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Sunday, October 05, 2008

5th Senate District Race: War of Words

We have spent a lot of time in the last few days on the national race, something that is rarely done on the Vanguard, a blog that focuses almost exclusively on local issues. In fact, I have probably covered more national issues in the last few weeks than in the previous two years combined.

I have still not heard a coherent, fact based defense for Sarah Palin.

The other race that we are following closely is the race for the 5th Senate District that goes from Stockton to Yolo and Solano Counties. This is a tough race to evaluate. Greg Aghazarian at last reporting had a strong money advantage. However, it is a strongly Democratic year and a district with a 15-point partisan advantage for the Democrats in registration.

So Assemblyman Aghazarian who has a fairly conservative voting record is trying to run as a non-partisan.

He just released his second ad that features his calling for a non-partisan legislature. Again, as we argued earlier in the week, this is simply disengenuous.

The ad features Aghazarian's three sons playing a game called "Legislature."

One son says:
"It's all about me! It's all about me!"
The other puts his fingers in his ears and says:
"I can't hear you..."

"Talk to the hand."
This game, according to Aghazarian who appears on the ad, represents how the legislature operates. He calls for legislators to be elected on a non-partisan basis.
"Our current system of electing legislators by party has created gridlock, with party bosses more interested in preserving their power than solving problems."
Lois Wolk was on the UC Davis campus on Thursday at a College Democrats rally. She attacked her opponent for not acknowledging that he is a Republican.
"I am running in the Senate, as you've heard, against someone who won't even mention the fact that he's a Republican. He won't mention his party. He's not proud he's a Republican. He never mentions it and I understand why. In the Assembly, the Republicans and my opponent have opposed some very interesting bills.

They have opposed the successful effort to ban lead from children's candy. Think about that for a minute. The Governor, a Republican, signed that bill.

They have opposed cleaning up the polluted air in the valley. One in four children takes an inhaler to school. Think about that.

They have opposed most recently the effort to clean up the shoddy mortgage broker practices that have been occurring in this state. Think about that in a Senate district that is probably number one in terms of foreclosures.

They and my opponent have opposed flood protection for homeowners in the Central Valley--an area that floods all too commonly.

And they voted against protecting seniors from those whose caregivers would steal their money.

That's why Republicans are running away from being Republicans."
The Wolk campaign for their part has focused a negative ad on the issue of collecting per diem payments for travel as a legislator despite only living 40 miles from Sacramento. Frankly, though the ad focuses on one of Aghazarian's goals of fiscal responsibility it is not clear why they would choose this above other issues. Indeed, her speech on Thursday would seem to be a far better mode of attack.

Politicker reported on Thursday that the Assemblywoman is paying more for her television commercials in order to avoid a requirement that commercials must feature the face of the candidate who pays for them.

The Politicker explains that campaign commercials are normally charged a lesser rate than other types of ads--as much as 20 to 50 percent lower depending on the policies of the TV station. However, in order to qualify for that lower rate, the candidate's face must appear in the commercial at some point.

The Aghazarian campaign is seizing on this issue. Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for Aghazarian's campaign, said:
"Obviously, her campaign doesn't want to associate her with negative attack, cookie-cutter ads... She's obviously embarrassed about the ads."
He estimates that the Wolk campaign is spending thousands of dollars more for the ad in order to avoid the requirement, a notion that he suggests is "unheard of to me."

The ad in question was featured on Tuesday on page A3 of the Sacramento Bee as part of its "Ad Watch" segment.

The Bee's analysis does point out that only one senator (Sacramento-based Darrell Steinberg) and three Assemblymembers, all of them Sacramento-area members, do not take the payments, including Wolk herself.
The ad is an attempt by Wolk to portray Aghazarian as a hypocrite for taking travel money when he commutes to work.

While per diem may have been designed for legislators who travel long distances, all are entitled to augment their $116,208 annual salary with about $35,000 a year for living expenses while on legislative business in Sacramento. That includes weekends, as long the Legislature is not in recess for more than three consecutive days.

The overwhelming majority of state lawmakers claim the tax-free money. Only one senator, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, does not accept per diem year round. In the Assembly, Wolk is among three Sacramento-area members who do not take the payments. She commutes from her home in Davis.

The 5th District seat is one of the few competitive legislative races. Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, won with less than 53 percent of the vote in both of his elections. Holding the seat would further the Democrats' goal of a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate and allow them to pass a budget without Republican votes.
The question that is unanswered is whether this is really an ad that is going to hold sway over voters during a time of a perilous economy, huge cuts to education, fees raised for college students, and a whole host of other issues facing the state legislature. Why focus on this issue? Again, I think her speech got much more to the heart of the matter.

This week, Lois Wolk came out as a supporter of Proposition 11, the proposition that calls for redistricting reform. Campaign spokespeople did not respond to an email from the Vanguard asking for comment.

So where does this race stand? This is a question that many people throughout the district are asking. With no known polls out it is difficult to assess. Some in San Joaquin County have suggested that her profile there is not very high. Certainly the ad wars have not sufficiently heated up as of yet. There seems to be a level of nervousness being aired privately in some circles, but the fact remains that in a district with a 15 percent partisan advantage favoring the Democrats, in a Democratic year, it seems difficult to conceive of a scenario short of some huge revelation where Wolk would not easily win this race.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting