Several Democratic contenders campaigning for races that will be on the June 2018 primary ballot met with members of the public over the past two weeks in Sonora and San Andreas.
On Jan. 7, candidate Jessica Morse addressed a crowd of almost 200 attendees at the Tuolumne County Ambulance Headquarters in Sonora. Morse seeks to replace Republican incumbent of California’s 4th Congressional District, Tom McClintock.
A native Northern Californian, Morse grew up in Carmichael and now lives in Pollock Pines. She recently served as a strategic adviser to the commander of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, where she focused on renewable energy. Morse also spent a year in Iraq working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she managed over $80 million in USAID and Iraqi government contracts. She later managed $2 billion of the USAID budget from the agency’s Washington, D.C., office. Her education includes a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton.
“We need political leaders who are going to look outside the box,” she said. In a pointed reference to McClintock’s Southern California roots, she told her audience that “It’s time to say goodbye to a Southern Californian who keeps stealing our water.”
She labeled the theme of her campaign as “The New Morse Code,” which she described as her own personal code of conduct.
“If we want big money out of politics, we need little money in,” she said.
At that point, a woman in the crowd named Patty Cherry stood up and presented Morse with a check for $200. Someone then asked Morse about her stance on the State of Jefferson movement.
“They are concerned about the basic issues that plague us as a community,” she responded. “They want a rural voice.”
“Are you going to be nice and take the pork?” asked a man who identified himself as Mike Dabkowski, earning a response of mostly laughter from the crowd.
“The most important thing I’ve done so far is to go on a listening tour,” Morse said in a subsequent interview with the Enterprise. “I met with county supervisors, fire chiefs, mayors, hospital administrators. I wanted to hear their ideas for solutions and I wanted to hear about their obstacles. I wanted to know where McClintock was failing them. For me, that is what public service is all about. It’s not about political platitudes. Taking the time to listen allows us to form a coalition that is appealing to members of the community. We’re not so much trying to change demographics; we’re trying to change the political culture, so when people hear politics they hear public service.”
McClintock has served in Congress for the past nine years from a district generally viewed as safely Republican. In November, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee placed the district on its target list for 2018. The representative plans to meet with constituents at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Martell at 12 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23.
The Morse campaign announced Jan. 10 that it had raised over $294,000 in the second quarter of her fundraising efforts, and that she has now raised a total of more than $557,000.
Next up at the Sonora session, Pat Harris, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney, made his pitch to the crowd. Harris seeks to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein.
Harris is a former public defender and criminal defense attorney. He portrays himself as a progressive Democrat, challenging an incumbent he believes is too soft on President Donald Trump and too accepting of large corporate donations.
“I’m not a politician,” Harris said. “I’m not in politics. I have a philosophical difference from Sen. Feinstein. She said Trump could be a good president if we gave him a chance. She should have raised hell about the Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination, but she didn’t. She said we don’t need rabble-rousers. I disagree. We have to have fighters in the Senate. I’ve spent the last 23 years as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney. Every single morning I get up and I fight.
“I’ve fought for the guilty. I’ve fought for the innocent. I’ve fought for people with money, people with no money, regardless of race or sexual orientation. I’ve taken on Pfizer, Well Fargo, Bank of America and the Catholic Church. We need a voice for those who don’t have one. We need a voice for a new America. I believe in single-payer health care and equal rights. I believe in criminal justice reform and jail reform and I stand for eliminating for-profit prisons. Our defense budget is way out of control, and I want to take money out of their budget specifically for medical, scientific and environmental research. I want us to be on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and we can do it.
“What are we going to do about the young people?” he asked. “This is the first generation that won’t be better off than the generation before them. Young people are not connected to the Democratic Party. I’m going to be a one-term senator. I’ll take it for six years, but then I want someone younger to come in.
“We have to get away from the incessant corporate welfare,” Harris continued. “People ask me, ‘How are you going to pull this off?’ I don’t have $50 million to run against Feinstein, but I am going to be up and down this state. You’re not going to be able to get rid of me.
“We were at a bar in Sonora called The Office the night Feinstein announced she was running for re-election. They were sipping champagne by the pool at a mansion in Beverly Hills. I will not take corporate donations.”
Among his campaign goals, Harris identified limiting the ability of corporations and political action committees to fund candidates and preserving net neutrality.
“I want to represent these people,” Harris told the Enterprise in an interview after his appearance. “Feinstein represents her contributors. I want to represent working people. This is my second trip here and I’m coming back. When was the last time she was here?”
On Jan. 8, Roza Calderon, another Democrat challenging McClintock, met with several of her supporters at the Pizza Factory in San Andreas.
“What defines the middle class?” she asked. “There is that 1 percent that government empowers and protects and that’s not us. This new tax bill is going to affect us all. People are living paycheck to paycheck; people are staying in bad relationships because they can’t afford to get a divorce. From county to county, dreamers and Latinos are asking me, ‘What about us?’ And that reflects on the larger issue that none of us are really being taken care of. What’s lacking is security. We don’t have security in our jobs. There’s food scarcity. Why is this happening in California, the sixth-largest economy in the world?”
Calderon said some Democrats from the Indivisible movement approached her and asked her to run. She took about three months to decide.
“My first thought was, ‘How will it affect my daughter?’” she said. “Politics is a hobby for the rich, and I’m an underdog. I announced my candidacy on May Day, because it’s a symbol of laborers and the working class. I was the last person to join the race because I didn’t see someone who actually represented the working class and the problems of the district the way that I know them.”
“She is the only candidate that actually fits the definition of a progressive,” said Chris Winston, field director of the Calderon campaign.
“Vote for your grandchildren,” Calderon added.
On Monday, two Democratic candidates for state office made their cases at a meeting of the Tuolumne County Democratic Committee in Sonora.
First, Carla Neal, candidate for State Assembly District 5, addressed about two dozen attendees.
“How do we save Assembly District 5?” she asked, highlighting the five pillars of her campaign. “We’re going to save our water. We’re going to save our lives, our jobs, our education and our environment.”
Neal elaborated in an interview with the Enterprise after her speech.
“By saving our lives, I mean I will work to improve our health care system,” she said. “Our economy is strong and we can save money if we do it right. Gov. (Jerry) Brown just set aside money for a strong rainy day fund. We need more renewable, clean energy and broadband. We need to lift up the poorest among us, and we do that through affordable and sustainable housing.”
Neal has been a teacher for the past 25 years and currently works as a reading instructor at Fresno City College. She is also a small business owner, with her own mobile notary public practice.
Tom Pratt, candidate for State Senate District 8, spoke next.
“I’m the only rural candidate running for this office,” Pratt said to the crowd. “I originally moved from Los Angeles, but I’m from Calaveras County and I’m going to stay here.”
Pratt then held up a dime between his thumb and forefinger.
“Does anyone know what this represents?” he asked. “This is how much rural counties received per dead tree. How much does it cost to remove a dead tree?”
Responses from the crowd ranged from $1,000 to $4,000.
“That’s absolutely inexcusable,” Pratt said. “When I found that out, I got angry. That’s why I started an insurance brokerage firm specifically for homeowners’ fire insurance. When former President Obama asked, ‘Are you disappointed with your elected officials?’ what was his answer? He told us to get a clipboard, get signatures and run for office, and that’s what I’m doing. I want to bring back trade and vocational schools. The big telecommunications corporations don’t think it’s worth the money, but I fight for broadband for rural communities.”
After he receives his party’s endorsement, Pratt plans an “old-fashioned” RV tour around the district.
This year, the California “top-two” primary election takes place on June 5, when all voters can vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote earners in each race then compete in the general election on Nov. 6.
Calaveras County voters will also decide on 10 local races in the June primary election. Third District Supervisor Michael Oliviera faces two challengers who have already entered the race for his seat. Ed Langan, a self-described marketing and business expert, and Merita A. Callaway, who formerly served as a county supervisor for 22 years, have both announced their intent to run.
Incumbent District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp will also face at least two challengers. Bruce Giudici, a nonprofit fiscal director, announced in December his intent to run for the seat, and Benjamin Stopper, a former planning commissioner, has also filed a preliminary signature in-lieu petition.
Real estate broker Tim Muetterties has announced his intention to challenge incumbent Leslie Davis for the county assessor position, while incumbent Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen will face business analyst Robin Danfelt.
Current Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio will stand for his first election after being appointed by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in May 2016 following the death of Gary Kuntz in October of 2015. Former Calaveras County sheriff’s deputy and current Amador County District Attorney Investigator Gary Stevens, who was also considered for the job when the Board of Supervisors made its appointment in 2016, announced recently that he will challenge DiBasilio. Patrick Garrahan, a former Marine Corps military policeman and Oakland Police lieutenant, announced his intent to run for the post in November. Garrahan ran unsuccessfully against Kuntz in the last election for sheriff.
No challengers have surfaced yet for several other county incumbents whose positions are up for election in 2018, including District Attorney Barbara Yook. The deadline for filing to run for any seat at stake in the 2018 local election is March 9.