In local races, the Yolo County Democratic Party would endorse Dan Wolk for Assembly, Norma Alcala for County Supervisor, Don Saylor for County Supervisor, Jesse Ortiz for Yolo County Superintendent of Schools, Rick Cohen for Yolo County Judge, Sheila Allen for Davis City Council and Angel Barajas for Woodland City Council.
If Dan Wolk indeed fails to place in the top two, it will mean only three of the seven will have won, and only Jesse Ortiz, in a surprisingly narrow victory, and Angel Barajas will have won in the six contested races.
It is a small sample size, but perhaps emblematic of the declining local influence of the Party in local races.
However, from our perspective, the Democratic Party has lost influence for several reasons. First, they did not put resources into the races – either money or precinct walkers – and therefore they relied only on their namesake. Second, they made odd choices in some of the contested races. Third, they backed flawed candidates in part because in some cases they dogmatically adhered to partisanship rather than ideology.
In addition, we cite two more factors here. The strongest machines in Yolo County were probably never the Democratic Party to begin with – we had the firefighters’ union in Davis which put real money and personnel into the races they backed and the Wolk-Craig Reynolds machine that has backed two Assemblymembers and a Senator, among others.
The first problem here is that the Democratic Party endorsement is in name only. It is not bringing in money. It is not bringing in volunteers to walk precincts. The result is that there is very little tangible support offered by being the party choice. While the majority of people in a partisan race will back their own party, at the local level, the labels disappear and people end up voting for the person and not the party or who the party is backing.
If the local Democratic Party wants to be influential, it needs resources – money, and volunteers to put teeth behind its endorsement.
We will take points two and three together, since they are related. The Democratic Party backed some odd choices, as well as some flawed candidates.
It made perfect sense for the party to back a Dan Wolk. Bill Dodd, as a moderate, former Republican was not going to appeal to the party base. Joe Krovoza was probably a good fit, but lacked the organization and party infrastructure to compete with Mr. Wolk at the state convention.
So Dan Wolk was the overwhelming choice, but he also had his flaws. His campaign struggled to gain traction with money early on. The money came late, much of it in the form of IEs that were likely double-edged swords.
Mr. Wolk himself had a lack of experience in public office – youth, and, for some at least, a sense of entitlement.
The Democrats selected Norma Alcala over appointed incumbent Oscar Villegas, who had been an elected official within most of his district for over a decade. Ms. Alcala had party support and grassroots support, but, given the nature of the district cutting out key bases of her support in Broderick and Bryte, this was under the best of circumstances an uphill battle for her against a seasoned incumbent.
Jesse Ortiz had a surprisingly strong challenge from Sam Neustadt and ended up prevailing with strong showings in Woodland and West Sacramento.
Rick Cohen was actually one of three Democrats in the race for judge, but the strongest candidate, Janene Beronio, was a Republican backed by all of the judges, all of law enforcement, the DA, and most of the legal establishment. By gaining 53% in the primary, she avoided a November runoff. Rick Cohen turned out to be the weakest of the three challengers and the party never even interviewed the person who finished in second place, John Brennan.
Sheila Allen was one of only two Democrats in the Davis City County race. Daniel Parrella was the other. Robb Davis is a Green, Rochelle Swanson an Independent, and John Munn a Republican. These were the top finishers in the race. The Democrats reportedly wanted to endorse Mr. Davis, but could not because he is not a registered Democrat.
Ms. Allen was a frontrunner at one point, but stumbled badly in February and March during a scandal.
Meanwhile, Angel Barajas parlayed his position on the school board into a win on the Woodland City Council. He becomes the only Democrat and Latino on that council that, for the last two years, was all-Republican, all-white and all-male.
The Democratic Party can strengthen its position by becoming more of a factor monetarily and with volunteer resources, but it could also become more of a factor by recruiting good candidates that can compete for local positions.
The story of the election is not only the decline of the Democratic Party, however.
In the Davis City Council from 2002 to 2008, the firefighters’ union backed seven of nine winners – all of them Democrats. The only two winners not backed by firefighters at that time were Lamar Heystek in 2006 and Sue Greenwald (backed by them in 2004) in 2008.
But the Vanguard has made backing by the firefighters into a political issue and, as a result, in 2010 and 2012, none of the candidates for city council took firefighter endorsements or money. Prior to that, firefighter endorsements meant bundled contributions up to $4000, as well as an independent expenditure campaign that saw door hangers and sometimes a mailer.
In 2014, Sheila Allen became the first candidate to accept an endorsement and money since 2008. However, her backing was a shadow of its former self – simply an endorsement in name and a $100 direct contribution.
Ms. Allen also got caught up in a mini-scandal. When firefighters and some other city employees had a celebration for the departure of City Manager Steve Pinkerton, Sheila Allen, along with Dan Wolk, Lucas Frerichs, Don Saylor and Alan Fernandes were in attendance.
The decline of the firefighter’s influence has changed the nature of the council. In 2008, all five of the members of the council were Democrats. In 2014, only two will be: Lucas Frerichs and Dan Wolk. It is not a turn to the right, as clearly Robb Davis (Green) and Brett Lee (Independent) would be considered left-leaning. What it is, is the rise of independent politics in Davis, unassociated with party or machine.
There is another factor – for two decades, Craig Reynolds who has backed, among others, Helen Thomson and Lois Wolk, has been instrumental in the link between local politics and the state legislature. Mr. Reynolds has served as chief of staff since Helen Thomson was first elected to the legislature in the mid-1990s.
Now, Dan Wolk, at this time, is a bit on the short side. Though he still has a chance, a combination of factors has undermined his candidacy. Publicly, there has been an outcry that Dan Wolk and Joe Krovoza split the Yolo County vote and thus the more liberal vote in the district. There has been a lot of finger pointing as to whose fault that is.
The bottom line is that likely one of the two would be in the run off if only one had run. Less clear is whether either would have been able to beat Bill Dodd in a runoff. Had it been Charlie Schaupp, a Republican, the Democrat would be the overwhelming favorite.
So, is the Democratic Party brand declining? Our view is that the party cannot have influence by name alone, the endorsement must mean something. However, other factors have played a role in the outcome, as well including the decline of the firefighters and the peculiarities of the Assembly campaign.
—David M. Greenwald reporting