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News Commentary | Laura Capps to Challenge Das Williams

School Board Member Set to Announce Bid for 1st District County Supervisor on Tuesday

Laura Capps | Credit: Paul Wellman

This story first appeared on Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts on August 22, 2019.

Laura Capps, school board member and scion of Santa Barbara’s most prominent political family, plans a formal announcement of her candidacy for the 1st District seat on the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday, Newsmakers has learned.

In challenging incumbent Das Williams, a fellow liberal Democrat, Capps will spark what is likely to be a bruising and bitter campaign in advance of the March 3 election, which will test and strain local political alliances, personal friendships, and loyalties within the environmental, education, and nonprofit communities.

The ongoing civic brawl over Williams’s much-chronicled crucial role in making Santa Barbara County one of California’s capitals of cannabis cultivation ignited loud criticism in Carpinteria and other areas of the district over his cozy relationships with big growers and key lobbyists in the industry.

Laura’s intention to run against Das has been an open secret in political circles this summer; without using her name, he referred to it in recent fundraising appeals.

 “You have likely been reading in the news that I am facing the threat of a significant challenge this year all over one issue — cannabis regulation,” Williams wrote in an e-blast to supporters this week.

The pitch for money reflects a strategic effort by Williams to portray Capps as a one-issue candidate, a kind of neo-prohibitionist Church Lady who opposes legal pot (she doesn’t).

In order to win votes outside the relatively small areas of the 1st District that have been extremely vocal about the local expansion of the weed industry, however, Capps will need to communicate a broader message than one focused on pot, not least because two-thirds of the voters in the district favored 2016’s Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use in California.

If she is to succeed in the difficult task of ousting an incumbent in a Democrat-dominated district who already has been endorsed by the party’s county central committee, Capps not only must demonstrate her own progressive bona fides but also make a clear and strong case against Das’s one-term record representing the district.

BY THE NUMBERS:  Although Capps struggled with whether or not to run, her final decision to move ahead was fueled by a recent private poll, commissioned by a handful of supporters who have been urging her to run.

As we previously reported

As a practical matter, however, the most crucial number yielded by the private poll is this: 44 percent of those surveyed said they are undecided, when given a choice between Williams and Capps.

With nearly half of the projected electorate undecided at this point, if the polling is accurate, it appears that Capps has a feasible opportunity to accomplish the challenging task of unseating a liberal incumbent in a heavily Democratic district. This means that the outcome will be determined by the respective quality and quantity of the three fundamentals of every political campaign — message, money, and organization

In testing a head-to-head matchup between Das and Laura, the polltakers posed the following question, rotating the names of the rivals in interviews with the 403 respondents.  

“If the election were held today and the candidates were School Board Member Laura Capps and County Supervisor Das Williams, for whom would you vote?”

The results:

Capps         32 percent

Williams     24 percent

Undecided  44 percent.

MEET ZACK, LAST NAME COMMON SPELLING:  Newsmakers has learned that Capps has hired campaign strategist Zack Czajkowski to manage her effort.

An alum of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, Czajkowski more recently won notice within national political junky circles for steering the Democratic insurgent campaign of Rep. Katie Hill last year, when she ousted a Republican incumbent in California’s 25th Congressional District, a bellwether race amid the party’s Blue Wave that claimed the House.

It’s worth noting that Czajkowski made his bones in politics as a get-out-the-vote field organizer: Williams, with a huge assist from longtime aide and Democratic operative Darcel Elliott, begins the campaign with a major organizational advantage, both because of the Democratic Party’s volunteer structure and because Das also came up in politics as an organizer and has deep precinct-by-precinct knowledge of the community and the district.

BOTTOM LINE:  Barring a supervolcano, Capps has planned her announcement event for 3 p.m. Tuesday, August 27, at the Mission Rose Garden, campaign sources said.

Lock up the kids, Maude. The Laura versus Das feud is about to begin.

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