HERE WE GO AGAIN: Lois Capps may have started off as a humble school nurse — a fact she’s reminded us of maybe more than one time too many — but over the years, she’s morphed into a congressmember by tragic happenstance and subsequently into a bona fide political machine the likes of which South Coast Democrats and liberals have never known before. In so doing, she has achieved the exalted first-name-only status. Like Cher and Madonna, she is now simply and ubiquitously “Lois.” Over her many years in Washington, Lois has yet to pass any defining, signature legislation, a fact seized upon every two years by opponents who invariably make the fatal mistake of confusing niceness for weakness. Lois almost always wins the Nicest Member of Congress Award bestowed annually by Washingtonian Magazine. And just as invariably, the poor fools who run against her wind up flat on their backs, struggling to understand how they just got mugged by such a “nice” 75-year-old lady. This year, I have been notified by Lois’s spin machine that Lois actually got two bills passed by both the House and the Senate in just one week. Given that this Congress has established a new speed record in not getting things done, this fact qualifies as a man-bites-dog story of epic dimension. Both bills, admittedly, qualify as feel-good procedural baby steps, but ones that could conceivably eventually get somewhere and do some real good. One bill invites and encourages the National Institutes of Health to give the study of rare pediatric diseases higher priority. The other would allow federal health officials to explore the possibility of allowing HIV-infected individuals to donate body organs to others so afflicted.
Lois, to an exceptional degree, has hitched her star to Obama’s bandwagon and more specifically to his Affordable Care Act. It is then a little unfortunate that such a fussy control freak as Obama would roll out his defining program in such an abysmally dysfunctional fashion. And certainly his oft-repeated pledge that no one would have to lose their existing policy has been at odds with the reality of too many people. This disastrous start notwithstanding, it’s premature to declare Obamacare the colossal failure the naysayers insist; some of the problems — at least in big states like California and New York — are actually getting addressed. But politically, the program’s eventual success or failure could have a significant bearing on Lois’s chances of being reelected. It’s worth noting that of the Democrats deemed vulnerable to political extermination by the GOP in 2014, Lois — Dems outnumber Republicans only by 3 percent in her district — was one of the two who voted against the Republicans’ “fix” for what ails Obamacare. She voted instead for a measure crafted by the White House to keep those in danger of losing their insurance from being pushed off the rolls.
I mention this because two weeks ago, Santa Barbara’s ever inscrutable Councilmember Dale Francisco was quietly putting the finishing touches on the formation of a campaign committee to run for Congress against Lois. Dale, the godfather of the council conservatives, has been rumored to harbor congressional ambitions for some time. And you can see why. He’s smart. He’s shrewd. He’s strategic. He’s conservative. And he’s really, really bored. Ever since lefty firebrand Das Williams ascended from the council a few years back to take up residence in the State Assembly, the council has been drearily congenial. Where Das and Dale would famously fight tooth and nail over everything, including the setting of the council chamber’s thermostat, Mayor Helene Schneider has rendered what had been a spicy stew into a big vat of room-temperature tapioca. To keep Dale awake, Schneider seated lefty wanker Cathy Murillo next to him on the council dais. Given Murillo’s penchant for speaking from the heart and shooting from the lip, one would have thought Dale’s ever-expressive eyebrows would have cramped in perpetual arch mode. That they aren’t suggests Dale is overdosing on Botox injections or has signed up for a crash course in Zen equanimity.
What little is known about Dale’s ambitions is contained on the documents he filed with the Federal Election Commission, the most interesting detail being the signature of Chrissie Hastie, a Republican operative out of Las Vegas who signed on as his fiduciary agent. She runs a firm known as In Compliance, but in past elections, she was fined $3,500 by the FEC for being anything but in compliance when it came to properly identifying the slew of last-minute donors who gave former Nevada Republican congressmember Jon Porter about $40,000 in one of his campaigns. Porter, since voted out of office, was a right-wing whack job of the old-school, pre–Tea Party variety, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposing funding for Planned Parenthood, and in favor of a bill to make the PATRIOT Act permanent. Nevada Republicans — like Republicans everywhere — have since gone crazy, and their leaders are now trying to “walk back” comments made by some party leaders in support of slavery and against women in the workforce. In this context, Hastie has been associated with the party’s saner elements, like Governor Brian Sandoval. In any case, Hastie appears to be a formidable operator, creating no less than three political action committees designed to subvert traditional campaign reporting regulations in just 24 minutes, and raising huge sums of campaign swag on behalf of her candidates along the way. However “sane” Dale might be in the current context, he is a genuine conservative. He famously donated a couple hundred bucks to California’s Proposition 8 campaign — since overturned — which would have banned same-sex marriages. That puts Dale very much on the wrong side of history and in this district, especially so. Given Lois’s consistent leadership on gay rights — long before it became politically safe and trendy — Dale will need all the money a Las Vegas operator like Chrissie Hastie can muster if he wants to whoop ass on the nice school nurse.