Latino vote, campaign spending will be deciding factors in District 3 supervisor's race.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
With less than four weeks to go until election day, political observers say the race between Lou Calcagno and Richard Ortiz for District 3 supervisor will likely be determined by South County voters who form the majority of the district, rather than the North County voters who also form the top end of the district.
Although Calcagno finished first among a field of seven candidates in the June general election with 25.4 percent of the vote, Ortiz''s strong second place showing with just over 19 percent makes the race too close to call.
As both candidates scramble to capture the crucial South County vote, Calcagno--the North County candidate--is seen as having a definite edge in terms of fundraising and endorsements, while South County candidate Ortiz is seen as having the advantage in terms of name recognition and appealing more directly to Latino voters.
"Lou [Calcagno] is way ahead in fundraising, but in terms of actual public support, Richard [Ortiz] is ahead because of the high number of Hispanic [voters]," says Soledad Mayor Fabian Barrera. "Richard comes in knowing the issues and he has Hispanic support. That''s where Lou has to target Richard and say ''I can do just as good a job as Richard.'' I would say overall, and I don''t want to be overconfident, is I don''t see Richard having a problem other than financial support."
To date, Calcagno has raised $116,000, $52,000 of which was a loan from his own business, and spent $114,000. Ortiz has raised $13,400 and spent just under $21,000.
From the perspective of San Ardo rancher and planning commissioner Miguel Errea, who placed third behind Ortiz in the June general election, Ortiz''s connection with Latino voters and his decision to run a more directly personal campaign should make up for his financial disadvantage relative to Calcagno.
"My crystal ball is a little cloudy and folks I talk to sound undecided and don''t know which way to go, but I think Richard has broad-based support and has the edge getting the Latino vote," says Errea. "That''s what got him far enough up in the general election, and I think walking precincts equates to quite a few dollars in spending and is at least as valuable as dumping a lot of money into advertising."
No other local political race better reflects the issues and divisions facing area residents than the race in Monterey County''s largest supervisorial district. With a population of 84,000 residents, of which 22,000 are registered voters, the 1.5 million acre district faces a host of complex issues that include affordable housing, water, public safety and services, ag land preservation, and how best to meet the needs of the district''s ever-growing Latino population. The city of Greenfield alone, by way of example, is 91 percent Latino,according to the U.S. Census data.
And whoever represents District 3 will provide a voice on the supervisorial board for the county''s fastest growing area--a voice that has traditionally been pro-growth under outgoing Supervisor Tom Perkins. And, while neither Calcagno nor Ortiz could be considered a no-growth candidate, both candidates say they want growth directed to existing municipal spheres of influence and away from prime ag land.
For Moss Landing resident Lou Calcagno, it is his experience as a dairyman, and his long service in county and state government that he says makes him better qualified to address the issues confronting District 3 residents.
Calcagno has been serving as a county planning commissioner for the past 16 years, and was a former member and chair of the California Coastal Commission. As a charter member of the Monterey County Agriculture Land Conservancy, Calcagno remains a leading advocate of ag land preservation, and has been outspoken in calling on the county to update its general plan to better balance development with land preservation. Calcagno has also been insistent that the time has come for the county and cities to work together to come up with a balanced and comprehensive solution to the Salinas Valley''s problems with seawater intrusion, nitrate contamination and overdrafting.
To date, Calcagno has garnered endorsements from the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Salinas Builders Exchange, and is seen as the favorite son of the Valley''s large agricultural interests. Calcagno admits he is hoping to secure additional endorsements before election day.
"What we''re looking at is to get some top business and political leaders in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys to support and endorse me," says Calcagno. "The experience I have is far superior to my opponent, important experience that the board of supervisors needs," insists Calcagno. "The board lacks someone from the ag industry on its panel."
Where Calcagno is counting on high-profile endorsements and money to give him the edge over his opponent, Ortiz plans to run more of a grass roots campaign to capitalize on his experience in city government and his perceived support in the South among Latino voters.
Ortiz points to his experience as Soledad''s former mayor, past service on the county Planning Commission and LAFCO, and his ongoing service on the Soledad City Council, as the type of experience that will unite all the disparate interests and concerns of residents in District 3.
"I come from migrant workers, which is where I got my head-start, and I carry a lot of experience in local government and land use," says Ortiz, who took a leave of absence from his job as Soledad''s chief engineer to campaign full time.
"I hope voters focus on the type of experience I have and what my capabilities are of doing what I''ve done in the past for communities," Ortiz adds. "What I''ve done in my community is serve everyone, not just special interests or special projects, and I''m here to focus on the interests of everyone."
As far as Calcagno''s perceived edge in terms of fundraising and support from the Valley''s major ag interests, Ortiz says such advantages can backfire on the candidate.
"I want to make people understand I''m here as an individual, and not representing people who put big bucks into the campaign," says Ortiz. "Money is real important to get the word out to people, but I''m traveling around the district, and holding meetings and going door to door, doing what I can to get my message across. Sooner or later, [Lou''s contributors] will want favors or payback."
In terms of the crucial Latino vote, Ortiz says he doesn''t take the vote for granted, while Calcagno, admitting that the Latino vote is important, says he continues to actively seek Latino support.
"I am Latino and real proud of it," says Ortiz, "but it''s the issues more than anything and I will represent everybody equally. I''m asking everybody for their vote, and that''s what a person running for election should be doing."
"All votes are important, but the Latino vote could be the swing vote," admits Calcagno. "Surely you can''t ignore it. The district was gerrymandered for the Latino vote and I understand that. No doubt King City is a must."
Whatever advantages each candidate brings to the supervisor''s race, both candidates agree the key to victory may come down to how effectively they present themselves as someone who understands and can address voters'' day-to-day concerns regarding basic quality-of-life issues.
"I think one of the most important issues we have to look at is that county government was originally established to take care of the rural community, to provide good roads and give sheriff protection," says Calcagno. "That was the original basis for county government and I''m getting more concern [from voters] about those primary issues county government was established for."
As far as the issues go, both candidates are advocating new policies and approaches to protect farmland, limit growth to within the cities, provide more affordable housing, and build some kind of project to provide a stable, long-term water supply.
Although neither candidate has come forth with any comprehensive plans or specific programs to solve these issues, both insist that what is important at this stage is to build and promote a broad regional coalition among the cities, county, ag interests and residents to provide for solutions.
"We need different strategies for new development, and I am seriously considering talking to the rest of the board to get agriculture and city people together to revise the county general plan to meet today''s growth needs and demand," says Ortiz. "We need to push the Monterey County Water Resources Agency into focusing on use of new storage facilities.
"One area that needs to be focused on is the way the county does business providing services countywide," adds Ortiz. "I think it needs to be evaluated regarding the type of service and how it''s administered. Building, planning, and social services all need to be evaluated because a lot of areas are not being provided with services." cw