Williams Wins Tug of War over Chamber Endorsement

Freeway Widening Proves Decisive

Liberal Democratic State Assemblymember Das Williams was endorsed by the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce in his bid to become the next 1st District County Supervisor despite an intense backlash from some chamber members who contended his voting record in Sacramento was consistently hostile to a pro-business agenda. Initially, chamber leadership had planned to announce its endorsement of Williams over Jennifer Christensen — a more business-minded, decline-to-state-party-preference, first-time candidate — late last week, but the internal turmoil generated by Williams’s nomination put the announcement and endorsement on temporary hold. Some chamber leaders met this Monday to hash out the matter some more, but by Tuesday no decision had been announced.

For Williams — a liberal Democrat with a reputation as a strong environmentalist — the chamber endorsement comes as a strong symbolic victory, but with the timing of the announcement made just days before the election, it may have little impact.

Christensen supporters objected that Williams has consistently garnered low scores by the California Chamber of Commerce — in part for his support of a $15 minimum wage — which gives all legislators annual report cards. Santa Barbara Chamber Chief Ken Oplinger acknowledged these criticisms, but said they were outweighed by Williams’s unequivocal support for the freeway-widening project, which he described as the single most important business issue confronting the South Coast.

Christensen said she, too, supports the freeway widening, but only if its environmental impacts were adequately mitigated, and the project was fiscally sound and included all the necessary design elements. Williams — in interviews and in debates — has endorsed the project as currently approved and argued that it’s time to begin construction.

Christensen supporters within the chamber have questioned the process by which the endorsement was made and to what extent it reflected chamber membership.

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