In the latest installment of the political soap opera now engulfing South Coast Democrats, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal put to rest months of intense speculation last week that he’d be running for the state’s 35th Assembly District against environmental activist Susan Jordan for the Democratic Party nomination. Instead, Carbajal announced he intends to remain in Santa Barbara, be an attentive father, and focus on the challenges now confronting the County Board of Supervisors. But the real punch line was that Carbajal-who in recent weeks has been uncommonly vocal about his displeasure with Assemblymember Pedro Nava, who happens to be Jordan’s husband-would be “enthusiastically” endorsing Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams in his bid for the post. That, of course, assumes that Williams will run. For the moment, he is strenuously studying his options.
Adding a dimension of weirdness to the personal dynamic, Williams and Carbajal, while both Democrats, have hardly been close. Adding even more, Williams and Jordan have a political friendship spanning 10 years, and Williams publicly endorsed her candidacy two months before she announced it in January. “I obviously want to run,” said Williams, “and the calls I get are from people saying, ‘You’ve got to do it. You’re ready.’ But it’s not easy given my relationship with Susan.” Furthermore, Williams will be termed out of his City Council position in December 2012. He acknowledged that term limits play a role in his decision of whether he should run, saying, “The question I’m facing is do I do it now or do I retire politically?”
In recent interviews, the normally cautious Carbajal has blasted Nava-who is now pursing his party’s nomination for Attorney General
-as being politically aloof, non-responsive, and indifferent to the desires of local governments. Jordan, he charged, would embody many of these same deficiencies. Before endorsing Williams, Carbajal had unsuccessfully tried to solicit other candidates to run against Jordan, including Santa Barbara City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Iya Falcone.
While Carbajal blasted both Nava and Jordan for opposing the unprecedented deal brokered by the South Coast’s environmental establishment with Texas-based oil company PXP. The deal would have allowed new oil leasing in state waters for the first time in 40 years in exchange for various environmental concessions, but Nava and Jordan contended those concessions were not legally enforceable.
But it’s clear Carbajal’s animus predates the deal and has a strong personal component. The origin of this ill will remains unclear, but Carbajal claims Nava has slighted him on several occasions. Nava declined to respond, other than to say, “My constituents expect elected officials to conduct themselves professionally. I’m not going to get involved in a political food fight.” Jordan also commented, “As a spouse, I don’t have a right to serve? Look at Hillary Clinton. I thought these attitudes were left behind decades ago. [Carbajal] owes the women in this community an answer.”
Whether over pique or policy, this rift could have significant reverberations. A moderate Democrat and popular political pragmatist, Carbajal enjoys strong relations with Congressmember Lois Capps, and boasts a campaign war chest that’s envied by elected officials throughout the county. Should Williams, an outspoken progressive, run, Carbajal could provide serious assistance.
While Jordan enjoys strong support among statewide environmental organizations-the Sierra Club’s Mark Massara came to her defense by attacking Carbajal as a stooge for the oil industry-she has never run for elected office and remains poorly known in Santa Barbara political circles.
By contrast, Williams is well-known as a tireless campaigner, with strong friends-as well as foes-throughout both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, both of which contain territory that comprises the 35th District-specifically Ventura, Oxnard, and El Rio from the latter, and most of the former’s southern regions in addition to Buellton, Santa Ynez, and Solvang. And as Democrats, either Jordan or Williams would seem to have a good chance at snagging the seat, as 44.5 percent of registered voters in the district are declared Democrats. (Another 33 percent are Republicans, while 15.8 percent decline to state.)
Certainly, the timing of Carbajal’s announcement was calibrated for maximum impact. It came directly on the heels of the State Lands Commission’s decision to reject the PXP deal, when many influential South Coast environmentalists remain angry with Nava and Jordan. While Nava and Jordan didn’t “technically” oppose the deal, they proved effective, and influential, in raising their concerns both inside and outside the state capitol. “People need to settle down and look at this rationally,” Jordan said, “to understand why State Lands rejected the deal rather than try to fix blame where it doesn’t belong.”
Meanwhile, Councilmember Williams- who was notably shy and late in his support for the PXP proposal-has given himself a week to decide his next step.