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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Commentary: Outsider Money Throws Wrench in 8th Assembly Race

A month ago, if you would have asked me, it was a simple calculation as to who would win the 8th Assembly District. West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon had more money, more endorsements, a bigger campaign team, and had been saturating the district for weeks with literature both from himself and his surrogates. But that simple calculation has been turned on its head the last month.

The Sacramento Bee reports this morning that independent groups have raised nearly $1.2 million for Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. And contrary to previous reportings, the amount of money between the two sides is becoming more and more equitable. $640,000 in IEs for Cabaldon while Yamada has attracted $540,000. Compared to previous numbers or to direct contributions and that is almost even.

Both sides have drawn criticism. The Cabaldon campaign has been criticized for a carpet bombing campaign. The Yamada campaign for going overly negative on seemingly minor issues such as parking tickets.

Yamada defenders have suggested that this is her only recourse, since they are nearly identical on the issues. However, Yamada is well known in Davis circles having serving five years as County Supervisor, for most of the rest of the district, she is just now introducing herself. While these are IEs, each attack initiated with the campaign itself.

For instance the day that Cabaldon's car was booted, the Yamada campaign sent out a press release. The picture of the booted car on front of campaign brochures was taken by Campaign Manager Brian Micek himself.

At the time, Mr. Micek told the press that he "couldn't believe his luck."

He went further:
"This is evidence that Mr. Cabaldon feels he doesn't have to play by the same rules the rest of us do."
The Bee covers the issue this morning:
"The campaign took an odd twist with disclosures that Cabaldon's car had been booted for failure to pay $567 in parking tickets and that he was eight months late in paying a $195 boat tax.

"Let's just say I believe it's important for leaders to follow the rules, as long as the rules are equally applied and are fair," Yamada said.

Cabaldon dismissed the delinquencies as gaffes made during a hectic time when he was juggling a full-time job, a campaign and West Sacramento city business.

Cabaldon said campaigns should be more than "gotcha games over issues that make no difference whatsoever in our fulfillment of the public trust.""
Last year, the candidates met for a debate sponsored by the Northern Solano Democratic Club, at that time Mariko Yamada pledge to run a clean race without attacks. A year later at the same venue, Yamada was bringing up these "character" issues.

Are these candidates close on the issues? Yes and no. A mere examination of who is backing whom reveals that there is a big difference in emphasis.

The Bee writes:
"But they don't always agree:

• Exit exam: Cabaldon supports it, while Yamada wants other yardsticks also to be used in awarding high school diplomas.

• Budget vote: Both support dropping the requirement that state budgets be passed by a two-thirds vote of each legislative house. Cabaldon supports a simple majority, Yamada a threshold of 55 percent to 60 percent.

• Peripheral canal: Cabaldon opposes it, while Yamada said more study is needed on Delta, water and other issues."
However, the bigger story lies below it:
"The California Teachers Association opposes Cabaldon because of his ties to EdVoice, a big supporter of charter schools. Cabaldon has butted heads with labor groups in years past on community college issues, by opposing a proposed West Sacramento casino, and by supporting a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Wal-Mart's founding family has been a major EdVoice donor."
However at the end of the day, should we not be more interested in the following:
"Cabaldon's priorities include regional transportation, including improvements on the congested Interstate 80 corridor, hourly train service, revival of the Benicia ferry and completion of a regional bikeway from Sacramento to Solano County.

Yamada supports more social workers in schools, wider use of camera technology to deter crime, improved food labeling, long-range planning for a health pandemic, and better integration of health, mental health, housing and other services."
That is really what these candidates are--Cabaldon a strong supporter of a variety of regional issues, Yamada a strong advocate of social issues.

Then there is the issue of growth which was inserted back into the race by the Working Families for Progressive Leadership group on behalf of Yamada.

They quote former Fairfield Mayor and purported "slow growth leader."
"I'm supporting Mariko Yamada for State Assembly. Mariko is someone I trust to stand with you and me against big developers' interests. On issues I care deeply about--more open space and smart growth--Mariko will fight to preserve the quality of life that residents of Yolo and Solano counties currently enjoy. I feel confident Mariko has the integrity to do the best job."
This comes less than a year after Yamada was carrying the water of not one but three peripheral projects on the edge of Davis. Projects led by the definition of "big developers'." Projects so big even people like Don Saylor opposed them.

It is an appalling misrepresentation of the course of recent history where Mariko Yamada and her colleagues proposed projects on Davis' city edge and people in Davis were talking recall.

Regardless of the facts at hand however, the dynamics of this race has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks, muddying the waters severely. I still think Cabaldon has an edge, but he is no longer a foregone conclusion.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting