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News Commentary | Who’s Up, Down, and Out in Weed Wars

Laura Capps Considers Bid Against Supervisor Das Williams

Das Williams and Laura Capps | Credit: Paul Wellman File

This story first appeared on Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts on June 21, 2019.

Community conflict over cannabis remains Topic A in Santa Barbara’s political whirl, more than a week after the L.A. Times dropped its epic take on how the county came to be California’s capital of cultivation.

The story fueled a political narrative, pushed by a posse of outraged citizens, galvanized by Carpinteria-based national journalist Ann Louise Bardach, that casts Supervisor Das Williams as the villain of the piece — an alleged Rasputin of Reefer responsible for passage of a county pot ordinance heavily weighted toward growers that, among other features, has yielded the two largest weed tracts on the planet.

No surprise, Das takes great issue with this baleful characterization, and defended the equity of the ordinance, not to mention his pure and blameless heart, in an appearance last week before the Carpinteria City Council, which unanimously passed a measure condemning the county for ignoring local concerns on Monday night before multitudes.

As the two sides of the story clashed at the event, ably chronicled by no less a figure than the Angry Poodle, Mr. Cranky Pants cast his failing eyesight upon the political landscape, in an effort to map its latest contours amid the fog of war and the haze of herb.

JOE SAYS NO: Attorney Joe Cole, former chair of the Montecito Planning Commission, knocks down speculation that he’s plotting a challenge to Das, who’s running for reelection in the 1st District, which includes Carp, Montecito, and much of the city.

As the anti-Das forces actively seek to recruit a worthy contender into the race, Joltin’ Joe told us his campaign timetable is “never in a million years” and cited William Tecumseh Sherman’s iconic quote: “’If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.’”

LAURA SAYS MAYBE. Laura Capps, nonprofit consultant and veep of the S.B. school board, is being heavily importuned to launch an insurgent, if decidedly uphill, bid against Das, so it seemed noteworthy that she was sitting in the front row at the big Carp meeting.

“I’m considering it,” is all Laura, a frequent panelist on Newsmakers TV, would say about the matter; for a reporter who’s frittered away decades interpreting the carefully calibrated words of politicians, the comment seemed an intriguing, if slight, advance over “I haven’t ruled it out,” which she’s uttered as her stock comment in recent weeks. 

INSTANT ANALYSIS:  Laura would enjoy significant assets in a campaign against Das, starting with her last name, not to mention skill for political messaging, policy chops, born-and-raised community connections, and enough campaign angels to counter-balance, if not overcome, the natural fundraising advantage of the incumbent. 

Despite a bad news cycle, Das remains formidable, however, and make no mistake: Her candidacy would set off a brawl that would test and strain Democratic alliances, friendships, and factions.

Das, who made his bones building and running field operations for Dem candidates, would start with a considerable edge in campaign organization, buttressed by ideological support mustered and rallied by, among others, behind-the-scenes partisan bigwig Daraka Larimore-Hall, for whom trying to take out a true-blue progressive like Das would amount to heresy.

TIMES A-WASTIN’: Don’t forget that the Legislature and ex-Governor Jerry Brown advanced the date of the 2020 statewide primary, when the 1st District seat will be on the ballot, from its traditional perch in June to next March 3, in a bid to make California more relevant in the presidential race.

This means that the legal deadline for filing candidacy papers is December 6, with the filing period officially opening on November 12. As a practical matter, Capps would have to make her choice long before that; for starters, the local Dem central committee is scheduled to hold its endorsement meeting for the seat on July 11. Stay tuned.

GOOD GOLLY MS. MOLLIE:  It seems to have escaped notice that the single biggest winner amid all the sturm und drang stirred up by the Times pot piece is S.B.überpolitical consultant Mollie Culver, who benefited simply by the fact that her name never appeared in reporter Joe Mozingo’s yarn; instead he noted merely that Supervisor Gregg Hart had hired an unnamed “marijuana lobbyist as his chief of staff.” 

An old-school consultant who believes that keeping a low-profile is good business, Mollie played a key behind-the-scenes role as an advocate for the industry during the drafting of the county’s cannabis ordinance; during the same period, she managed campaigns for Rep. Salud Carbajal, S.B. Mayor Cathy Murillo, S.B. Councilmember Eric Friedman, and Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte, among others.

In 2017 she also worked on behalf of Gregg, who won a walkover council victory in the city’s District 6, before he promptly turned around and won election to the Board of Supes in 2018, whereupon he made Mollie his top aide at the county.

Perched on the public payroll, Mollie recently added two new, Democratic-endorsed clients to her city council stable — appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon in District 6 and Planning Commissioner Mike Jordan, an early favorite in District 2 — and now sits atop the local consultant heap. 

THIS JUST IN:  All that said, Newsmakers has learned that Mollie no longer is Salud’s campaign consultant — our man in Washington has hired on the steadfast veteran Ben Romo for that gig. News you’ll read nowhere else.

PIC TELLS 1,000 WORDS:  Amid its Proustian-length verbiage, the Times piece also was notable for superb art — don’t miss the one-minute, drone’s eye video of 30 acres of pot hoop houses in the Santa Rita Hills — which included a droll image of deputy County Executive Officer Dennis Bozanich.

Bozanich, aka “The Pot Czar,” is pictured with his schnoz buried in a ganja plant, copping a big ole snuffle of weed as if inhaling a fine chardonnay.

“The picture of Czar Bozanich speaks acres and acres of words,” writes one loyal reader. “He should be sniffing his own fingers.”

It’s worth noting that while Bozanich’s policy acumen shaped a local law that led to an outbreak of political hostilities, the city of Santa Barbara has rolled out its own ordinance with little outcry over similar issues. A Newsmakers‘ tip-o-the-hat for that to Anthony Wagner, civilian PIO for the S.B. Police Department, who did much of the heavy lifting on it. 

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