Just as the polls close Tuesday night, a rather subdued crowd at the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee headquarters in Oldtown Salinas is rocked by shouts of excitement.
Central Committee representative Kathy MacKenzie is updating a whiteboard when she gets the news. “Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House! Nancy Pelosi is the new Speaker!” she announces. After 12 years, Democrats will once again control the House. Pelosi, the Congresswoman from San Francisco, will make history by becoming the first female speaker.
Across the room, District 28 Assemblyman Simón Salinas echoes the excitement. “This is a really big night for Democrats,” he says. Still, it seems like a bittersweet night for Salinas. Many had expected the termed-out District 28 representative to challenge Republican Incumbent Jeff Denham for the 12th District State Senate seat.
Instead, Salinas shocked insiders by running for a seat on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. He’ll take office in January. When Denham easily pulls away of Democratic challenger Wiley Nickel early on, Salinas seems to be kicking himself just a bit. “Next time, circumstances will be different, and maybe it’ll be my time,” he says.
“I thought my first job would be about affordable housing, But the first thing I want to do is address E. coli.”
By 9:30pm, Salinas moves across Oldtown to Chapala to join a hoard of folks who came out in support of Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero, who will succeed Salinas in the Legislature.
Caballero faced off against Republican Ignacio Velazquez in what many considered to be the nastiest race the county has seen in years. Velazquez ran a slew of ads attacking Caballero’s work as mayor and as a defense attorney. His ads struck a nerve district-wide.
“He portrayed such a negative image of Salinas,” says Margaret Serna-Bonetti, a member of the high school District Board. “Why would the average Salinas person want him to represent them?”
“[The ads] infuriiated me,” Salinas City Councilwoman Jyl Lutes says. “Velazquez is a liar, he’s dirty and slimy, and that kind of crap just shouldn’t go on.”
Caballero’s campaign didn’t publicly respond.
The weekend before the election, the Monterey County Republican Party claimed a single percentage point separated Caballero and Velazquez for the Assembly seat. Tonight, election night, the gap between them grows steadily and quickly. By 11pm, Caballero takes to the stage to claim victory over her opponent.
Caballero leaves behind a career in Salinas city politics that began in 1991, when she was first elected to the council. In 1998, Caballero was elected mayor, a seat she’s held since. “It’s bittersweet,” she says.
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Long before all the votes are even counted, Caballero’s first mission in office has already changed. “I thought my first job would be about affordable housing,” she says. “But the first thing I want to do is address the E. coli issue. I will be asking to be appointed to the agricultural committee.”
Caballero’s plan may be set, but not everyone’s ready to watch her move on.
“I would have preferred Anna stay,” says Lutes, a longtime friend and supporter. “But it’s good. She needs to go on. She needs to be in a place where she can bring home policy for Salinas and deliver our message.”
Just before 10pm, Congressman Sam Farr joins the Chapala crowd to congratulate Caballero, to celebrate his own easy win over Republican challenger Anthony De Maio, and to bask briefly in the successes of Democrats nationwide.
“This is a great night for us,” Farr says. “This is the night we establish a new government. This is not the end; this is our first day. This is where it starts. This is where it matters, right here tonight.”