Expensive County Supervisor Race to Limit Democratic Party’s Impact for 2014?

All the votes were counted weeks ago in the District 2 county supervisor race, but the total campaign finance numbers have only recently become available. One thing is clear above all: A staggeringly high amount of money was spent in an election in which a staggeringly low number of people actually voted.

In monetary expenditures alone, the Democratic Central Committee’s United Democratic Campaign (UDC) spent $288,000 to elect Cindy Chavez, the party’s sole endorsed candidate. The UDC also gave nearly $350,000 in non-monetary contributions to the Chavez campaign; bringing the total spent for one County Supervisor seat to well over $600,000. The party did this despite the fact that Chavez’s opponent, Teresa Alvarado, is a lifelong Democrat. (Full Disclosure: I was a paid organizer for the Alvarado campaign).

District 2 voters received a barrage of mail declaring Chavez the only Democratic choice while attacking Alvarado as a tool of special interests and a closet Republican. Ultimately, Chavez’ campaign strategy worked, no doubt helped by her campaign and its allies outspending Alvarado and supporters by a margin of at least two to one.

But this raises an important question: Why would the county’s Democratic Party spend so much money on one candidate when there were two viable Democrats on the ballot, especially with so many important races coming up next year?

All the money spent electing Chavez will undoubtedly have an impact on the 2014 elections. The party is going to start the campaign cycle with little in the bank, during an election season in which a new mayor of San Jose will be elected and at least three seats on the City Council will be up for grabs. The county Democratic Party will also have to defend U.S. Rep. Mike Honda from challenger Ro Khanna, and Councilman Xavier Campos from the ensemble cast lining up to take him on. The expectation is that the party will spend big for both men, especially after Honda did so much to help get Chavez elected. As for Campos, his older sister, state Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Nora Campos, is not likely to allow the party to skimp on his re-election just because they have bigger issues to deal with.

Going back to the question of why so much money was spent on Chavez, the most likely answer is because she is labor’s leader, having served as executive director of the South Bay Labor Council. Even though Alvarado holds mainstream Democratic policy positions, in its support of Chavez the Democratic Party made the election a referendum on public safety and Democratic values. Alvarado’s message of transparency, reform, and government accountability never gained as much traction by comparison, which is odd considering the only reason the election happened in the first place was because George Shirakawa Jr. resigned in the wake of admitting to multiple felonies related to his misuse of taxpayer and campaign funds.

Ultimately, the successfully coordinated effort between the Chavez campaign, labor and the Democratic Party may have been more about flexing some muscle and showing that labor is still a force following stinging defeats in last year’s council races and the Measure B pension reform initiative. But in keeping majority control of the Board of Supervisors, did labor Democrats imperil their electoral chances for next year?

Nick Draper is a campaign organizer, proud native of San Jose and lifelong Democrat.

11 Comments

    • It’s pretty obvious Alvarado and her campaign switch up took her for a ride. There’s talk because she lacks the experience in holding any public office she cut a deal to slip into Liccardo’s seat next year. She now has some name recognition in that district but be prepared for those that have been waiting patiently for that seat.

  1. The county Democratic Party will also have to defend U.S. Rep. Mike Honda from challenger Ro Khanna…

    I agree with you, but isn’t Ro Khanna also a Democrat?  Aren’t you engaging in the same sort of thinking that you’re complaining about?

    • Good point. However, this was a special election for an open seat. For better or worse, party organizations have always defended incumbents unless they did something really indefensible.

      • Why should party organizations support incumbents?  I understand why they defended incumbents when there was a guaranteed Republican candidate, but we don’t have that any more.  Most partisan elections now are Democrat against Democrat.

        What we seem to have here is a local version of the Daley political machine.  The kingmakers are the people that control the party apparatus.  You’re probably not one of them eh?

        • The fact is, the Democratic AND Republican Party protects its incumbents across the board because it is important for the Party to help reelect its team.

          The fact is, Mike Honda is a champion of Democratic and Silicon Valley values.

          I really do not mind the Democratic Party getting involved in Democratic on Democrat races. The issue I see most important in this article is ensuring the Democratic Party has the resources to defend our Democratic elected officials.

  2. > The kingmakers are the people that control the party apparatus. 

    How old are you?

    How much of your life did it take to figure this out?

    If you hadn’t been handicapped with a public school teachers’ union education, could you have figured this out sooner?

    • I don’t think the party apparatus had as much power before “top two” elections.  I wonder if the Democratic Party organizations in other parts of California spend as much Party money in races between Party candidates as Santa Clara County’s does?

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