When you can’t endorse, predict Here’s how Voices (or Joe) sees local races will turn out

By Joe Livernois

This is the time of the year when political operatives are suddenly friendly with journalists and other newspaper wretches, beggaring for endorsements. They are friendly until they don’t get the coveted endorsement. Then they scream incoherently at journalists for portraying them as the unseemly cretins they are.

Endorsements are like notches on the rifle for candidates. Endorsements look nice on the campaign brochures and are soothing to a politician’s ego. But, as a former newspaper editor, I’m very aware that a newspaper endorsement and 25 cents still won’t buy you a cup of coffee. They’re really sort of useless because who reads a newspaper or a campaign brochure anymore?

That’s actually the great advantage of working for a nonprofit news operation. As a nonprofit, we are forbidden from endorsing candidates for public office. I don’t understand why that might be, exactly. It’s in the fine print somewhere. But I am grateful that Voices of Monterey Bay doesn’t have to suffer through the obsequious insincerity of politicians who need to pretend they care for us.

So while we are absolutely not making endorsements, that doesn’t stop us from making predictions about the outcomes of key races around the region on Nov. 6. Predictions are different from endorsements. We don’t do endorsements. The predictions we make are educated guesses based on our familiarity of the existing political climate and patterns we’ve observed in the area over nearly 35 years as a local journalist. In truth, some of these predictions might break our hearts, because we wish we could predict otherwise. But it doesn’t matter what we think, or whether our hearts will ever mend. Because we aren’t endorsing anyone. We can’t. Have we mentioned that we are forbidden from making endorsements?

So these are only predictions:

Congressional District 20: May we start with the slam dunk? The Family Name is up against Ronald Paul Kabat, a certified public accountant from Carmel. If nothing else, Kabat maintains a handsome website that urges voters to “beat the status quo” and that reflects a rather contained hysteria about sanctuary cities and the need for the border protection represented by a great wall. On the other hand, Kabat didn’t bother submitting a candidate’s statement to the county Registrar of Voters for inclusion in the Voters’ Guide.

Prediction: Jimmy Panetta, aka the Family Name

State Senate District 12: Anna Caballero, the former Salinas mayor, is up against Rob Poythress, a Madera County supervisor. Both candidates are spending an inordinate amount of time portraying one another as the second coming of Mephistopheles. Poythress is using his advertising dollars trying to convince voters that his opponent will turn Ma and Pa Kettle’s farmhouse into a heroin shooting den. This is perhaps the most ridiculous district in all of California; its boundaries take in six counties, from Fresno to Stanislaus to the eastern half of Monterey County. Caballero ran for the seat eight years ago, but lost to Anthony Cannella, who is being termed out this year. The position is usually filled by a Republican — it’s the sort of region that would actually elect Jeff Denham to Congress. On the other hand, voters in the district overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Barack Obama in 2012. Voter registration in the district is decidedly Democrat, by a 16-point margin. On the other hand, neither Clinton nor Obama are at the top of the ballot this year. On the other hand (and, yes, there are a lot of other hands in the District 12 race), Democrats are pouring huge resources into Central Valley congressional races in an effort to dump guys like Denham, so Caballero could benefit from that coattail effort. And for those keeping score at home, fivethirtyeight.com shows Denham trailing his challenger, Democrat Josh Harder, by about 2.5 points.

Prediction: Slight edge to Anna Caballero

State Assembly District 29: Incumbent Mark Stone drew a challenge from Vicki Nohrden of Carmel. This district includes the coastal areas of Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Nohrden is able to articulate her major policy issues on topics such as immigration and the gas tax without sounding like an outright nut. Still, smart policy-driven Republican candidates generate about as much support in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties as the crackpots that occasionally weasel their way onto ballots. Call it the Casey Lucius Quotient.

Prediction: Mark Stone in a cakewalk.

State Assembly District 30: This district makes about as much sense as a Fellini nightmare. It encompasses all the great regional farming areas in four counties — places like King City, Hollister, Watsonville and Gilroy. And Big Sur! Caballero is leaving this district to run for that Senate seat, and San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas is up against Neil Kitchens, a Salinas-area farmer with no real political experience. The district is solid for Democrats, regardless of the election cycle.

Prediction: Robert Rivas

Monterey Mayor and City Council: It only seems as though Clyde Roberson has been mayor of Monterey since he greeted the Portola expedition at the shores. Everyone knows him as Clyde. Or Mayor Clyde. At any rate, he drew a challenge from Bill McCrone this year. McCrone is well regarded as an advocate for Monterey’s historic buildings and as a critic of the city’s lease arrangements with the tycoons who operate businesses on Fisherman’s Wharf. The most intriguing candidate on the Monterey ballot this year is Tyller Williamson, an energetic newcomer who some believe would infuse some flicker of life into the stifle of City Hall. He’s challenging incumbents Ed Smith, the darling of the landlord class, and Timothy Barrett, the darling of niggling analysis.

Prediction: Roberson, Williamson and one of the other guys

Carmel Mayor and City Council: Dave Potter isn’t capable of puttering around in forced retirement very well, apparently. He’s doing quite a bit of land-use consulting these days, but he’s also running for mayor of Carmel, against incumbent Steve Dallas and a political newcomer named Gene Hughes. Potter is a consummate pro with name recognition who knows where bodies are buried. Whether that’s enough to uproot an incumbent who still boasts friends and supporters despite his comedic political performances and his problems with women is anybody’s guess. And while everyone in town likes to complain about politics in Carmel, this election drew but a single challenger, Jeff Baron, to the two city council incumbents on the ballot, Carrie Theis and Carolyn Hardy.

Prediction: Potter, Theis and Hardy

Marina Mayor: Monterey County’s most notable Green Party politician, Mayor Bruce Delgado, is being challenged by Bob Nolan, a retired police commander with the Marina PD. This is a race that leads Monterey County in the affability quotient. Whatever happens with the mayoral race, changes are afoot in Marina. Councilmembers David Brown and Nancy Amadeo are bowing out of Marina politics this year, and they will be replaced by Adam Urrutia and Lisa Berkley, who were the only two candidates to step up to the plate.

Prediction: Bruce Delgado has the incumbent’s edge

Seaside Mayor and City Council:  As always, Seaside politics is a bitter entanglement this election cycle, with a cast of desperate and angry locals doing weird and desperate things. Mayor Ralph Rubio is calling it quits, which opened the field and drew candidates Kayla Jones, a youngster who now serves on the City Council; Ian Oglesby, who has seen service on the council, and Lisa Anne Sahwney, a business owner. And it’s a crowded field for two spots on the City Council. One incumbent, Jason Campbell, is on the ballot, which, pound for pound, is crowded with some of the most progressive candidates on the Central Coast, including Rev. Sam Gaskins, activist Regina Mason, wunderkind Jon Wizard, and Dennis Volk, a city businessman. Jones might have been the mayoral shoo-in, except that’s she’s been the center of too much negative attention recently. There’s been some ugly money getting thrown around in these campaigns, which ought to horrify the entire populace of Seaside.

Prediction: Ian Oglesby, Jason Campbell and Regina Mason

Pacific Grove Mayor and City Council: You can’t beat Pacific Grove when it comes to civic engagement. Everyone is always in everyone else’s business in America’s Last Hometown, and it plays out dramatically every two years during the municipal election. Mayor Bill Kampe is stepping aside, and two councilmen — Rudy Fischer and Bill Peake — are joining a newcomer, Dionne Ybarra, in the race to replace him. Over on the City Council side of the ballot, seven residents are seeking three seats. None are incumbents, but Dan Miller has been on the council before, and his candidacy this year continues a decades-long tradition that someone with a “Miller” surname is on a Pacific Grove ballot. For the most part, the preponderance of short-term rentals in the city has sparked the current community-wide angst and hysteria driving this election cycle.

Prediction: Rudy Fischer is the coin-flip winner, Tama Olver and Jenny McAdams

Salinas Mayor and City Council: The Salinas political circuit is about as tame as we’ve seen it in decades — but it shouldn’t be. With a major housing crisis, an insane homelessness problem, and a city council hell-bent on looking at Silicon Valley as its knight in shining armor, the opposition should be greater and fiercer. And it isn’t, which it’s actually kind of sad. Mayor Joe Gunter has a challenge, but it’s the same fellow who challenged him two years ago, Amit Pandya. Councilmembers Tony Barrera and Steve McShane both drew opponents — businessman Anthony Lane and microbiologist Nona Childress, respectively. And Councilwoman Kimbley Craig isn’t seeking reelection, which opened the field to two newcomers, Christie Cromeenes and Andrew Sandoval. Thus far, everyone is comporting themselves like ladies and gentlemen.

Prediction: Joe Gunter, Tony Barrera, Steve McShane and Andrew Sandoval

Measure J: The private enterprise that sells the region the most expensive water on six planets is warning voters that Measure J would be a waste of money. What it would do is establish that public ownership of the region’s water system is the sort of groovy concept that Peninsula water consumers can get behind. It would also fund an analysis to figure out just how much it would cost to wrest the system from California American Water Co. Cal Am says it’s not for sale and even if it was it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of Portugal’s GNP to buy the system. They’ve done their own assessment. Okay, well, maybe not Portugal’s GNP, but it would be awfully expensive.

Prediction: Yes, by an 8-point margin.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited since its original publication to reflect that Robert Rivas is a San Benito County supervisor. The story originally had him serving in another county.

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

4 thoughts on “When you can’t endorse, predict Here’s how Voices (or Joe) sees local races will turn out

  1. Joe,
    I generally love your stuff, but this time I think that you completely missed the point on the Senate District 12 race between Anna Caballero and Rob Poythress. Basically what you had to say was that they were both running negative campaigns and that Caballero might get coattail benefit from the Democratic efforts against Denham and Valadeo. I think that you are not only wrong on both counts, but missed two much more important points.
    As you said, this is a Republican leaning district, despite a Democratic registration edge, because both Independents and Democrats in the Central Valley tend to vote conservative and the district is 60% in the Central Valley.
    Your assessment of coattails from the congressional races is off base because, in fact, only tiny corners of the 12th SD overlap Denham and Valadeo’s districts. Most of the 12th SD in the Central Valley is in the district of Democrat Jim Costa, a pretty safe seat that is not seeing a lot of campaign activity.
    You were also wrong in implying that both campaigns were essentially negative. While that has pretty much been true of Poythress, Caballero has run a pretty positive campaign, only hitting back when attacked.
    There were two big points that you missed. The first is the one that most of your colleagues in the media have been focusing on, which is that this seat, if won by Caballero, will give the Democrats a 2/3 majority again in the Senate. On that basis both parties have been chunking big amounts of money into the race, and that race will be determined much more by how those campaigns do than by any coattails.
    The second, and bigger, point which you missed has also been missed by media around the state covering this race. That is that in this sprawling rural district, with a huge Latino population but, at least on the Central Valley side, politically dominated by Anglo males, the Caballero campaign has been putting extraordinary amounts of resources into a strategy of expanding the electorate. Rather than following the conventional wisdom of going after the swing votes among likely voters, the strategy that gave us Donald Trump two years ago, they have been heavily targeting Democratic and Independent unlikely voters among women, Latino and the young with an extraordinary ground campaign. They have been putting out literally hundreds of canvassers, both volunteers and young people hired from the communities that they are walking in, to reach these unengaged voters, to deeply listen to them, and to motivate them to vote.
    Win lose or draw this strategy will leave the Central Valley, which has been a political desert for Latinos and progressives, with a huge cohort of young people who have political skill that will have impact for decades. If Caballero wins (and I’m pretty sure that she will) this will also give rural California a much stronger voice in the Democratic caucus where the real legislative decisions are being made.
    There are lessons being learned in this campaign that may well bear fruit in similar rural, conservative regions across the country in the coming years.
    Full disclosure, I have been working as an unpaid staffer on Anna Caballero’s campaign for the last year.

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