Reflecting the new “I’m-grumpy-as-heck-and-I’m not-going-to-take-it-anymore” mood disorder sweeping the land, even Congress member Lois Capps — who is typically allowed to hover safely above the fray — has been taking political flack, and dishing it out, too.
Less surprising is the fact that Das Williams and Mike Stoker — the Democrat and Republican candidates now vying for the 35th Assembly District — are slinging the hash. Given their personalities, it’s a wonder it took so long. But what’s startling is the extent to which the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups jumped in, supporting the innocuously named independent expenditure committee — California Senior Advocates League PAC — that’s spent $220,000 tarring Williams as a job-killing, budget-busting, tax-n-spend Dem and praising Stoker as temperate bi-partisan across the aisle kind of guy.
Conventional wisdom held that the race was Williams to lose, given the overwhelming advantage Democrats enjoy in voter registration. The fact that statewide fat cats are dropping both bucks and bombs suggests the race may be closer than expected, that might explain the sweat that’s broken out on Williams’s brow. Famous as the hardest working man politics, it appears Williams might have to work harder than even he’s accustomed to.
This being a non-presidential election, there’s nothing obvious to draw Isla Vista voters to the polls. It remains to be seen whether Prop 19 — which would legalize recreational pot smoking — will be the great magnet its proponents had predicted. The Prop 19 campaign thus far has been lack luster in the extreme. And besides, Williams — known as a staunch supporter of medicinal marijuana — has come out against Prop 19, in part, to curry favor with various police unions. (Williams has expressed concern that Prop 19 was poorly crafted and would create crazy quilt of conflicting rules and regulations throughout California.) Nor does it help that the local Democratic Party is broke — $10,000 in the hole — as party volunteers get ready for the final push.
In terms of relative throw-weight, Stoker is clearly winning the battle of the mailboxes, deluging Democrats as well as Republicans with snarky hit pieces — courtesy of Senior Advocates — prominently featuring disapproving verbiage that appeared first in the pages of the News-Press. Williams has countered by attacking Stoker for working as a private attorney for Greka Oil, which can rightfully claim to being Santa Barbara’s dirtiest oil company. And by far.
The fact that Stoker ever agreed to work for Greka seemed at the time an act of political suicide, but Stoker — a former state debate champ — insists he was brought only to help solve the problem. Although Stoker has matched Williams in recent fundraising — Williams having already spent a bundle in the nasty primary battle with former friend and colleague Susan Jordan — Mike has challenges of his own. As Republicans go, he suffers from the neither-fish-nor-fowl syndrome, meaning he’s too moderate to enjoy much of a bounce from the Tea Party insurrection, but too conservative, having worked as staff consultant for arch-reactionary State Senator Tony Strickland and his predecessor Tom McClintock. Stoker has thread that needle by avoiding the fact that he’s running as a Republican in many of his ads, targeting the large chunk of independent, declined-to-states and so-called Blue Dog Democrats.
Meanwhile the three-way battle for the hearts and minds of the 23rd Congressional District — now occupied by Democrat Lois Capps — is showing signs of uncharacteristic friskiness. Normally, Capps can cake walk into office without breaking a sweat or even raising her voice, facing a string of kamikaze, no-name candidates willing to take one for the GOP. The district boundaries were drawn to give Democrats a 20 percentage point advantage in registered voters so that Capps could cruise to easy re-election as long as she saw fit. Hence the name, “The Ribbon of Shame.”
Somebody forgot to tell Tom Watson, a feisty Republican with serious business and military credentials, that he was a sacrificial lamb. Likewise, no one told John Hager, a successful trial attorney running as third party candidate. Hager, who managed to insert himself into the race only after the primary by hiring paid signature gatherers to stand outside Trader Joe’s on De la Vina Street, has no chance and nothing to lose. Accordingly, he gets serious style points for tossing a double whammy into the race, one that tags Watson as a two-faced hypocrite and Capps as just another pay-to-play politician, trading favors for campaign donations.
Hager claims Capps took $14,000 in campaign donations from Paul Glenn, the chief executive and founder of Cycad, a Carpinteria-based venture capital firm. And that’s true. Hager also claims that Capps secured $1.6 million in Department of Defense earmarks for a company that Cycad has invested substantial sums in, Agile RF out of Goleta. It just so happens that Agile’s vice president of sales is Tom Watson, who personally lobbied Capps to secure the earmark. Hager has asked how Watson — endorsed by the Tea Party — can claim to be so against government spending when he’s taking government funds. And he claims Capps is doing favors in exchange for campaign payola.
Watson and Capps have both taken exception to this interpretation of reality. Watson has insisted that his company was making something of significant value for the military — special radio equipment — and he’s no doubt correct. He also claims that there is no connection at all between the earmark he secured and any interventions on his behalf by the head of Cycad, Mr. Glenn. Hager has yet to demonstrated that Glenn — who in fact did donate $14,300 to Capps over the years — lifted a finger on behalf of Agile, or that he even knew Agile was angling for the earmark.
Glenn, it turns out is more libertarian than Democrat. He has also donated to Watson. The Capps campaign said he’s bent Lois’s ear only once, and then to extend daylight savings time. It turns out, at least according to his wife, he was an avid golfer and wanted more time to play. She also suggested that he donated to Capps as a favor to her. She described Capps as a friend.
Hager, a liberal on social and environmental issues but a conservative on fiscal matters, could theoretically draw votes away from both Capps and Watson. But for voters looking for the plague-on-all-your-houses candidate, Hager by virtue of his non-affiliation, would appear to be their man.
Watson, however, is not going quietly into the seeming inevitability of Capps’s good night. He’s mounted a vigorous campaign, attacking her for supporting the Health Insurance Reform Bill, government bail-outs for the auto, housing, and banking industries, and the federal stimulus package. These programs, he said, are sucking much needed capital from the private markets, and scaring potential investors — who actually could help the economy — out of the water. He’s also attacked Capps for agreeing to debates only so late in the game that they no longer matter. He’s also blasted her for not hosting a real town hall forum where her constituents could really roast her for supporting the health care bill, as was done in so many districts throughout the country this past summer. Instead, Capps held a series of exceptionally controlled public discussions, in churches where seating was limited and participants would be on their best behavior.
With only a few days left, Watson is attacking Capps for taking money from lobbyists associated with oil companies — which she scoffed at — and for voting against Israel on a number of resolutions. On that Capps, cited letters of support from local rabbis and Jewish leaders. And she hardly turned the other cheek. She’s countered that Watson supports privatizing Social Security — which he denies — and that he wants to shut down the departments of Energy and Education — which he also denies.
The last debate took in the studios of KEYT. It was broadcast Sunday, just two days before the election.