Back in June of last year (2014), when it became clear that Dan Wolk was not going to be a finalist for the State Assembly Seat, there was a belief that Dan Wolk and fellow Davis resident, Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, had split the vote. The point, at least on its surface, seems reasonable in that if Mr. Krovoza were not in the race, at least some of his Yolo County votes would have gone to Dan Wolk and that might have been enough to get him to second place.
I was surprised to receive several angry texts and phone calls from people who questioned Joe Krovoza’s even being in the race. The idea was that since he was non-competitive, he should have known a year before that he would be non-competitive and should have deferred to Dan Wolk, who would be a better representative for the district and community than Bill Dodd.
Flash forward to the present, and we are starting to see the same argument crop up. Don Saylor is running against Dan Wolk. Don Saylor has no chance to win the Assembly seat. Don Saylor could end up splitting the vote with Dan Wolk. Don Saylor is just a spoiler.
Implicit in that comment is the presumption of entitlement that I don’t think is fair to either candidate. If, as one person put it, Dan Wolk has earned the right to run for Assembly based on the work done in the last year or four years on the council, hasn’t Don Saylor equally earned the right to run for Assembly based on the work he has done in the community for the last 20 years?
For their parts, when the Vanguard directly asked about splitting the vote, Don Saylor and Dan Wolk dodged the question.
Don Saylor told the Vanguard, “I am glad we live in a country where anybody is free to step forward to be considered by their peers for service. I admire any person who steps forward to be considered for elective office. I am not a fortuneteller and I do not speculate on hypotheticals, especially considering that this election is still over 10 months away. I am confident that my public service record and experience will appeal to voters across the district. I look forward to a positive campaign that highlights the issues that matter to voters.”
Dan Wolk simply responded, “I am excited to have the unexpected opportunity to run again for Assembly in 2016. I have secured key endorsements in Yolo County and across the district to strengthen my position in the race. In 2014, Don Saylor gave me a glowing endorsement. I hope he will do so again in 2016.”
If I were advising Mr. Wolk, I would have suggested he leave the last part out of the response as it seemed a bit glib, but both candidates stopped short of suggesting that vote-splitting possibilities rendered one candidate an illegitimate spoiler.
But there is an analysis that is missing here – more evident in 2014 than 2016. I read a comment in Bob Dunning’s column where Mr. Dunning quotes “Rich,” who said, “In that Don has a much longer track record in local elected office, it would seem to me Saylor ought to be seen as first in line for the Assembly among Davis Democrats.”
The missing piece of analysis is the fact that Davis politics remains splintered into factions. For all of the talk about a unified Davis getting behind Dan Wolk, that certainly did not happen in 2008. When Christopher Cabaldon announced his run for the Assembly, he did so at the Davis Train Station, flanked by then-Davis City Councilmembers Don Saylor and Ruth Asmundson, with Supervisor Helen Thomson there as well.
Lois Wolk, on her way to becoming Senator Lois Wolk, backed Mayor Cabaldon over fellow Davisite Mariko Yamada. Ms. Yamada would win the seat with only the support from electeds in Davis being Lamar Heystek, Jim Provenza and Sheila Allen. Steven Souza perfectly illustrated the split nature of Davis politics by supporting both candidates.
Getting a Davis candidate elected in 2008 clearly was not the priority of Lois Wolk or many of her supporters.
Davis politics was divided in 2008, it was divided in 2014 and it remains divided in 2016.
The weird thing about the Dan Wolk-Don Saylor match up isn’t that Davis is likely to be divided once again – it is that Don Saylor and Dan Wolk have basically, throughout their careers, been on the same side.
It will be very interesting to see how this race unfolds because, on the issues, I’m not sure there is any difference – certainly not enough to hang your hat on. In fact, the strengths of the two candidates on the issues are well aligned. Dan Wolk wants to focus on kids, Don Saylor served on the school board for eight years. Dan Wolk wants to focus on social services, Don Saylor has worked in the county since 2011.
Don Saylor is going to want this to turn on his experience while Dan Wolk is going to play on his youth and being the voice of the future. In the end, this race may well come down to a factor no one will expressly articulate. Dan Wolk’s greatest strength remains the name recognition bestowed by the fact that his mother has served for 14 years in the State Legislature. His biggest liability is that he has only served four years on his own behalf.
Don Saylor will attack this vulnerability not head on, but by illustrating his breadth of experience and his knowledge of public policy. Dan Wolk will mitigate this by focusing on his accomplishments during his tenure of office.
As Dan Wolk put it, “I am very proud of the many things we’ve accomplished as a community in my time on the City Council. Key accomplishments include bringing fiscal stability to the city, leading the regional surface water project through a thicket of legal, political and financial challenges, furthering economic development and creating jobs, promoting renewable energy and improving public health through the Healthy Families Initiative.”
I might have hammered his role in brokering peace on the surface water project a bit more heavily – and I’m sure they will do it more as the campaign wears on.
On the other hand, I was surprised that Don Saylor essentially punted on the issue – that should have been his strength – by stating, “There are numerous initiatives and projects that I have had the privilege and pleasure to work on – too many to mention here. Most of these projects required the help, assistance and teamwork of others – staff, community members, and elected officials from across this region. I am proud of the work that we have done together to make this community, county and region a better place.”
Instead, he focused on a person project – his “Soups On” events. He stated, “These events have helped raise money for many groups that are in need, including local foster care, food banks, suicide prevention programs, outdoor youth education programs, and groups that are helping those dealing with mental illness. Too often these programs are left behind in budget battles and I will continue my work to champion these worthy causes.”
It is a decent answer and he deserves credit here, but he failed to exploit his main strength in this race by not going into detail on some of the projects he worked on.
In the end, I suspect most people believe that Dan Wolk has a rather sizable edge and that may be right. But I have learned not to underestimate the tenacity of Don Saylor. He may not have the campaign organization to match the Wolks, but it won’t be for lack of effort.
—David M. Greenwald reporting