Waiting in the (Right) Wing

Mike Stoker’s Upset GOP Assembly Bid Aided by Democratic Primary Battle

Republican Mike Stoker faces a daunting challenge in trying to steal the seat in a South Coast Assembly district dominated by Democrats — but right now he’s feeling good about his chances.

“I like where we’re at,” said the onetime county supervisor and veteran of Santa Barbara political wars. “We’re just sitting and watching.”

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Facing a steeply uphill struggle to capture the 35th Assembly District, where Democrats hold a 48-28 percentage edge in voter registration over Republicans, the 54-year-old Stoker views the changing political landscape as open to an upset. He points to recent surprise GOP victories in high-profile races in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia as evidence of a rising anti-Democrat national political tide, a suggestion backed up by a new Field Poll that indicates voters in deficit-ridden California strongly favor more cuts in government spending.

“In this climate, anyone who can make their opponent look like more of the same — whether it’s on public-employee pensions and salaries, spending and taxes, or job losses — can win,” he said. “Voters want a new direction.”

The key factor for Stoker, however, is that the top Democratic contenders — environmental advocate Susan Jordan and Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams — are engaged in a tough struggle for their party’s nomination, which he hopes becomes a full-scale, 15-round political brawl.

“It’s shaping up to be one of the most negative primaries in the recent history of Santa Barbara,” Stoker chortled. “Whoever wins it will come out of it debt-ridden and with high unfavorables, [and] the day after the primary, I expect to be sitting on $200,000 or $300,000.”

The Jordan-Williams battle began last year, with a sharp disagreement on the controversial Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil project — he endorsed it while she’s worked hard to defeat it.

The conflict escalated in recent weeks with a skirmish over campaign tactics. It began when Williams’s allies blamed Jordan for a flyer attacking him for his support of a 2008 green energy ballot initiative opposed by unions. The piece became public after being prepared for internal use by the local labor federation weighing an endorsement. (The group issued a dual endorsement.)

Team Williams fired back with a mailer, sent out by a state Democratic Party functionary, which slammed Jordan for once working for a New York-based political consulting firm that’s had some Republican clients, suggesting this means she held conservative stances on issues like environmental protection and abortion rights. When Jordan cried foul on the mailer, Williams rather unctuously demanded she join him in signing a “clean campaign pledge.” She answered by noting that she’s already agreed to such a “fair campaign pledge” sponsored by the state party.

The intraparty conflict is sharpened by the longtime bitter rivalry between Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who backs Williams, and Assemblymember Pedro Nava, the current, termed-out occupant of the 35th District seat, who’s married to Jordan. Whether matters between the two Democratic Assembly candidates escalate in the months until the June 8 primary, or remain in a state of uneasy ceasefire, it’s clear which alternative the likely Republican nominee is rooting for.

“They’re going to have to take the gloves off,” said Stoker, who faces only token GOP opposition. “It’s going to get very, very nasty.”

What’s next for Maldo: L.A. Democratic Assemblymember John Pérez made history in Sacramento this week, becoming the first openly gay person to win the prestigious post of Speaker of the Assembly.

Amid the formal celebration of his election on Monday, however, insiders were also buzzing about comments he made that seemed to revive the chances of state Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) winning confirmation as Lieutenant Governor, a situation filled with political implications for Santa Barbara County. Pérez, joined by Nava and other Latino lawmakers, led last month’s Democratic effort in the Assembly that defeated Governor Schwarzenegger’s nomination of Maldonado to fill the open seat. Shortly before taking over as Speaker, however, Pérez told the Sacramento Bee that Maldonado “definitely has a better chance today than he did the last time he was up for a vote.”

Pérez continued, “I’ve given him some advice that I think increases his chances of being confirmed. People had serious concerns, and hopefully, this additional time gave him the opportunity to address those concerns.”

The biggest guessing game in the Capitol this week was what, exactly, Pérez’s “advice” was, and how effective it will be in helping Maldonado and Schwarzenegger revisit the nomination. Whatever else it means, holding out the promise for Maldonado at the start of his tenure gives Pérez a bargaining chip for dealing with the governor on the budget and other issues.


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