The biggest winner at a key gathering of hard-core Democratic Party activists in Santa Barbara last weekend was an endlessly patient grassroots volunteer named David Atkins.
It fell to him to herd the cats, as four local hopefuls — Mayor Cathy Murillo, S.B. Councilmember Jason Dominguez, City College Trustee Jonathan Abboud, and women’s health advocate Elsa Granados — competed for the state party endorsement of their bids for the 37th Assembly District seat.
Atkins, the California Democratic Party’s director for Region 10, which includes Santa Barbara, Ventura, and S.L.O. counties, presided over an endorsement process slightly more complicated than quantum physics, as dozens of activists representing state leadership, county central committees, local clubs, and elected officials met inside the main library’s Faulkner Gallery — while others checked in via email.
Not for nothing did Will Rogers say, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I am a Democrat.”
In the end, none of the four candidates hit the 70 percent vote threshold needed to secure the endorsement — nor even the 50 percent level needed to bring the question before next month’s state convention (don’t ask).
This means that no one will carry the Democratic Party seal of approval into the March 3, 2020 primary election— an imprimatur that can be a critical signifier in a race like this one, which political professionals term a “low information” contest.
As a political matter, the event nevertheless represented an early test of strength. Some winners and losers:
Cathy Murillo. Alcaldesa finished second, with 19 of 68 votes cast (28 percent), but the fact that no one else won endorsement was a tactical victory, as it freezes in place her early front-runner position. Beyond name recognition, Cathy is expected to enjoy advantages on funding (think: unions) and organization (viz: strategist Mollie Culver and her Sacramento connections); notably, she also was the only rival to mention actual state issues, including Proposition 13 and the gig economy law, in Saturday’s speeches.
Jonathan Abboud. The 27-year-old director of the Isla Vista Community Services District finished first — with 24 votes (35 percent), a tribute to organizing skills honed at UCSB and his base among young woke progressive activists. That cohort bears scant resemblance to the universe of 250,000 voters in the sprawling district, however, where campaigning is different than running in I.V.
Dem Women. Boardmembers of S.B.’s autonomous Democratic Women’s club —along with incumbent Assemblymember Monique Limón and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson — voted “no endorsement,” a stance that captured one-fourth of the ballots. That makes the club’s endorsement, to come after candidate registration closes in December, more valuable.
Jason Dominguez. Putting aside the troublesome fact that he’s running for Assembly while simultaneously seeking council reelection, Jason won a grand total of six votes, a reflection of gnarly relationships with party insiders. That said, Jason’s independent streak could appeal to Ventura County voters, generally more moderate than Santa Barbara libs.
Elsa Granados. The executive director of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (formerly the Rape Crisis Center) is a lifelong Democrat making her first run for office. A legislative seat is a tough entry-level job to win, however, and she captured only four votes.
Steve Bennett. After much speculation, the Ventura County Supervisor was MIA on Saturday. Bennett famously quit a congressional race several years ago, and his no-show secures his reputation as a political window shopper.