It was perhaps the most excruciatingly beautiful political throwdown in Santa Barbara history: Santa Barbara school boardmember Laura Capps announced Tuesday she was running for the 1st District supervisorial seat against incumbent Das Williams at a press conference orchestrated at the Rose Garden by the Santa Barbara Mission — under sunny August sky-blue skies — where Capps disclosed she once rolled down the hill as a young girl.
Surrounded by an army of friends, family, and enthusiastic, sign-wielding well-wishers, Capps — the daughter of husband-and-wife former congressmembers Walter and Lois Capps — vowed repeatedly to listen to her constituents, and not just special interests, and conduct herself with integrity. She spoke frequently of the “bond of trust” that must exist between elected officials and their community and of being a “caretaker” for the community. Reverend Anne Howard, who spoke before Capps, hit similar themes but more pointedly. There could be “no under the table contributions and no backroom deals.”
When asked if she was suggesting Williams didn’t listen or that he lacked integrity, Capps declined to comment, saying, “I’ve made my statement.” Capps never mentioned Williams once, nor did she so much as allude to the debate generated by the cannabis industry that’s consumed much of the supervisors’ bandwidth in recent months. Capps had been enlisted to run against Williams — who has aroused the wrath of anti-cannabis activists in Carpinteria who are upset by the persistent odor emissions of cannabis greenhouses — by philanthropist and publisher Sara Miller McCune. The cannabis issue created a wedge into which Capps — a White House staffer in the Clinton administration and a seasoned political professional in her own right — could insert herself.
The face-off between Capps and Williams — both progressive Democrats with strong environmental and social-justice platforms — could prove personally and politically painful for the party faithful. Capps’s core constituency is among Democratic-leaning women, while Williams is more rooted in the trade unions that have long supported Democratic candidates. Williams has already secured the endorsement of the Democratic Party and many of the key unions associated with it. In fact, members of the county firefighters’ union will begin walking precincts for Williams this week, and the election isn’t until March.
Capps, who has differed with the party establishment several times on which candidates it’s endorsed, reminded attendees that her father bucked the party establishment 25 years ago when he announced he would run for Congress and challenged the candidate selected by the party machine. For Capps, who ran unopposed for her current seat on the Santa Barbara Unified school board, this will be her first seriously contested election. By contrast, Williams is a seasoned shoe-leather and get-out-the-vote campaigner. But he hasn’t faced a serious contender since 2010, when he beat Susan Jordan for the State Assembly.
Williams said he intends to keep working on ways to address climate change and increase the capacity of the county’s catch basins to reduce the risks associated with flooding. Williams, who has received sizable donations from the cannabis industry, has argued that legalized cultivation is the best way to limit black-market operators. As for listening, he says he meets with constituents all day every day. He expressed regret that two such like-minded candidates would find themselves sucking up money, resources, and energy running for the same seat. “It’s kind of a waste when the country is going so crazy,” he said. “But I do sometimes enjoy the opportunity to go door-to-door to meet and talk with people.”
Undoubtedly, a whole lot of precinct walking will be going on in Montecito, Carpinteria, and Santa Barbara, which make up the county’s 1st District.