Weekly column by Loretta Redd
As summer’s sun comes to a close, the race for Santa Barbara City Council heats up. With ten candidates in the running, political insiders have winnowed the field down to six or seven “viable” entries…which leaves a pretty large group from which to choose.
The Mayor, for all intents and purposes, is running unopposed which is a testament to her growing leadership over the past four years. She runs a council meeting with efficiency without being dismissive, which is more than I can say about prior mayors. With the exception of a poorly thought out tax proposal, she’s made few missteps.
Running for council is not as easy as it might see. Having subjected myself to this giddy game of political pandering in the 2005 election, and again for Das Williams’ vacated seat filled by Randy Rowse via appointment, I hope to educate both avid and reluctant voters on what it really takes to win, and why many of you will never see a single candidate standing on your doorstep during this election or any other.
First, I take my hat off with a very deep bow to any citizen who decides to make this journey. It isn’t for the faint of heart; it requires education, determination, unabashed persistence in asking strangers for money and support, and a clear vision of what you might hope to achieve in office.
Unfortunately, a candidate’s “message” is often contrived to appeal to the greatest number of proven voters, or is crafted to fit the issue “du jour.” The standard Santa Barbara message is about preserving everything from “quality of life,” to “uniqueness,” to “clean, safe neighborhoods,” followed by rescuing “young people” or “seniors,” or an occasional land or marine animal.
Candidates will study the demographics of the prior election voters, or at least they should; and design their literature accordingly. “Voters,” are defined as those with a history of actually casting ballots, not necessarily having the biggest blogosphere. In this town, they tend to be Caucasian, married, homeowners or high-level renters, they drive cars and usually have children or grandchildren.
Once a candidate qualifies to be on the ballot by filing the necessary paperwork, opening a campaign bank account, gathering necessary signatures from registered voters, selecting a campaign strategist, and writing the all important Candidate’s Statement, it is time to dive into the pool. Everyone is suddenly bobbing for early endorsements, media attention, attending fund-raising events, filling out questionnaires, meeting with deep-pocket rain-makers, power-broker politicos and members of the media.
As a Charter City, Santa Barbara may have a ‘weak’ council when it comes to absolute authority or garnering six -figure salaries, but the intense effort and shear stamina required to win a seat should be admired.
Back in 2005, I naively envisioned running as a “decline to state” candidate, hoping to take partisanship out of the council race and appeal to the common sense and values of voters from both political sides. Oooh, big mistake… or I’d possibly be finishing my second term about now.
Voters always say they want someone who is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, though that puts a candidate in the proverbial “middle of the road.” I should have listened to Texas Governor Ann Richards who once shared with me, “Honey, there are only two things in the middle of the road: a yellow stripe or a dead armadillo.”
Standing on principle is lovely in high school civics class, but learning to play the game of political favorites, while walking that fine line of subtle promises for higher salaries or tighter regulations or cleaner streets or cheaper housing, is an art form in itself. I was flying pretty high initially, with the support of ex-Mayor Harriet Miller, an early endorsement by the Women’s Political Committee, and the surprising support of the Police Officer’s Association union.
For a walk down memory lane, other candidates in the 2005 city council race included : Iya Falcone, Roger Horton, Grant House, Dianne Channing, Terry Tyler, Charles Quinteros and Bob Hansen. Mayor Marty Blum, relatively unopposed by Lanny Ebenstein, Matthew Kramer, Thinker Bill Hackett or Ken Heimbaugh, designed and promoted her preferred slate of candidates: Horton, Falcone and House. Unlike previous races, the three candidates appeared on signs and literature as a unit; and she got her wish.
The Independent also supported the tripartite; Horton was selected for his promotion of commuter rail between Goleta and Ventura, as well as child care and affordable housing. They thought House would be indispensible in crafting the General Plan, and declared that Falcone “demonstrated a hard-nosed efficiency when it comes to getting things done behind the scenes.”
All I know is that our City’s financial resources pretty much went into the tank until Mayor Schneider appeared, and the fiscal oversight crowd of Francisco, Hotchkiss and Rowse hit the dais.
In order to get elected in Santa Barbara, attention must be paid to a myriad of groups that send out invitations to endorsement interviews or ask the candidate to respond to written questionnaires. The answers are rarely made public by the groups, and video of the interviews is never released that I know of.
Here’s a sampling of the groups from 2005– outside of the media and the League of Women Voters–that asked me for information and feedback to their rather specialized interests: Tri-Counties Central Labor Council (78,000 AFL-CIO members) – Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Santa Barbara Police Officers Association, Local SEIU 620, the Political Action Committee of SB Association of Realtors, The Men and Women of the SB City Firefighters for Better Government, the Santa Barbara Youth Council, the Greater Santa Barbara Lodging Association, Rental Property Association, and finally, SB CAN which asked about support for the “HOT Project” of housing, open space and transportation.
As it turned out, none of the traditional topics determined the outcome of the election. The surprising “dark horse” issue in this race was The Living Wage. I determined that it was crafted by the SEIU and designed mostly to force janitorial contracts from ServiceMaster company to the union sector, by requiring a different scale of wages. I thought it was poorly written, required a citizens oversight committee staffed by costly city workers, and would result in limiting the award of contracts to larger corporations, causing a net loss of local jobs.
But logic doesn’t matter in council races–image and emotions do. I lost the support of several liberal groups and the volunteers that came with them.
Part 2, tomorrow…