TINY BUBBLES: If forced to choose which of the two candidates running for the newly formed 24th Congressional District I’d rather share a few beers with, clearly Republican Abel Maldonado gets the nod. For starters, Abel wears genuinely cool boots. In person, Abel tends to come on with all the locomotive fervor of a Fuller Brush salesman on crack, meaning that he could be counted on to launch a preemptive strike against any looming conversational lull by declaring, as he often does, “Wahh-shing-ton is broken.” Best of all, Abel is beguilingly unpredictable. In the state legislature, where he served 12 years, Abel might vote against a bill in committee, then vote for it later on the floor. I can’t tell if there’s method to his madness or madness to his method, but I got whiplash trying to figure it out. By contrast, his Democratic opponent — well-known incumbent Congressmember Lois Capps — has been as boring as the North Star, a rock-steady reliable Nancy Pelosi liberal. While Capps hasn’t set the world on fire, she has taken pains not to burn it down, either. Where Abel embodies the rags-to-riches myth of the immigrant success story, Lois is so imbued with that self-effacing Scandinavian work ethic that, even if she had such a story to tell, she’d never do so. To the extent Capps betrays any conversational tics, it’s to remind listeners — with Tourette-like frequency — how she’s been a school nurse. Other than that, the most outrageous thing she’s ever said during her 14 years in office has been “No.” That’s when former president George W. Bush asked Congress for a blank check to wage war against Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack. No evidence then existed linking Iraq to that attack — and none has come to light since — but that didn’t stop the Democratic leadership from going along for the ride. Capps famously broke ranks, declaring the invasion of Iraq to be the wrong war against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. But that was 10 years ago. A whole lot of beer bubbles can go flat in that amount of time.
At a recent debate — sponsored as it happens by The Santa Barbara Independent — Maldonado declared, “I support the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I think we ought to end more discrimination or gender discrimination in America.” Capps countered that Maldonado actually had a poor voting record on marriage equality and gay rights, prompting him to retort, “I don’t know what bills the Congresswoman is talking about, so I’ll just leave it at that.” As recently as 2009, it turns out, Maldonado voted against a bill — SB 54 — that would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. In 2008, he voted against a bill that would have allowed the transfer of property among domestic partners. In 2006 and and 2007, he voted against measures — AB 1827 and SB 105 — that would have allowed domestic partners to be afforded the same benefits as spouses under state tax code. And in 2005 when State Senator Christine Kehoe introduced a resolution asking then-president Bush to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for gays in the military, Maldonado voted against it. To be fair, Maldonado did vote in favor of a bill declaring Harvey Milk Day in honor of San Francisco’s slain gay rights leader. For this, Abel took considerable heat from the Bible thumpers in his party. But it’s also the case that he voted against the measure, too. Abel frequently touts his propensity to reach across the aisle. Given his record, Maldonado could find himself reaching out to himself.
In Maldonado’s defense, times change, and people evolve. Certainly that’s been the case with gay rights. But on these issues, Capps has been the model of quiet consistency, not just voting against Don’t Ask, for example, but bringing the work of UCSB researchers — showing that gay troops do not, in fact, undermine troop cohesion — to bear behind the scenes on Capitol Hill.
For the past six weeks, anyone seeking to enjoy the sedentary pleasures of a simple football game has had to endure the televised scud missiles Capps, Maldonado, and all their proxies have been launching at one another. Even through this undifferentiated malignant din, I managed to be struck by Maldonado’s recent ad in which he — staring straight into the camera — very convincingly states all his tax liens were taken care of 20 years ago. In some parallel universe, this might be factually accurate. My sense is that Maldonado’s family farming business got hit with multiple IRS tax liens over multiple years to the tune of about $400,000. The most recent of these was in 2010. I know that a zero means “nothing,” but two years ago is not the same as 20. That being said, I’ve had it with the Capps campaign’s incessant harping on Maldonado’s tax problems. I get the strategic point, but even so, Abel is entitled to full bragging rights for breaking with his party in 2009 to vote for the tax increase needed to balance the state budget. By so doing, he effectively stopped his own party — then as now in the thrall of anti-tax zealots — from pushing the state over the proverbial fiscal cliff. And for doing so, Abel has paid an extremely high price. That needs to be acknowledged. I am less impressed, however, with his last-minute eight-point plan for fixing what ails the economy. As a gesture, it smacks of cosmetic surgery. In substance, three of the eight would restrict or freeze new regulations in an across-the-board fashion. Given the reality of climate change — conspicuously never mentioned in any of the three presidential debates — I’m not sure any such across-the-board moratorium is advisable.
The last time the “beer test” was put to voters in any serious fashion, we got George W. Bush in the White House. While I didn’t get much of a buzz during his eight years in office, I definitely experienced the hangover, now just lifting after four years. In the meantime, Abel, I’ll be drinking Guinness, but voting for Lois.