Assembly District 16: Weird & Whacky Antics Put Bay Area Seat in Play

Judy Lloyd
President of Altamont Strategies

A very wise political consultant once told me that the last 7 days of a close campaign weren’t the ones to watch – they were the ones to watch out for. It’s that magical time when your opponent hurls lies about you in the mail.

It’s getting pretty whacky in Assembly District 16 where Republican Catharine Baker is turning up the heat against her Democrat opponent Tim Sbranti.

Most pundits believe that the seat currently occupied by Democrat Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan would be in solid Democrat hands. Democrats hold a registration advantage of 39.42% to 32% over Republicans, with Decline-to-State voters at 22.15%, according to the latest figures.

In what’s expected to be a low-turnout, lackluster election cycle, the race showcases one of the great business vs. union battles of the 2014 cycle. Some polls show the race tied.

Labor unions – largely funded by the California Teachers’ Association PAC – have spent $1.2 million in independent expenditures on behalf of Sbranti in the general election. Sbranti is definitely their man, having served as Chairman of the CTA’s political involvement committee from 2011 until earlier this year. This same coalition of unions spent in excess of $1.7 million in the primary to support Sbranti and knock out his pro-business Democrat opponent, Steve Glazer.

Pro-business backers are fighting back with about $1.1 million in independent expenditures thus far for Baker. Just a few days ago, these two ads started airing in the Bay Area to support Baker.

Neighborhood mailboxes and post office recycling bins are chock full of campaign mail, much of which you can see at this link.

Economic data shows 16th District voters are diverse and in highly educated professions. They are scientists, venture capitalists, technically skilled, financial and other professional occupations. The district, nestled between Highways 580 & 680 with Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, has dual-working households, high real estate values and good schools. Parents are very involved with their kids’ education.

Some whacky things that could impact the election –

  1. Democrat Steve Glazer – who all but endorsed Baker – posted this comparison of the two on his Facebook page. Glazer served as chief political consultant to Governor Jerry Brown, who endorsed Sbranti the next day. Governor Brown was in town on Monday for Sbranti. Most of the news coverage featured the usual Brown quirky anecdotes and his support of Props. 1&2.
  1. Former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero also endorsed Baker, which clearly got some of Sbranti’s union backers upset. Romero, known as an education reformer, was the target of the CTA in past cycles. Sbranti accused Baker of twisting facts from a Wall Street Journal article. The mailer that was sent out quoted women who accused Baker of smear tactics. The only problem was that emails sent from Sbranti’s campaign soliciting the quotes landed in Republican e-mailboxes as well as those of Democrats. In my investigation of the issue, I got a copy of the email as well – fingerprints and all.
  1. Sbranti also enjoys his share of endorsements including the current occupant of the seat, Joan Buchanan and State Senator and congressional candidate Mark DeSaulnier. He also picked up primary opponent Newell Arnerich and Danville Mayor Robert Storer, a Republican. He has many of primary opponent Steve Glazer’s backers on the list – yet he could not convince Glazer, his chief rival and a Democrat, to support him.
  1. Sbranti’s most recent attack on Baker focused on what he called her opposition to Proposition 2. This was a bit strange as mailings go because in each debate the two have had, Baker has expressed her support of the measure.
  1. Baker received the endorsements of both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times, yet Sbranti has picked up the smaller weeklies in Livermore and Pleasanton.

As the race comes down to the wire, it’s unclear whether voters in a Democrat-tilted district will choose union bosses or business interests. It’s anyone’s guess if they’ll pick the teacher over the parent advocate. And what will the DTS voters do?

Many voters in the 16th district won’t realize the impact on the legislative super majority. But Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins does. She’s coming in to campaign for Tim Sbranti on Monday in a clear sign that this race is not in the bag for the majority party.

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