Sears is tough and smart (a former deputy attorney general in the antitrust division), and four years ago handily beat a challenger in a race expected to be close, but it turned out not to be as close as anticipated. The only strong candidate so far to succeed her (although there may be other last-minute challengers before the mid-December deadline) is three-term Mill Valley Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters, who is such an overwhelming frontrunner (endorsed by Sears and everyone else) that she might as well be an incumbent already. Other (no-chance) late-filing candidates includes Bill Bailey (no ballot statement = not a serious candidate), and octogenarian Jack Kenney.
In District 4 (West Marin, Greenbrae Boardwalk, the Canal District of San Rafael, and outlying pieces of Novato and Mill Valley), incumbent Dennis Rodoni is running for a second term, after succeeding the retiring long-time Supervisor Steve Kinsey. Despite controversies — which always seem to dog the West Marin Supervisor, including, this time, the San Geronimo golf course — Rodoni looks in fine shape to win another term, as his only challenger is late-filing Alex Easton Brown, who has run for several offices unsuccessfully in recent years.
CITY COUNCIL RACES
Ross has traditionally held its council elections in even-numbered-year primaries, and the tradition continues this time. Two of the three incumbents whose seats are up — Elizabeth Brekhus and Beach Kuhl — have taken out papers to run for re-election with no word from the city clerk on the third — Peter Russell. There are also two new candidates who have pulled papers — Ken Fineman and Mary McFadden — a race there looks very likely even if the third incumbent doesn’t run.
Tiburon is holding a special election for a single two-year seat to fill out the term of a recently resigned councilmember. Three candidates who have pulled papers are Jack Ryan, Daniel Amir, and Kathleen Defever.
Mill Valley, newly in this even-numbered year, will hold two elections: 1) its usual election for three four-year seats, with one vacancy due to Stephanie Moulton-Peters running for county supervisor instead of re-election, and 2) for a single two-year term to replace a recently resigned councilmember. Incumbent Sashi McEntee and new candidates Urban Carmel and Max Perrey are running for the regular seats, and incumbent Jim Wickham is running for the two-year seat.
Corte Madera, also new to this election, will hold its now-regular election for two regular seats, with neither incumbent running, and new candidates Fred Casissa and Charles Lee running.
There are two with scheduled elections: a large one (Ross Valley), and a small one (Almonte), with incumbents Mary Sylla and Doug Kelley running for re-election in the former, and incumbents Lewis Kious and Anne Lahaderne running in the latter.
THE LEADING DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
I’ve written about (mostly) these same top-five candidates for nearly a year now, every other month, although I’ll be moving to every third month (March, June, September, and December) next year. Although there are always new things to write about them, and new polls to reflect on, it’s amazing that so little has changed thus far.
For example, the top three remain the same, although Joe Biden has gone from solid front-runner to increasingly fragile front-runner, trailing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in some states in some polls, and in fundraising (especially cash on hand, which translates to fewer ads than he’d like). Warren seems to have passed Sanders for the #2 position, and some say she’s #1, passing Biden in some national polls, and is clearly on the rise, whereas Biden sometimes seems to be in decline.
Pete Buttigieg rose fairly quickly to #5 in the spring, after a surge that surprised many because he’s ”only” a small-town mayor, still in his 30s, and gay (both a selling point, and perhaps a liability, depending on one’s perspective), but then stalled out in polling some months ago, until recently. He’s currently in another surge, this one taking him to #4 at worst, and some polls show him nearing or overtaking the top three, including one poll a few weeks ago that showed him winning Iowa.
The debates have been extremely valuable in allowing voters to get to know these and other candidates better (although the viewership has gone from about 24 million to about a third of that). Candidates who have been in at least a few of them and are still stuck in the low single digits in national and various early-stage state polls (and who usually lag badly in fundraising as well) can now say they gave it their best shot, but didn’t get the traction necessary to see a path to victory. Many of them have dropped out already. Surprisingly, it hasn’t stopped several new candidates from jumping into the race recently, including Tom Steyer (a few months ago), former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in November.
In the case of most of these late entries, they should have jumped in much sooner, as too many of the key consultants and staffers are already committed to other candidates, and in most cases they won’t have the advantage of appearing in several debates over several months, and thus won’t even meet the polling requirements to be in any of the remaining few. Nor will most of them be likely to raise the needed funds (in a few months, instead of in a year), with the exception of billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg, who can self-fund. Steyer has been accused of funding more ads than the other candidates can afford, thus raising his polling numbers enough to “buy” his way onto the debate stage, according to some commentators and other candidates. Bloomberg has just announced that he won’t accept any contributions at all, and will be 100% self-funded, which means he won’t meet the donor number requirements to participate in any DNC-sanctioned future debates. He’s also skipping the first four states’ elections.
It’s hard to imagine any of them getting much, if any, traction, since talented candidates with better resumes have gotten little or no traction after campaigning for nearly a year, in some cases, including appearances in many or all of the debates. But Bloomberg could outspend everyone else several times over, and could appeal to moderates (especially if Biden continues to falter), and at the very least could take away enough votes from Biden to fatally weaken him, whether or not Bloomberg himself gets the nomination, or even close to it.
Many people think either Warren or Sanders should drop out and support the other, since their progressive platforms are so similar, but of course neither one wants to drop out as long as they are both consistently in the top three, as they have been, and both see a viable path to the nomination (and victory in November). If we had ranked-choice voting (also known as “instant runoff”), I believe an election this month amongst the top three would result in Warren and Sanders coming in first and second, in whatever order, with Biden coming in third.
Remember that only candidates with 15% or more of the votes will get any delegates at all in any given state, and most of the candidates are nowhere near that threshold, and will never get any delegates, even if they stay in long enough to compete in the first four states, then maybe Super Tuesday, and maybe beyond. Only the top three consistently rank high enough now in the key first four states to reasonably expect any delegates from those February contests, with the possible exception of Buttigieg winning some delegates in Iowa (although only in Iowa, and not the other three), which won’t give him much momentum going into Super Tuesday and beyond.
I believe the delegates will be split up evenly enough from the first four states that there will be no frontrunner going into Super Tuesday and beyond. Just as with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008, and with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, this primary season may well last all winter and spring, with the result uncertain until the very end. It’s hard to imagine Biden getting much stronger at this point, although if a half dozen of the other very-good-but-not-top-tier candidates eventually drop out and all support Biden, that could give him a boost.
Although polls vary, sometimes dramatically, from one poll to the next, and sometimes one month to the next, the last polls I saw aggregating and averaging the first four states’ polling amongst the top four candidates (from mid-November) show Biden at 26.2%, Sanders at 20.6%, and Warren at 19.2%, with Buttigieg barely qualifying for delegates in Iowa only (although rising in New Hampshire), and Sanders and Warren just under the 15% threshold in South Carolina. Those numbers can and will change, perhaps each week, but it seems likely that the top three will remain clustered very close together in polling numbers and delegate counts, so that no one has more momentum going into Super Tuesday than any other. I don’t know that any of them will have a decided advantage on Super Tuesday but we’ll have a clearer picture in late February or early March, about the time of my next column.
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.