The race for the 3rd District supervisor got a little more crowded this week when Santa Ynez Valley mover and shaker Bob Field threw his name in the mix. Field — a self-described old-fashioned conservative who has crusaded against development, wine tasting rooms, and vacation rentals — joins valley residents Bruce Porter and Joan Hartmann and Isla Vista resident Jay Freeman in the contest to replace Supervisor Doreen Farr when she steps down at the end of this year.
Until this week, Field supported Hartmann, with whom he worked to craft a proposal in Camp 4 negotiations with the Chumash. He even donated $1,000 to Hartmann’s campaign in December. But last Thursday, at a Chumash meeting in Buellton, Field dropped the bombshell that he would jump in the race to represent the county’s vast 3rd District, which spans from Isla Vista to the Santa Ynez Valley to Guadalupe, and determines the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors.
“Two things happened,” Field said of his decision. “As often occurs in the primary, the Republican candidate has a chance to win,” he said referring to Porter. “The more I got to know him, the less comfortable I became.” He called Porter “under-informed” and “mushy” on Chumash matters.
A retired U.S. Corps of Engineers officer and valley school boardmember, Porter has backed away from the “Republican” label, instead calling himself “middle of the road.” Porter added, “I would consider all three of [the other candidates] pretty far left.” A number of conservatives, including supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino, are backing him. And the Democratic Party is supporting Hartmann, a former planning commissioner and environmental attorney.
Although the seat is technically nonpartisan, blue-red politics play a role in both weekly policy decisions at the board and during the general election when the Democratic machine sets up shop in Isla Vista. Conventional wisdom says the election will be decided in November because there are four candidates in the race. And to win outright, a candidate needs 50 percent of the vote plus one. Out of the roughly 42,400 registered voters, 36 percent are Democrats, 28 percent are Republicans, and 30 percent declined to state. March 16 is the last day a candidate can file papers to run.
“If the race goes to November, and it’s Joan Hartmann against Bruce Porter, it would be Joan’s race to lose,” said longtime economist Lanny Ebenstein, who is backing Porter. In 2012, half the number of 3rd District voters cast a ballot in June than they did in November. “It’s largely based on the national ticket,” Ebenstein said. Freeman, a multimillion-dollar software company founder and the only South Coast candidate, could do better than people think, he added.
For his part, Porter said he was surprised at Field’s entry “because I considered him aligned almost exactly the same with Joan Hartmann.” As to the question of whether this spoils his chances of winning, Porter said he had no comment. “I just don’t know,” he said. In an email, Hartmann expressed similar surprise at Field’s candidacy. “He didn’t let me know personally until after he announced at the ad hoc committee meeting,” she wrote. Asked if anyone encouraged him to run, Field said no.
Field, who moved to the valley 18 years ago after a successful “dot-com” career in Silicon Valley, worked on the 2004 campaign for former 3rd District supervisor Brooks Firestone. But the two clashed after Field later criticized Firestone for leading a charge to allow non-agriculture uses on land protected by the Williamson Act — a state law that obliges a landowner to preserve open space for a decade in exchange for tax breaks — when Firestone owned such property. He later recused himself from voting on the subject due to accusations of conflict of interest.
This week, the rift between the two emerged in competing op-eds in area news outlets, including The Santa Barbara Independent. Firestone objected to Field’s use of his name in a news release announcing his candidacy, which he said implied an endorsement. His support, Firestone wrote, is for Porter. In an interview, Firestone said he did not believe Field would be a “significant candidate.”
Swinging back, Field wrote in an op-ed he merely used Firestone’s name along with Supervisor Doreen Farr’s to demonstrate his ability to work with people of different opinions. “I do not have Firestone’s endorsement, I do not seek it, and if he were to offer it, I would not accept it,” he wrote.
“[The 3rd district has] a long history of weird close elections,” recalled Shane Stark, a former county counsel. In 2008, the last time the 3rd district was an open seat, Farr beat valley resident Steve Pappas by 806 votes out of 35,621.