Democratic Opponents Make Nice
Contestants for Assembly seat trade accolades.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
The race for Central Coast Assemblyman John Laird’s 27th District seat may not lead anywhere. But it is generating a lot of activity.
Monterey-based chiropractor Stephen Barkalow says he plans to challenge frontrunner Bill Monning. So does Pacific Grove real estate loan officer Gary Smith. Meanwhile, one of the three Santa Cruz County Dems vying for the post withdrew in April. Last month, Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty told Good Times that he was out of the running. Recently recovered from pneumonia, Coonerty told the weekly rag he was exhausted and didn’t see himself spending another 15 months on the campaign trail. This narrows the Santa Cruz County candidates to Mayor Emily Reilly and Felton water activist Barbara Sprenger.
Of course, all of this may be moot. All five would-be legislators say that if voters decide to extend term limits in an election on Feb. 5, 2008, then they will all bow out and throw their support behind three-term Assemblyman Laird.
In fact it’s hard to tell if the contest for the 27th Assembly District is a race or a frantic love fest.
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During Laird’s annual fundraiser last week, held at the Coconut Grove ballroom at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, term limit reform supporters collected 261 signatures in 20 minutes. Currently, state lawmakers may serve a total of 14 years—six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. The initiative would limit legislators to 12 years in office, but allow them to spend all or part of that time in either House.
If the term-limit initiative passes, Laird says he’ll run for a fourth term in the Assembly. At that point, there really won’t be a contest—unless one considers embattled Marina City Councilman Michael Morrison’s run against Laird in last November’s election a contest. And one really shouldn’t.
Which may explain why four of the five declared candidates not only attended Laird’s $125-a-head bash, but also were among the first to sign the term-limit petition.
Barkalow didn’t sign the petition, nor did he attend Laird’s fundraiser (he would have liked to, but he was out of town). He says he’s undecided about the term limit change. “I think I’ll probably support it,” he says. But he quickly adds that voters probably won’t approve the initiative.
Compared to the state Senate, he says, “the Assembly is much more representative of the population in California.” He attributes that to term-limit laws. “Voters initially put term limits in place. To keep asking them if they want to change it again and again until you get the answer you want isn’t the way to go.”
Of course, soon-to-be-termed-out lawmakers, like Laird, think otherwise.
“Since we have 37 new assemblymembers out of 80 this last December,” Laird says, “it would be nice to have some institutional memory and some stability while still meeting the people’s desire to have term limits.”
Should Laird run for reelection, Barkalow says he’s won’t challenge the popular incumbent. “John does a really good job and I think continuing in his position would benefit the county. That said, I will hound him on health care.”
Health care is the reason why Barkalow plans to run for the seat. Barkalow treats patients at the Monterey Clinic, the first multidisciplinary group on the Peninsula, which he founded. His business partner is a family practice doctor. “Every time I see someone try to come up with some type of health care reform, they’re not in health care,” Barkalow says. “They’re not in the trenches, helping patients. If more doctors got into politics, we’d end up with a much more patient-friendly system.”
Barkalow has never held an elected post, or campaigned for office. He says he doesn’t want to become a “career politician”; he simply wants to get elected, fix the state’s broken health care system, and get out. He proposes treating health insurance companies like utilities.
“When you look at a company, whether it be a utility or an insurance company, because of the number of people who have to have it, it should fall under regulations that cap the fees and cap the profits,” he says. “Continually raising insurance rates is out of control, and it needs to be brought back under control.”
Barkalow has met with Monning, an attorney and professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Monterey College of Law. “And it may even turn out at some point I’ll join forces with him,” Barkalow says. “My intention is that these issues become key issues in any campaign. Health care is going to be the key issue of the ‘08 election, nationally and statewide.
“Bill and I spoke about that briefly and I have no idea where we would be able to join forces and make that happen, but it might. Of all the candidates I know, he’s the only one I think will have the skills to make that possible.”
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Candidate Smith also says Monning is the Democrat to beat in this race. “[Monning] is probably the strongest candidate that I’m going to have to compete with,” Smith says.
Like Barkalow, Smith has never held elected office. He, too, says he won’t run against Laird. Smith, a real estate loan officer, co-owns the nightclub Monterey Live. He’s active in the PG Chamber of Commerce, the Sons of Italy, the Forest Grove Elementary School PTA and sits on the board of Save Our Shores. He’s a family man and says he’s looking out for the little guy. He lists health care, the environment, women’s rights, and connecting communities and families among his priorities.
“I do like it that all of us have the same viewpoints,” he says, talking about his opponents. “If you were to back out, or lose, at least you see a lot of your views still going forward.”
So then, why spend his and other’s money and time campaigning?
“Just like a car, a Pinto and a Ferrari, both have engines and both drive forward,” Smith says. “One fits certain people better. I’m putting out who I am. I’m a local business owner, a happily married father of three, and I’m very, very connected in the community. There are people who say you’re just like us. There will be people that match with what I say, and what I feel. If there are people who have more insight in what Bill Monning’s saying, or what Emily Reilly is saying, then they will vote for them. There should be more stuff in the soup bowl than just carrots.”
For his part, Monning, a longtime political player in Monterey County, continues to play nice. And he hopes Barkalow and Smith will join Team Bill.
“I met with them both, I’m impressed with both of them as being people who value public service highly,” Monning says. “I’m hoping that they will make a decision to work with me, but I fully respect their autonomy.”