Perhaps it’s coincidental that The Santa Barbara Independent’s election endorsements are coming out the week of the Plains All American Pipeline oil spill’s first anniversary. Some “coincidences,” however, are worth exploring. This is one.
The Gaviota pipeline spill tells us that even in Santa Barbara County — famous for its stringent environmental regulations — there’s no such thing as being too careful about oil production. It turned out that a single oil company was able to eviscerate safeguards by simply refusing to comply. Likewise, we learned the federal agency charged with pipeline safety has been chronically underfunded and dangerously understaffed. Worse, it was too timid to demand the minimal tools needed to do its job despite repeated prodding by Congress. And despite the release of two massive reports last week, we still don’t know to what extent the damage could have been minimized had the cleanup operation been deployed sooner.
It’s also worth remembering how, in the past year, we were unhappily surprised to learn the federal government had been permitting numerous instances of fracking off our coast without notifying the public or public agencies. This information, by the way, would never have come to light had an environmental law firm not filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
In this context, we need to elect political leaders who get that oil is, in fact, a “fossil” fuel. We’re looking for candidates eager to move posthaste into a future that embraces new energy sources.
And to state the obvious — climate change is real. We recognize Santa Barbara can’t fix things by itself. But we need to do our part. We have no time for apologists who predict the free market system will devise the necessary technological quick fixes. We’d observe, perhaps unkindly, that no one can eat such pie in the sky when one’s head is buried in the sand.
24th Congressional District: Salud Carbajal
For the past 18 years, Santa Barbara has been tirelessly represented in Congress by Democrat Lois Capps, who is now stepping down. Given the unimaginably dangerous extremes to which the Republican Party is now hurtling, it would be self-destructive to send anyone with an “R” next to his or her name to replace Capps. Politics is a team undertaking, and most politicians, if they hope merely to survive, follow party orders. Given the kind of orders the Republican leadership has been issuing these days, we can ill afford to send them any more good soldiers. Of the nine candidates running for Congress, only two merit consideration: Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. No surprise, both are Democrats.
Choosing between these two is not easy. Both Schneider and Carbajal have long, distinguished careers in politics. Both emerged out of Santa Barbara’s moderate/progressive/environmental tradition. Both agree on most issues. And both would make a worthy successor to Capps in Congress. Over the years, we have enthusiastically endorsed both for different offices.
Of the two, however, we believe Carbajal brings the skill set best attuned to the demands of the position. A master practitioner of one-on-one, meet-and-greet politics, Carbajal — we predict — will be tireless in bringing home the bacon and indefatigable when it comes to constituent services. As a county supervisor, Carbajal was a reliable vote for major environmental initiatives, health care for poor kids, and changes to the county’s mental-health system. When it came to county budget shortfalls, Carbajal insisted the pain be shared by all departments, even public safety. When it’s come to helping constituents, few supervisors have ever worked harder. To the extent there’s a knock on Carbajal, it’s been that he’s too cautious, waiting until the last minute before taking stands on hot-button issues.
By contrast, Schneider is utterly dazzling as a policy wonk, and would — we suspect — prove to be quite inventive legislatively. As mayor, she presided over the most evenly split councils in recent history. Despite the polarized viewpoints, council meetings themselves ran smoothly and productively. On the issues, Schneider has supported gay marriage and gay rights well before it became politically fashionable. On occasion, however, Schneider has pushed initiatives before lining up the necessary support, forcing her to beat a retreat because she hadn’t done the necessary spadework first.
In recent years, the mutual estrangement between Schneider and much of the Democratic Party establishment became fodder for endless psychobabble speculation. Some of it stemmed from Schneider’s insistence that the freeway-widening project — as proposed — wasn’t good enough. She was hardly alone: The entire planning commission, the city manager, the city planning director, and the city transportation planner all agreed, and they happened to be right. Being right, however, got Schneider nowhere, and she lost a key vote by a whopping 11-to-2. She’d lost too many friends along the way.
As one bedraggled elected official recently explained, the art of politics is not losing friends. Lose enough, he said, and you become useless. To a remarkable degree, Carbajal — relentlessly and irresistibly ingratiating — has gone out of his way to make friends; he’s gone even further to keep them. That might explain why he never faced a single serious challenger in three elections. Today, Carbajal has raised more money than Schneider, and nailed down far more big-name endorsements, including the much admired Lois Capps.
Our point? Under new election rules, the top two vote getters in the June primary face off in November regardless of party affiliation. Theoretically, that means two Republicans could be running against each other. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’re backing the Democrat who can be counted on to support an environmental and socially progressive agenda, with the demonstrated political skills to win in November and represent us well in Congress. We urge you to vote for Salud Carbajal.
[We note that Carbajal named Independent publisher Joe Cole to the Montecito Planning Commission, and Cole contributed to his campaign. Cole, however, had zero role in The Independent‘s endorsement deliberations.]
County Supervisors: Joan Hartmann and Das Williams
The stakes could not be higher in this June 7 primary supervisorial election. Three of the five county supervisor seats are now up for grabs. Two are wide open. The political direction of county government depends on the outcome. Currently, the board is controlled by a 3-to-2 majority of environmentally minded moderates generally imbued with progressive social values. We think it’s imperative this majority be retained. Should this change, board chair Peter Adam — the most outspokenly and ideologically conservative supervisor in office — will control a majority that he helped bankroll. Adam passionately believes county government has exceeded its legitimate scope and function; he votes and funds accordingly. We could not disagree more profoundly.
1st District: Das Williams
Das Williams’s loud and proud brand of green politics is a good fit for the 1st Supervisorial District — encompassing Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Mission Canyon and Cuyama, and half the City of Santa Barbara. Few will work harder, and there’s no question Williams understands the chessboard of Santa Barbara politics and how the pieces move far better than most. Williams was first elected to the Santa Barbara City Council in 2003, as an outspoken progressive with strong ties to labor unions. Termed out after nearly eight years, he ran and was elected to the State Assembly. Now termed out again, he is hoping to come back home as 1st District supervisor.
We know Williams can be effective on the board because he was effective in Sacramento. There, he fought for laws to combat the effects of climate change, got Governor Jerry Brown to sign a bill giving Isla Vista a shot at some form of self-governance — however limited — and has banged the gong loudly to reform the screwy system by which many 9-1-1 phone calls are routed, a system that often results in potentially lethal delays. Williams has a strong interest in changing county rules to allow solar plantations to sprout up in the Cuyama Valley. He’s aware of Santa Barbara’s crying need for juvenile psychiatric bed space, and he demonstrates more than a passing knowledge of the county’s mental-health system and how all the parts fit — or don’t.
Williams’s biggest obstacle in becoming an effective supervisor might well be his own political ambition, either real or perceived. It didn’t help that Williams registered a political campaign committee to run for State Senate in 2020 just as he was filing papers to run for county supervisor. His sole opponent, Jennifer Christensen, has seized on this to paint Williams as an opportunistic short-termer already looking for greener pastures. Williams has a plausible, if complicated, explanation. That being said, we wish Williams would take advantage of a court-ordered additional environmental review to make a stronger stand on the increased congestion freeway widening will inflict on 12 Santa Barbara intersections — located in the 1st District. Christensen has taken this to heart; Williams should, too. But if Williams can show strategic restraint and work well with his board colleagues, we are convinced he will make an excellent supervisor.
Christensen, a lawyer and CPA working for the county’s tax collector’s office, is a serious candidate, but her insider’s knowledge of the county is no match for Williams’s overall know-how. His wide experience and advocacy for vital issues facing Santa Barbara, along with his extensive understanding of all layers of government, particularly state government, will be of great benefit for the whole county.
3rd District: Joan Hartmann
This one is easy. Of the five candidates vying for this open seat, Buellton resident Joan Hartmann is by far the most qualified. Hartmann has served with distinction the last three years on the county’s Planning Commission, sinking her teeth into land-use conundrums that promise to bedevil supervisors for decades to come. Hartmann comes to the post after a significant stint with the Environmental Protection Agency, where she focused on wetland protection. In addition, she was one of the citizen activists who enacted strict sprawl controls for the City of Buellton. And she was engaged in the complex water politics of the Santa Ynez Valley. With this background, some enviro-activists had hoped Hartmann would have been more of a flag-waver on the Planning Commission. Instead, she has shown up impeccably prepared, asked questions that went directly to the heart of the matter, and then argued her case forcefully and respectfully. Stylistics aside, we’re confident Hartmann’s will be a strong but quiet voice against new oil development and for preservation of the Gaviota Coast. Even those who’ve disagreed with her on the issues admit she’s been fair.
This character will prove essential for anyone hoping to represent the 3rd District, which includes diverse and conflicting constituencies from Isla Vista, western Goleta, and the Santa Ynez Valley, itself a circular firing squad of internecine neighborhood conflict. When it comes to balancing the desire for special events and wine tasting rooms against neighborhood peace and preservation, we’re confident Hartmann will be an honest broker. Of all the districts, the 3rd needs someone immediately conversant in the boring but crucial minutia of government administration. Hartmann is. And when she promises to respond to all constituent calls within 24 hours, we actually believe her.
Her chief rival, Bruce Porter, has an impressive résumé, as well, having attended West Point and served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before moving to the Santa Ynez Valley and jumping feet first into local school politics. We aren’t clear, however, where Porter stands on many issues and are given some pause by the $25,000 donation he received from a Sacramento-based political action representing energy producers — Keep Santa Barbara Working — and $10,000 he got from the family of County Supervisor Peter Adam.
None of the other three candidates have a serious chance, but Bob Field continues to raise legitimate questions about the number of special events and tasting rooms the Santa Ynez Valley can accommodate. Karen Jones has enlivened debates with an intimate familiarity with the valley and an earthy energy. Jay Freeman has provided a much-needed and very energetic voice to Isla Vistans — more often spoken about in recent years than spoken to — but we urge Freeman to give thought to dropping out and backing Hartmann now. Many of the votes he gets will come at her expense. If Porter can muster 50 percent of the vote plus one, he will win outright in June, and there will be no November runoff.
State Assembly: S. Monique Limón
Monique Limón has been blessed with natural political skills, a work ethic that won’t quit, and an extended family big enough to qualify as her very own get-out-the-vote machine. Limón’s passion has always been education. She studied educational access and achievement issues confronting underserved communities in graduate school and then put that into practice as an educational policy administrator at UCSB. In the last four years, Limón served on the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board. During her tenure, the district moved away from the no-tolerance policy that saw high numbers of suspensions and expulsions — particularly among Latino students. Instead, the district embraced the restorative-justice alternative, the theory being that kids don’t learn and didn’t learn from their mistakes when kicked out of the classroom. How successful that change has been has yet to be seen, but a report is due out soon. She also opposed new district policies to transition 100 additional special-education students from S.B. County Education to the school district, objecting not enough resources existed to adequately accommodate the new students. While on the school board, Limón exhibited keen interest in new legislation in Sacramento that affected education. When she goes to Sacramento, Limón will be able to craft such bills herself.
State Senate: Hannah-Beth Jackson
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote there are no second acts in American lives, but clearly he hadn’t met State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the Democratic firebrand now enjoying a most productive political reincarnation. Jackson served in the Assembly before, got termed out, and is now back and kicking serious ass, most famously passing a wage-equity law ballyhooed around the nation as an antidote to gender-based wage discrimination. Dust doesn’t have time to settle when Jackson’s in the Senate. Keep her there.
Yes on Proposition 50: Pay Suspension for State Legislators
Should state legislators suspended from office after being convicted of crimes still be allowed to draw their salary of $95,000 a year? Obviously not, but it happened three times in 2014. Proposition 50 sets out to fix that. For implementation to occur, two-thirds of the legislative body must vote to suspend the pay of an errant member. That may not be perfect, but if it makes lawmakers think twice about crossing the line, it’s good enough.