The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk wasn't expected to complete the outstanding vote count from the Nov. 6 elections until Monday. But the 1,536 vote difference between incumbent Betsy Butler and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom on Friday, Nov. 30, was significant enough for Butler to call Bloom and concede their contentious race for the 50th Assembly District.
"It was an honor to have the amount of support I received and I look forward to working with the people of the 50th Assembly District in the future. I called Richard Bloom and wished him congratulations and good luck," Butler told me on Sunday.
As a result of redistricting, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez asked Butler not to run against fellow Democrat Steve Bradford in the new 62nd AD and to move into the progressive 50th AD, which included a small portion of her current 53rd AD, Malibu, Santa Monica, the Westside and West Hollywood. Supporters of Butler's opponent Torie Osborn called Butler a "carpetbagger" during the primary and said she should have moved into the new 66th AD. However Democratic pols thought former prosecutor Al Muratsuchi would have had a better chance in that more conservative, more Asian district against rich, self-funded Republican Craig Huey. They were right. Muratsuchi handily beat Huey 54.7% vs 45.3%.
Steve Bradford also won in the 62nd - trouncing fellow Democrat Mervin Evans 72.2% to 27.8%. That means the freshman class being sworn in today, while a supermajority for Democrats - will now have three more conservative Assemblymembers, including Bloom, who tends to represent business interests over Butler's progressive representation of the LGBT community (Butler is a longtime Boardmember for Equality California), women, and the environment.
Indeed, as LA County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman pointed out - the smear campaign targeting Butler was financed by the Western Growers Association determined to unseat her because she wrote AB 2346 - a bill for the United Farmer Workers that would have made farmers and labor contractors accountable for heat-related illnesses of their workers.
Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Morain also noted that the independent expenditure campaign that spent $524,288 on mailers to defeat the two - also served as a warning to others. Morain wrote:
As they make their big plans, Democrats emboldened by their likely supermajority in the Legislature should study Betsy Butler and Michael Allen, two Democratic Assembly members who might not be coming back to Sacramento.
While votes remain to be counted, Butler and Allen face the ignominy of losing in a year when Democrats won big. One reason: They carried legislation that ran afoul of an interest group, which responded with well-aimed campaign attacks that helped elect their Democratic challengers.
"I tend to believe the majority will show some restraint," said Dave Puglia, the executive for the farm group, Western Growers Association, who oversaw the independent campaign against Butler and Allen.
Message sent. Point taken.
And then there's the possible insider backlash, as Morain also points out:
In the Assembly, Speaker John A. Pérez has considerable sway over Democratic members. But at most, there will be 54 Democrats in the 80-seat lower house, meaning any one Democrat can veto any major measure Pérez might advocate.
Pérez's leadership position is, no doubt, solid. But not all Democrats will arrive with warm and fuzzy feelings toward him. He tried mightily to block the election of the Democrats who had the temerity to challenge Butler and Allen.
"The campaign has ended, and now we govern," said Marc Levine, the San Rafael city councilman and Democrat who took on Allen. But when I asked what he would do if Pérez were to insist that he cast a vote that runs counter to his values and district, Levine answered: "I wasn't supposed to run for the Assembly, was I."
The ugly effort to defeat Butler, vigorously commented upon by the LA Weekly - which I challenged as shoddy journalism - involved accusing Butler of not voting on a bill by State Sen. Alex Padilla that would speed the ouster of teachers accused by students and parents of alleged sexual misconduct. Butler abstained from the first vote on the bill, SB 1530, believing the bill needed amendments to protect the due process of teachers who might be false accused by emboldened students. But Butler's efforts to explain her abstention (in effect a "no" vote) failed to satisfy voters stirred up by ugly allegations in The Weekly and in Western Grower Association mailers that she voted against the "sex pervert" bill. The Bee's Morain put it this way - pointing out the larger consequences:
Voters had no idea that farm votes were at the root of the attacks. One mailer attacked Butler for a vote supposedly to protect miscreant teachers. Allen was attacked for a fine he once received and for votes he and other Democrats took to reduce school spending as part of recent budget deals.
Whether or not Allen and Butler manage to eke out victories, other business groups have taken notice of Western Growers' effort. Other legislators noticed, too. But we'll see whether legislators got the point that they should not get too intoxicated with their supermajorities.
Indeed, the Western Growers Association is making sure their business constituency and politicians are also aware of their new found power at a time when the Republican Party has shrunk significantly in California. From the WGA website:
With late vote counting almost complete, it is now clear that two state Assembly members who targeted California farmers will not be returning when the new Legislature is sworn in next week, thanks to an industry campaign that targeted them in the November election.....
Butler authored AB 2346, a bill that would have exposed farmers to abusive private lawsuits for heat illness violations alleged by private lawyers and created joint liability between farmers and farm labor contractors.
As previously reported, Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Morain noted the race was, in part, the result of a "well-aimed" political campaign by an independent expenditure committee created by WG and several partner organizations.
The other target of the industry's campaign, Assembly member Michael Allen, lost to challenger and fellow Democrat Marc Levine. As with Butler, the small number of ballots to be counted will not change the outcome as Allen currently trails by more than 3,000 votes. Levine will represent the 10th Assembly District (Marin and part of Sonoma County). Allen authored AB 1313, a bill that would have repealed the existing overtime rule for ag workers by requiring overtime after eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. Levine declared victory earlier this month.
The agriculture independent expenditure committee, Family Farmers Working for a Better California, received strong support and funding from Western Growers, California Citrus Mutual, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, Nisei Farmers League, the California Rice industry, Western Plant Health Association, Pacific Egg and Poultry Association, California Seed Association and many individual farmers across California and Arizona. More than $500,000 was raised for this effort.
In one ad on an online West Hollywood site, Bloom promised to make LGBT issues a "top priority." This remains to be seen since he has no substantial history of supporting LGBT issues and was blasted from the stage in October by APLA AIDS Walk founder Craig Miller for "inaction" and "censorship" in a bus-advertising ban that Miller suggested contributes to the AIDS epidemic. And unlike Butler, who has been ubiquitous at LGBT events and raised tens of thousands of dollars for EQCA and the fight against Prop 8 - the only time I've seen Bloom at an LGBT event was the pre-election Freedom to Marry fundraiser where the photo above was taken. It will be interesting to see if the progressive 50th AD, Butler's opponents and the LA Weekly hold Bloom accountable for his expected conservative/business-leaning votes and his promise to make LGBT issues a "top priority."
It would be a terrible irony if the LGBT-heavy 50th AD just elected a straight conservative who can do what no Republican can do in the state Legislature: thwart openly gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.