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As someone who has lived in the 1st District for 20 of the last 23 years, I care deeply about the issues that affect it, and all of Santa Barbara County.
News coverage of the race and of the formation of an independent expenditure committee describes me as a friend of Das Williams. To clarify, I am a friend of Das Williams because I have worked with him for 12-plus years on a range of issues that matter to me — none of them involving cannabis — and he has consistently delivered creative and successful problem-solving strategies.
In 2007, when the City of Santa Barbara was facing hard budget choices, his understanding of the city’s budget structure helped to cushion the blow of severe cuts to Animal Control. Das’s early and profound understanding of the threat of climate change (he was driving a Prius before any of us) led him to advocate for world-class climate change legislation at the State Legislature, along with bills pushing back on offshore oil and gas development. These are issues on which I have worked for over a decade, serving on the boards of directors of SB CAN (Santa Barbara County Action Network), Get Oil Out! and the Environmental Defense Center.
Das’s skill and knowledge have had a real and substantial impact on us Summerlanders. The Becker Wellhead spewed oil for years, fouling our beach and sending fumes throughout our settlement. Das’s staff worked steadily with me and the Summerland Citizens Assocation to bring state resources to bear on the problem. When the state’s budgeted line item to re-abandon the well fell 50 percent short of the cost, Das personally advocated with the Governor’s Office for the needed $700,000. The well was capped in October 2017. Our beach is usable again.
Laura and I met last summer to discuss the possibility of running for the 1st District seat. I do not recall her mentioning cannabis. She talked first about what sounded like a need for a full-time job, since the school board position pays merely an honorary fee. She talked about running on sustainability and poverty issues; I pointed out that Das has strong records on both already and is a national leader on environmental issues. The only issue that she could claim as her own was campaign finance reform.
I respect Laura’s commitment to the issue of campaign finance reform. But I’m waiting for her to “walk the talk,” since she is taking contributions much larger than the $1,000 contribution ceiling that she is promoting. Campaign finance records show her taking at least 39 donations that are over her proposed limit — including some pretty hefty four-figure contributions and one that is over $25,000 from an individual with substantial business interests. As for her proposal that anyone in front of the board not be allowed to make contributions — as an attorney, I don’t see that surviving a court challenge and constitutional scrutiny under Citizens United (which unfortunately equates donating money with speech). Laura’s proposal sounds good to voters without actually meaning anything.
Das’s stance on campaign finance reform has been that the only way to ensure truly clean elections is to move to public financing of campaigns. As someone who has lived and voted in a country (New Zealand) with that system, I have seen such an approach solve the problem of “money in politics.”
I recently heard Das speak at an event about something he learned from Jerry Brown: that you “tell voters what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.” It’s a hell of a lot harder to get (re)elected if you do that, but I would far rather be told the truth than what a candidate thinks will get my vote.
I sent Laura an email last summer, urging her, if she ran, to run ethically, as a Capps would run. (Lois Capps saw my email and told me she loved it.) That would mean walking the talk about contributions. It would mean running on her own record, which rarely comes up as she relentlessly attacks Das. It would mean not belittling an opponent whose record of public service over nearly two decades has been exceptional, and who has made a real difference in the lives of the people and animals who live here. It would mean, if she is going to run on her family name, that she be mindful of what that name means to many of us in this community.
At the end of the day, I support candidates who have proven records of serving my community in ways that matter. I have little patience for people who, merely for their own self-interest, are willing to vilify a long time committed and highly effective public servant like Das Williams.
Editor’s Note: Laura Capps emphatically denies she discussed employment with the author.