When political muscle for local candidates goes astray Shenanigans expose the folly of party politics in nonpartisan races

| POLITICS

By Joe Livernois

With less than a month remaining until the general election, shenanigan efforts to game the system have ramped up in almost comedic fashion. Citing tactics that are as weird, as dubious and as obvious as anything happening in Washington D.C. these days, leaders of Monterey County Democrats say that Steve McShane and Luis Alejo have teamed up in an effort to deceive voters in Monterey County with the notion that McShane enjoys unwavering support among institutional Democrats.

If there was ever a situation that illustrates the potential for folly when local political parties insinuate themselves into nonpartisan local elections, the slithery situation that officials from the Monterey County Democratic Party now find themselves in with McShane and Alejo is a perfect example.

It’s naive and it’s probably downright stupid to think that political people aren’t going to politick. And local bosses from both parties have been grooming candidates and issuing endorsements for every two-bit  race on the Central Coast since Steinbeck roamed the land. But these relatively useless endorsements can often lead to much internecine squabbling and time-wasting damage control measures that expose divisions in a political party. And they expose these divisions at the precise time  — the general election — when party unity is most important. 

The saga of McShane, Alejo and something called the Salinas Valley Democratic Club is the most recent case in point.

McShane is a born-again Democrat, a Salinas city councilman who hopes to win a paying job on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. He’s spent in the $700,000 range so far to convince voters he’s the right man for the job. He even switched his party affiliation, coming to Democrat Jesus not long before the election cycle, likely because he recognized that the supervisor’s district he hoped to win is hopelessly filled with liberals, progressives and voters of that ilk. 

The current occupant, Supervisor Jane Parker, is a reliable progressive that liberals like Alejo despise because she’s never been much interested in genuflecting to big-money interests. Parker is stepping down at the end of this term, and McShane is running against Parker’s aide and acolyte, Wendy Root Askew.

Alejo, a Monterey County supervisor who works alongside Parker, is a big-time supporter of McShane. He donated $1,500 to McShane’s campaign.  (Editor’s note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect the amount of money Alejo has contributed to McShane.)

Root Askew cleaned McShane’s clock in the primary election back in March, but she failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing the runoff on Nov. 3. 

Now enter the local party hacks. Along with dozens of other endorsements for nonpartisan local offices like city councils and school boards, the Monterey County Democratic Party suggested that like-minded liberals support Root Askew for supervisor. They’ve since mailed voting guides that include Root Askew as among their favored candidates.

Then, earlier this week, voters in the 4th Supervisorial District received a mailer from McShane which seemed to indicate that Democrats are head-over-heels in love with him. The mailer was headlined as an “Official Voter Guide” from something called the “Salinas Valley Democrats,” and it shows McShane listed among four other rip-roaring Democrats, including Joe Biden and Rep. Jimmy Panetta.

After some initial exclamatory WTFs following news of the rogue mailer on Tuesday, local Democrats issued a press release denouncing McShane’s mailer. They called it a “deceptive” imitation of the similar mailer sent recently by official Monterey County party bosses. Elena Loomis, chair of the Monterey County Democratic Party, said McShane may have violated federal election law by circulating the guide.

Significant social media gabble ensued. Outrage was expressed. The word “McShame” got bandied about. 

Then, later on Tuesday, a press release emerged from the Salinas Valley Democratic Club. The headline on that release states that the club “reaffirms its endorsements,” and especially the endorsement of McShane. The release was signed only by the club’s “executive board,” and it asked that its endorsements be “respected.” It added that the club is the “only Democratic Club in Monterey County comprised of primarily Latino activists.”

But Monterey County’s Democratic leaders have told Voices of Monterey Bay that the Salinas Valley club was a moribund organization until it was recently appropriated by Luis Alejo, and that its membership is mostly composed of other people named Alejo. 

Which brings us back to the original point. Why would local party bosses think they need to deal with this sort of Daley-esque nonsense? Why dabble in nonpartisan shenanigans? Why expose the party to folks who gleefully game the system?

Local party bosses believe it’s their duty to “groom” good solid candidates for bigger and better things. The best way to do that is to support the youngsters when they’re running for school boards or the cemetery district boards — or better yet, encourage them to seek an appointment to this or that advisory commission. But then, when those folks are properly groomed and they’ve proved that they can follow directions and it’s their turn to take it to the next level, the encouraging party officials will disappear if another Farr or another Panetta emerges out of nowhere. Or if John Laird decides he wants to return to the region.

This stuff can be awkward, and it can discourage good candidates with original ideas who’d like to make a difference in their city or their school district but who haven’t toed the party line. 

That’s not the only messy thing about local endorsements. In some cases, local party officials discover that no one from their party is running for particular local offices or a candidate expressly doesn’t want their endorsement, so the party bigshots leave some races blank. That’s what happened in Salinas this political season, when the Republicans didn’t make a single endorsement for any of the eight candidates for City Council (they did endorse a mayoral candidate). 

And sometimes party bosses can’t make up their mind  — or they don’t want to offend stalwart party members with a record of behaving themselves. Which is why the Monterey County Democrats have endorsed both Aurelio Salazar and Schileen Potter, who are running against one another in a Hartnell College Board of Trustees race. 

At a pandemic time in history when leaders are reviewing their institutions with fresh eyes, perhaps it’s time for local party officials to reevaluate why they continue to dink around with nonpartisan elections. 

In the meantime, if voters are still confused about the preferable credentials between McShane and Root Askew, some other endorsements may be instructive. For instance, Monterey County Republicans couldn’t endorse McShane because he’s no longer a Republican, so they now only suggest that fellow Republicans shouldn’t vote for Root Askew. Also, the Monterey County Farm Bureau has made only one recommendation in a nonpartisan race this year, and it’s for McShane. Meanwhile, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, a collaborative of labor unions, has endorsed Root Askew. 

Having said all that, Voices this week presents the party endorsements for nonpartisan races from both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties below: 

MONTEREY COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY ENDORSEMENTS

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Mayor: Dave Potter
City Council: Karen Ferlito 

Del Rey Oaks
Mayor: Alison Kerr
City Council: Gary Kreeger, Kim Shirley

Gonzales
Mayor: Maria Orozco
City Council: Henry Martinez, Sr.
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure X

Greenfield
City Council: Yanely Martinez, Avelina Torres
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure T

King City
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure P 

Marina
City Council: Kathy Yaeko Biala, Cristina Medina-Dirksen
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure Q

Monterey
Mayor: Timothy Barrett
City Council: Alan Haffa
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure Y

Monterey Peninsula College
MPC Ballot Measure: YES on Measure V

Pacific Grove
Mayor: Bill Peake
City Council: Nick Smith, Chaps Poduri
Ballot Measure: YES on Measure L

Salinas
Mayor: Chris Barrera
City Council: Scott Davis, Ramon Montemayor, Anthony Rocha

Sand City
City Council: Kayhan Ghodsi

Seaside
Mayor: Jon Wizard
City Council: Alexis Garcia-Arrazola, Dave Pacheco

Soledad
Mayor: Anna Velazquez

Alisal Union School District Board of Trustees
Guadalupe Ruiz Gilpas

Carmel Unified School District Board of Trustees
Seaberry J. Nachbar

Chualar Union School District Board of Trustees
Martha Gallegos

Gonzales Unified District Board of Trustees
Cesar Ayon
YES on Measure J
YES on Measure K

Greenfield Union School District
Mayra Perez Diaz

Monterey Peninsula Unified Board of Trustees
Leigh Rodriguez, Jessica Hare, Veronica Miramontes

North Monterey County Unified Board of Trustees
Elizabeth Samuels

Pacific Grove Unified
Carolyn Swanson
YES on Measure H

Salinas Union High School District Board of Trustees
Patty Padilla-Salsberg, Sandra Ocampo

Santa Rita Union School District Board of Trustees
Jose Andrew Sandoval

Soledad Unified
Javier Galvan, Roberto Ocampo, Ivan Ibarra Mora
YES on Measure N

South Monterey County Joint Unified HS District Trustee
Irene Garcia

Hartnell College
Manuel Osorio, Aurelio Salazar or Schileen Potter, Jeanne Hori-Garcia, Grant Joel Hill

Marina Coast Water District Director
Thomas P. Moore
Herbert Cortez

Monterey Peninsula College
Colleen Courtney, Debbie Anthony, Marlene Martin
YES on Measure V

Monterey Peninsula Water Management District
Karen Paull
Amy Anderson

Monterey Peninsula Airport District
Jean Rasch

Monterey County Office of Education
Violet Kigoony


MONTEREY COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY ENDORSEMENTS

CARMEL
Bobby Richards, Graeme A. Robertson

CARMEL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Anne-Marie Rosen, Jacob Odello, Karl V. Pallastrini, Kati Enea

DEL REY OAKS
Mayor: Patricia “Pat” Lintell
Kristin A. Clark

GONZALES CITY COUNCIL
Scott Funk

GREENFIELD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Mayra Perez Diaz

HARTNELL COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Kari Valdés, Margaret Claire D’Arrigo

MARINA CITY COUNCIL
Brad Imamura, Leslie D. Martin

MARINA COAST WATER DISTRICT
Brad Imamura

MONTEREY CITY COUNCIL
Hunter Garrison

MONTEREY PENINSULA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Kevin Dayton

MONTEREY PENINSULA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT
Rudy Fischer

PACIFIC GROVE CITY COUNCIL
Scott Woodfin

PEBBLE BEACH COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT
Leo M. Laska

SALINAS
Mayor: Michael Lipe

SALINAS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Jose Barajas

SAND CITY
Mary Ann Carbone

SEASIDE
Mayor: Joseph Smith
Council: Ayman Adeeb 

SOLEDAD CITY COUNCIL
Carla Stewart

MONTEREY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION GOVERNING BOARD
Ronald J. Panziera

NORTH MONTEREY COUNTY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Lyle Byron Skeen

SOUTH MONTEREY COUNTY JOINT UNIFIED HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD
Juergen B. Smith


SANTA CRUZ COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY ENDORSEMENTS

CABRILLO COLLEGE
Edward Banks

CAPITOLA CITY COUNCIL
Anthony Rovai

SCOTTS VALLEY CITY COUNCIL
Randy Johnson
Donna Lind

SAN LORENZO VALLEY WATER DISTRICT
Lew Ferris


SANTA CRUZ COUNTY DEMOCRAT PARTY ENDORSEMENTS

DISTRICT 1 SUPERVISOR
John Leopold

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE
Nancy de la Pena 

CAPITOLA CITY COUNCIL
Kristen Petersen

SANTA CRUZ CITY COUNCIL
Shebreh Kalantari-Johson, Martin Watkins

SCOTTS VALLEY CITY COUNCIL
Jack Dilles

CABRILLO COLLEGE
Felipe Hernandez

PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Maria Orozco

SOQUEL CREEK WATER DISTRICT
Bruce Daniels, Tom LaHue

Correction: This story originally stated that Alejo has “poured thousands of dollars” into the McShane campaign. He has actually contributed $1,500.

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

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

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