How important can a political race be when the district’s biggest cities are Salinas, Merced, Madera, Ceres and a sliver of Modesto? How important is a state Senate district that stretches across six rural counties and three television markets?
How important? The race to replace termed-out Republican Anthony Cannella in Senate District 12 is said to the most important contest in California.
If Democrats win, they’ll likely have a super-majority in both houses of the Legislature and a Democratic governor. Such control has the Democrats rubbing their hands in anticipation; Republicans wringing theirs in dread.
Between them, the candidates will spend $3 million to convince the voters spread across parts of Fresno, Stanislaus, Monterey, Madera and all of San Benito and Merced counties to choose wisely.
Either Democrat Anna Caballero, a six-year Assemblywoman, former mayor of Salinas and cabinet member; or, Republican Rob Poythress, a Madera County supervisor and former Madera mayor.
If Poythress wins, the party of Proposition 6 – representing only 24 percent of California voters – will have more clout, but only so long as party leadership keeps them united.
If Caballero wins, the party promising high-speed rail and universal health care will celebrate – until Democrats have to start making deals with their own members. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.
Urban legislators have strength in numbers. Those representing Ceres, Livermore, Firebaugh and Fowler have to be more, well, strategic. So should be voters.
What will Poythrees or Caballero do for the district?
Both praise Cannella, Poythress saying, “I’m going to be very similar working across the aisle.” Caballero calls herself a “business Democrat.”
Both support commuter rail, like the ACE train; both spoke during the “Stop the Water Grab” rally in Sacramento. Both want a medical school in either Merced or Fresno.
What separates them? Not much.
Caballero is skeptical but more positive about high-speed rail, saying it could change Fresno and Merced for the better – if it ever actually arrives. Poythress doesn’t hate it, but wants to see a re-set, giving the state time to get its act together – if it can. The project is both overbudget and behind schedule.
The big point of departure is Proposition 6. Both recognize that the 12-cent gas tax that Proposition 6 would repeal is regressive, hurting working families the most. But Caballero – like Cannella – voted for it. Poythress wants it repealed.
Neither position disqualifies a candidate. So how to choose? Not based on TV advertising.
Poythress is running a rougher campaign, using several half-truths in ads targeting Salinas voters, a standard tactic for someone trying to make up ground. Democrats have a 46-27 percent registration advantage in D-12.
Poythress insists he won’t be “a hardliner,” that he’ll work across the aisle. That might be difficult. There will be enormous pressure to negotiate and vote in lockstep.
And history shows what happens to Republicans who don’t. Dave Cogdill of Modesto was removed as his party’s Senate leader when he broke ranks; Kristin Olsen stepped down as Assembly minority leader after a similar transgression.
No one got hit harder than Cannella, the only Republican to support the gas tax in 2017. In exchange, he got money for the ACE train extension we’ve been dreaming of and more. After his vote, he was excoriated; there were death threats.
We recommend Caballero. As a moderate Democrat, Caballero will likely have more leeway. Her experience in the legislature could make her more independent. She came to the Valley to represent the forgotten. It’s the same fight.