Heading east from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley through the Caldecott tunnel are the sundrenched suburban communities of the East Bay. The 16th Assembly District lies here, which has been represented by Democrat Joan Buchanan. Buchanan was able to wrestle this district from Republicans in 2008, giving Democrats control of every single Legislative and Congressional District in the Bay Area.
Its no surprise this was the last district to fall to Democrats. The San Ramon Valley, which includes the communities of Danville, San Ramon and Alamo still remains the most conservative area in the Bay Area, but overall voters in the district are decidedly moderate.
This race has intrigued the Capitol because a major Democratic contender is Steve Glazer, the veteran political consultant who engineered Gov. Brown’s 2010 election victory but has since run into serious trouble with organized labor for his work on a pro-business PAC.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks Legislative and Congressional districts across the state knows this district particularly well from his former life as a GOP consultant.
Hoffenblum was former Congressman Bill Baker’s consultant during his campaigns for Assembly and Congress. He also finished up his consulting career by electing former Assemblywoman Lynne Leach in this very district.
“It’s one of the largest groups of moderate Republicans. I would go into Walnut Creek, Danville and other communities and they had 50 percent Republican precincts and Baker would get 40-42 percent of the vote,” said Hoffenblum. “He would have a hard time getting the women’s vote, and I think that is why he lost his seat in congress.”
Among the Democrats, Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich describes himself as a moderate; Glazer, an Orinda City Councilman, readily plasters the word independent on his website and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti calls himself pragmatic. The lone GOP candidate in the race, Dublin resident Catharine Baker identifies herself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. She is pro-choice and supports marriage equality.
“If you really sit down and talk to people in this community there are a lot of things we can agree on. The important thing is you have representative that is not just blindly ideological,” said Baker. “I am going to Sacramento with a laser beam focus on education, fiscal management, economic growth and infrastructure.”
“We have the same values. We worry about our kids getting to college. How are we going to pay that? It may have a Democratic advantage here, but it is a moderate group. It is a moderate that is going to win this,” said Arnerich.
As of the June 30th cash on hand figures, the candidates raised more money here than any other Assembly District from outside sources, although Arnerich loaned himself $6,000. With the support of business interests in Sacramento, Glazer has nearly the most cash on hand of any Assembly candidate in the state with $240,000, Sbranti comes in second with $101,000, with a significant portion of contributions from labor and Arnerich has $39,000.
Glazer is well known throughout Sacramento as Governor Brown’s trusted advisor and most recently with his involvement with JOBSPac, where he landed himself on the California Labor “Do Not Hire” List.
“I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. People say they are independents but I have a track record of independence, not being captive of an ideology,” said Glazer “One example is with labor. I did what I feel is right even if it is not what is popular with the hierarchy of the party. It is a proven example of independence.”
“Efforts to revitalize the economy and get people back to work is a place we can agree, but we don’t necessarily agree on how to do it,” added Glazer. “The major tenet of the labor movement is to create good paying jobs and I agree with it. The irony of the black list is I supported two Democrats who have a 90 percent plus record on labor issues and have received thousands of dollars of labor support.”
Sbranti has amassed a strong campaign organization with labor and endorsements from many East Bay Legislators including Buchanan, Bonilla, DeSaulnier and Hancock.
“Education, it’s a highly educated district, transportation is a big issue in this district, it’s kind of a grow California platform, grow education, grow infrastructure and what it takes to create jobs,” said Sbranti. “Democrats talk about education and infrastructure and Republicans talk about taxes and regulation. The reality is you need to look at all four. All four pillars to grow California.”
Sbranti has worked as a classroom teacher for over 15 years and is Chair of the Political Involvement Committee of the California Teachers Association.
“I think we are focused on test scores right now. We don’t focus on workforce development enough,” said Sbranti. “Every Community College needs to be connected with every school district and the workforce in those geographic areas. We have seen that decrease in the last few years with a narrow focus on test scores.”
In a campaign statement earlier this year, Glazer said he is focused on finding common grown between Democrats and Republicans on the issues of responsible fiscal management, education, the environment and eliminating roadblocks to economic revitalization and job creation.
“I think you can make the Democratic Party stronger by taking positions that are not necessarily supported by interests groups in the party. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a Democrat it just means you have different view of what it means to be a Democrat,” said Glazer. “I think the Democratic Party should be the party that advocates for an efficient government and getting rid of waste. My support of pension reform is so we can have a retirement system for the new police officer and the new teacher and there isn’t support with this in the party.”
This district is likely to shape up to be one of the main battlegrounds between business and labor groups, with business supporting Steve Glazer and labor behind Sbranti. The interesting caveat in the race will be the role that Arnerich and Baker play in the race.
It’s not uncommon for a candidate that isn’t heavily supported by Sacramento interests to make it to the top. In the last election Assembly Members Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) and Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) defied conventional wisdom and defeated Sacramento incumbents.
A decade ago, former Assembly Member Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) defeated Sacramento favorites Vince Hall and Heidi von Szeliski, who’s campaigns combusted by going negative on each other and ignoring Saldana.
“I see a chance to represent or community and not be caught up with the outside interests,” said Arnerich. “I am true the moderate in the 16th district in addition with being the underdog. Steve Glazer is virtually unknown locally. No one knows him as an individual. Steve Sbranti is known in Dublin and Pleasanton. I have been around longer than anyone.”
“You never know,” said Hoffenblum. “Will Arnerich have the money to compete with the two who are well funded? Lets say Catharine Baker wasn’t in this race, you might have a situation that happened to Lori Saldana where the two were fighting each other and she won. Maybe he can sneak in, the question is will he have the money to compete with Glazer and Sbranti who will have hundreds of thousands of dollars?”
For Baker, the base Republican vote in this district has historically been about 35-40 percent and with three Democrats on the ballot, just an (R) next to Baker’s name may assure her a spot in November, unless another Republican jumps in.
Over 80 percent of the voters here are white, and it has the on highest per capita income levels of any Assembly District in the state and one of the highest percentage of homeowners.
These numbers don’t describe a typical liberal district, but tend to fit the mold of a more conservative voter profile, but the just as the fog rolls over the hills into this area from San Francisco and Berkeley, so do some of the liberal attitudes. And as the GOP moved right on guns, women, the environment voters here found a home with Democrats.
Obama took about 60 percent in both of his presidential elections in this district, but Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer netted about 50 percent of the vote in 2012, a testament to the once dominant Republican Party in the district.
It’s unknown what the GOP might do in this district. Currently they have other seats in southern California to take back and a lack of funding to play everywhere they would like to.
“I know for a fact the Republican Caucus still has it on the watch list, but you know they don’t have any money so they are restricted where they can go so they have to go where they are most competitive,” said Hoffenblum. “There are just too many other places they have to be focused on. They always wanted to play there but never had the serious resources to play there.”
Hoffenblum does see some hope for the GOP here depending on who makes it to the top two. “What you are going to have here is a bitter primary between Sbranti who is supported by labor and Glazer who is supported by business. If Baker and Sbranti come in first and second, Republicans can use Sbranti as a tool of labor,” said Hoffenblum. “Now if Glazer gets it I don’t think there will be a GOP challenge, all the business money is getting behind Glazer.”
As shown in the recent victories of Assembly Members Levine and Bloom a strong field operation can propel a candidate to victory especially in cases where the candidates have similar ideologies and the election is won by just a couple percentage points.
“At the end of the day what I need to do is continue to get out there with a robust field campaign and work with an active volunteer network because it is a crowded field,” said Sbranti. “It might be two Democrats, but it also could be a traditional Democrat on Republican race because you only have one Republican candidate in the field.”
Ed’s Note: Corrects first name of Sbranti to Tim in 7th graf.