Brooks Firestone and Tom McClintock, two tri-county political fixtures, will clear out this year, and the contested races in their wake could alter the balance of party power in Sacramento and Santa Barbara County.
The races’ outcomes will factor deeply into how state and county governments tackle issues such as Goleta’s affordable housing shortage and the multi-billion-dollar state budget crisis.
Up for grabs are Firestone’s 3rd District supervisor seat in Santa Barbara County and Republican McClintock’s 19th District state senate seat. Firestone announced last year he would step aside after one term on the board of supervisors; McClintock hit his term limit and is running for Congress in Northern California.
A five-way race broke out for Firestone’s seat. The winner of a June 3 contest must garner 51 percent of the vote to avoid a November run-off. Observers say a run-off is likely.
The state senate race won’t take place until November, but is being watched statewide. Democrats have targeted the seat now held by McClintock in an effort to increase their statehouse stronghold.
At issue in both races is the balance of power between political parties. State Democrats want a veto-proof majority in Sacramento.
Even though Santa Barbara County supervisors aren’t on a party ticket, the 3rd District is pivotal: The county’s two southern districts tend to be liberal, the northern districts are conservative. The 3rd District, which includes Isla Vista and the Santa Ynez Valley, has swung back and forth.
SB County’s 3rd district
David Bearman, Doreen Farr, Steve Pappas, Victoria Pointer and David Smyser are running for 3rd District supervisor in Santa Barbara County. Farr, who consulted for Goleta’s cityhood effort and co-owned the now-defunct Goleta Valley Voice newspaper, and Smyser, Firestone’s former top aide, are likely to face each other in a November runoff.
The district includes much of Goleta and the cities of Solvang and Buellton, at once encompassing some of the county’s most liberal and most conservative voters.
Business leaders cite workforce housing needs, coastal development, boosting tourism and killing Goleta’s revenue-sharing agreement with the county as top concerns. They say they want a supervisor who represents their interests but doesn’t contribute to gridlock on the board of supervisors.
“While each territory in the county fights over how much housing they want or don’t want, we would like to look to the county for an overall philosophy on housing, rather than each supervisor acting like a representative for their district,” said Kristen Amyx, president and chief executive of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed no candidate.
But most of all, Amyx said, businesses need predictability from the county government They need to be sure their permits will be approved if they meet requirements and need reasonable timelines.
“Most of the businesses here are sort of already environmentalists,” Amyx said. “Most of them are looking for very moderate policies that allow them to do business, employ people, grow and expand their product or services as the market allows them to, and still preserve the quality of life that makes them want to be here.”
The candidates have expressed a desire to end the revenue-sharing agreement Goleta signed when it incorporated that makes it split its revenue with the county. “Our main beef with the agreement is that it has no sunset,” Amyx said. “We’re not asking for the moon, or that we want this to end in three years. But we do want to be able to plan our city’s future with a set timeline.”
The next supervisor will also help oversee the county’s 2011 redistricting, a pertinent issue for some business leaders.
“In this part of the county, we all think that it’s difficult having Isla Vista being part of our district, because it represents something different than our district’s makeup,” said Curt Cragg, executive director of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, which has made no endorsements.
19th Senate District
In the 19th Senate District, which includes much of Santa Barbara and Ventura County, Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson is facing off against Republican Tony Strickland.
“This district and several other districts are targeted by the Democrats in an effort to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which has huge implications,” said Greg Totten, Ventura County’s district attorney and a Strickland backer. “It’s particularly significant when we have a budget deficit approaching $20 billion.”
The 19th district’s odd shape – which includes Simi Valley to Oxnard, but excludes Ventura – was engineered to favor Republicans, but the party’s lead in voter registration has dipped to the low single digits, leaving the incumbent-free race in the air.
“Increasingly, the Republican advantage has collapsed, which means the district is much more in play than it was five years ago,” said Herb Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
The race is being watched in Sacramento and statewide, and both Totten and Gooch predict outside campaign money and media buys will flood the region. Fundraising has barely begun, and already Jackson has about $303,000 and Strickland about $493,000.
The money is from predictable sources: Unions and public employee groups, most from outside the region, have poured nealy $50,000 into Jackson’s coffers.
And about 35 employees of Fidelity National’s insurance arm, some local and others not, gave Strickland more than $33,000, on top of the thousands he received from prison contractors and giant pharmaceutical companies.
But that doesn’t mean Strickland has businesspeople sewn up, Gooch said. Strickland’s overwhelming support in the executive suite might turn off shop owners and other small-business owners who see a yawning gap between how the government treats them versus how it treats giant corporations.
“[Strickland] has been able to draw on a lot of the lobbying money from Sacramento,” Gooch said, “which often represents big business and not small businesses.”