News

March 3 Voter Guide: Meet the Candidates

All about the campaigns for Congress, the recall, judge and more

By Todd Guild, Patrick Dwire, Tony Nuñez, and Jacob Pierce

 

CALIFORNIA’S 2OTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) is seeking a third term as the U.S. Representative from the sprawling 20th congressional district that includes all of Monterey County, as well as portions of San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties.

Panetta has two challengers in this primary: 36-year-old environmental advocate Adam Bolaños Scow, running with the endorsement of Santa Cruz for Bernie, and Jeff Gorman, a stock broker, financial advisor and current chair of the Monterey County Republican Party. The top two vote-getters will advance to the November election. Panetta is running on a legislative record that includes the California Central Coast Conservation Act, prohibiting oil leases in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, an early endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, and his introduction—along with Sen. Diane Feinstein—of the Climate Action Rebate Act, a proposal for nationwide “carbon tax” to address the climate crises. “I have fought for immigration reform by actually passing bills to protect farmworkers and Dreamers, introduced legislation to cut carbon emissions to combat the climate crisis,” Panetta wrote in an emailed statement to GT.

His Democratic challenger, Scow, has built a career as an environmental activist and grassroots organizer, working for the last six years as the California state director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit political advocacy organization. Scow worked on the voter-approved Measure Z that banned fracking and new oil well development in Monterey County in 2016, along with similar bans in San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. Scow criticizes Panetta for failing to take a position on Measure Z. Scow’s campaign speeches draw fault lines between what he sees as the Bernie Sanders-inspired “progressive agenda” and the bipartisan approach of Panetta. “His climate act is too little and too late,” Scow says. “If it wasn’t for the corporate compromises that Jimmy Panetta lauds as his big successes, I wouldn’t be running.”

Gorman, the race’s Republican Party candidate, is skeptical of the “utopian promises” of the Scow campaign. With regard to Jimmy Panetta, he hopes the district “can break out of dynasty politics”—a reference to Panetta’s father Leon, who worked in three presidential administrations, including that of former President Barack Obama, for whom he served as CIA director and secretary of defense.

Gorman’s campaign website includes a brief review of the Republican Party’s platform on national issues, and an invitation to join a fundraiser titled “A Night with Corey Lewandowski,” Donald Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, in Carmel on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

 

CALIFORNIA SENATE, DISTRICT 17

It takes about three-and-a-half hours to drive the length of California’s 17th Senate District, from San Jose down through San Luis Obispo County, so long as there’s no traffic and you drive a hair over the speed limit, says Santa Cruz-based John Laird, who’s running for the open state Senate seat.

Laird served as resources secretary under former California Gov. Jerry Brown, overseeing a $10 billion budget, with 25 statewide departments, commissions and conservancies. His big issues in this campaign include housing and education, but the top priority has to be cutting carbon emissions in the face of global warming, he says. “We have about 10 years to turn things around. And while Californians are on the lead of all 50 states, we have to do more,” says Laird, who previously served as one of the nation’s first openly gay mayors and in the state’s Assembly.

Fellow Democratic candidate Maria Cadenas, also from Santa Cruz, is the executive director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures. She says she decided to seek public office after a family conversation, when her daughter talked about wanting to cut back her plastic use. “We’re doing a disservice to our youth and our community by kicking the can down the road on things like climate and economic development. We have two Central Coasts—one that’s affluent, and one that isn’t, where people are getting squeezed out,” Cadenas says. She says she’s spent her career helping families thrive—working for the ACLU and other nonprofits and in philanthropy. She’s currently working on a plan to include financial coaching as part of patients’ medical care.

Carmel’s Vicki Nohrden, the race’s lone Republican, began her career as a realtor and became a youth minister. She’s volunteered with CASA as a court-appointed special advocate and served a term and a half on the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury. The Grand Jury experience, she says, provided lessons in getting to the root of problems and negotiating solutions—all of which, she argues, would be helpful in the Senate. “You get to be a voice for the people,” she says. She hopes to stop the exodus of Californians moving away and says she doesn’t want her family to leave the state.

John Nevill, who lives in the foothills outside King City, works as a healthcare administrator and a respiratory therapist. Nevill ran for the Assembly four years ago as a Republican, before switching his affiliation to the Democratic Party. He says his main issues are healthcare, vocational education and clean food and water. 

 

SANTA CRUZ RECALL

The recall of Santa Cruz city councilmembers Chris Krohn and Drew Glover is finally going before city voters.  

The reasons behind the recall have varied. Some supporters say they want to eliminate a culture of chaos at Santa Cruz City Hall. This past December, leading recall organizer Dan Coughlin said he supports the effort to remove the councilmembers partly because he has “a different philosophical, political position” than the two councilmen do. The petition that initially circulated and kickstarted the process cited Krohn and Glover’s behavior on the council dais, as well as their support of various homeless-oriented proposals. In the months that followed, an investigation conducted by a Sacramento-based lawyer looked at several complaints filed against the two men. No complaints were deemed to be unfounded, or false. Each man had one complaint against him found to be substantiated. Krohn and Glover defenders deemed the violations to be minor, ticky-tack infractions that were blown out of proportion.

After the investigation, Krohn apologized for any harm he may have caused. Glover insisted he had done nothing wrong. Soon after, Glover had a heated exchange with a city staffer that resulted in a memo from the city manager, and new rules prohibiting most employees from talking to Glover. Late last year, Glover had another substantiated complaint against him—for a retaliatory Facebook post directed at the former chair of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. Glover says he has a different communication style than other city officials do. And the city, he’s said, has not prioritized conflict resolution like it should. 

The recall’s endorsers include the Democratic Women’s Club and county Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. Opponents of the effort include the People’s Democratic Club, Santa Cruz for Bernie and Mayor Justin Cummings, who serves in the council majority with Glover and Krohn. Citing his behavior at a meeting on campus, the UCSC College Democrats endorsed the recall of Glover, whom the group supported in the past. The club made no endorsement on the question of whether to recall Krohn.

Throughout the petitioning period, there were reports of signature-gatherers—some of whom were being paid—lying and exaggerating Glover and Krohn’s behavior in order to get people to sign. The recall effort has benefitted from a major fundraising haul, pulling in more than $109,000 as of early January, much of it from landlords and property management companies. 

Voters also have the opportunity to choose whom they would like to take Glover and Krohn’s spots in the event that either of the two men is removed from office. Bilingual elementary school teacher Renee Golder is running for Glover’s seat, as is former Mayor Tim Fizmaurice, who has Glover’s endorsement. Former Mayor Don Lane—who’s been vocally ambivalent about the recall—is running for Krohn’s seat, as is former Mayor Katherine Beiers, who has Krohn’s endorsement.

All the candidates say they want to improve the environment at City Hall.

 

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 1

Supervisor John Leopold has served Santa Cruz County’s First District since being elected in 2008, when the state was in the throes of an economic recession. The county’s efforts since then have largely been a success, he says. Leopold is running against five opponents this March—with the top two vote getters heading to the November election, unless one candidate secures more than 50% of the vote. 

The challengers are former Santa Cruz County Greenway Executive Director Manu Koenig, Betsy Riker, Benjamin Cogan, Mark Esquibel and Donald Kreutz

Leopold says his successes include working with the Live Oak School District and the Boys and Girls club to create a 10,200-square-foot youth center at Shoreline Middle School.

He also points to the recent opening of LEO’s Haven, an inclusive park in Live Oak that lies in the heart of his district, and to the revitalization in the Pleasure Point area. “I want to continue that conversation,” he says, “because there’s more work to do around housing, climate change, supporting local businesses, and taking care of families.”

Koenig is making his first run for elected office. He says his time advocating for Santa Cruz County Greenway—work that included collecting 10,000 signatures from residents opposing a countywide rail line—has helped prepare him for the First District seat.

After working for several tech startups, he created his own, Civinomics, in 2011, working with local government agencies such as Soquel Creek Water District, the city of Santa Cruz, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. He switched to advocacy work so he could have more of a lasting impact, he says.

Greenway advocates for converting the rail line into a mixed-use bicycle path, which Koenig says would help ameliorate traffic congestion along with a host of other maladies that go along with it.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission in 2018 voted to prioritize plans for future rail service and also approved a contract with Progressive Rail to run freight operations.

Koenig was disappointed in Leopold for approving the deal despite community opposition. “I know the people of this district don’t want a train, so I feel like we’ve been consistently misrepresented,” he says. 

Leopold says that the opposition to a passenger train is not as strong as Koenig says it is, and he also notes that the Progressive Rail contract ended up garnering unanimous support from the commission.

Esquibel has worked in the telecom industry, and is now a subject manager expert for an energy company that helped build a railway from San Jose to Fremont. He also holds multiple credentials to deal with a variety of disasters. He says he can look at the county’s infrastructure from the perspective of an industry professional.

And he doesn’t like what he sees. 

“I’ve built every infrastructure known to man, and I come back here, and nothing is getting addressed,” he says.

He says that county leaders must consider water supplies when making plans for new housing. If elected, Esquibel says he would oppose plans to create secondary needle exchange programs, instead shifting more responsibility onto the county Health Services Agency. He says that much of the homelessness crisis should be treated as a mental health crisis, and that helping the homeless find permanent housing would in turn bolster the business community.

Cogan has never held public office. He describes himself as an “average, working-class guy,” who’s worked as a mechanic, a landscaper, a fast-food cashier and a handyman. “I just want to get in there and make a difference,” he says. 

Cogan also ran against Leopold in 2016, when he garnered 21% of the vote. 

He says he would reinstate the Citizens Appeals Board, to reconsider planning decisions and give prospective builders recourse if there’s a mistake or if they feel a fee is too exorbitant. 

He says he’s concerned about plans by Verizon to create a 5G network.

Cogan opposes the Pure Water Soquel project, which will involve Soquel Creek Water District pumping treated water into the aquifer as a way to rest wells and reverse seawater intrusion.

He would also try to reign in some of the power of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, and shift it back to local policymakers.

He would hold evening meetings for people who cannot attend the supervisors’ Tuesday morning meetings. He also says he would vote against pay raises for supervisors.

Riker says she is not accepting political donations. This puts her at a disadvantage in the upcoming election, she says, because she is not paying for publicity, like glossy mailers and yard signs.

Still, she hopes, if elected, to instill a female perspective on the board, which currently is all men.

“Women provide a much needed perspective on the issues facing the county,” she says.

Riker has worked as a physician assistant at a local practice and at UCSC. She would hope to eliminate fares for Santa Cruz Metro buses to increase ridership and also create more protected bike lanes. 

Kreutz did not respond to requests for comment.

 

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 2

Zach Friend is running for his third term as Santa Cruz County Supervisor in the Second District against a familiar foe: Becky Steinbruner, an outspoken community activist living in rural Aptos, is challenging the incumbent for the second time. She lost to Friend in 2016, a year after she tried to unseat the Supervisor via a recall effort. “People should have a choice,” Steinbruner says. “I’m not running to make a name for myself or to advance my image or my status.” Steinbruner says she wants to make government as accessible as possible for residents by increasing transparency and accountability. She would also advocate for county fire to receive more funding to help protect the rural and scenic areas of the county.

Friend says the supervisors have made progress on affordable housing, public safety and parks. This past November, the county approved a 100% affordable housing project on Capitola Road that will include 57 housing units, as well as community health and dental centers. “That’s an unassailable project,” Friend said. Steinbruner says the project did not include enough public input from neighbors. Friend says the county can no longer look at housing with the same mindset that it has for the last three decades.

 

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SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE

Last year, Annrae Angel was the first one to jump into the race for a judicial seat held by Judge Ariadne Symons, who had been slapped with a severe public censure over her behavior in and out of the courtroom. 

“Had I not come into the race, there might not be an election at all right now,” says Angel. She says her candidacy put increased scrutiny on Symons, who ultimately announced her retirement and decided not to run for reelection, despite raising more than $100,000. After Symons stepped out, two more candidates jumped in to run against Angel—fellow attorneys Jack Gordon and Nancy de la Peña.

Angel says her early decision to run took guts, and she cites that as a reason voters should support her. It takes courage, she explains, for a judge to make difficult decisions from the bench, and to not be blown off course by questions about whether the decision will be popular. Angel has served as a defense attorney since 1993, and mostly represents indigent clients who can’t afford lawyers. Learning to be a good judge, she says, involves being aware of one’s biases and making sure they don’t influence a ruling.

Gordon once worked as a sheriff’s deputy, but he’s been an attorney for the last 26 years, mostly working in criminal defense. He’s practiced in 10 counties and worked on tough, complex cases, including homicide cases that dragged on for months. “I work hard, know the law, and have a good temperament,” he says. In his time as an attorney and a law enforcement officer, he’s spent time with traumatized victims of crimes, loved ones of victims, and suspects. A good judge, he adds, is able to listen to everyone and also care about everyone who sets foot in their courtroom. In his time as an attorney and a law enforcement officer, he’s gotten to know all sides of criminal justice. He’s spent time listening to traumatized victims of crimes, consoling loved ones of victims and making sure suspects get their fair day in court.

De la Peña spent three decades working on behalf of Santa Cruz County’s public defenders office, and she currently works with county counsel, where she works with 22 departments on everything from child abuse cases to orders from the sheriff to remove guns from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. De la Peña, who would be the county’s first openly LGBTQ judicial officer, decided to run partly because she’s been an advocate of increased diversity on the bench for more than 10 years. She has a breadth of experience, representing both individuals and government agencies. “I bring a skill set that’s needed, in terms of knowing how to work with all the litigants and all the people who bring cases,” she says. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to make Santa Cruz County safer for everyone.

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