Marc Steinorth, who in 2016 was able to use his incumbency and public information dissemination expertise to maintain his incumbency in the 40th Assembly District despite registration numbers and demographics that favored his opponent, was hit with a far more daunting challenge this week. San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos, whose wealth and contacts advanced him to become the immediate past chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, has filed papers to vie for the Assembly in the 40th District in this year’s election.
Steinorth, a Republican, exhibited a mercurial rise since he initiated his political career in 2010. That year he made his maiden run for political office, losing in the race for Rancho
Cucamonga mayor against incumbent Rancho Cucamonga Councilman/former Rancho Cucamonga Fire Chief Dennis Michael. But two years later, Steinorth ran successfully for a position on the Rancho Cucamonga City Council. He gathered no moss there, however, and with the endorsement of his fellow council members including Michael, in 2014 ran for Assembly in the 40th District, which encompasses nearly all of Rancho Cucamonga, the mostly unpopulated foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, most of San Bernardino and all of Highland, Loma Linda and Redlands. He defeated Democratic candidate Kathleen Henry in the November 2014 election, garnering 39,303 votes or 55.7 percent to Henry’s 31,309 votes or 44.3 percent. At that time, the Democrats held only a marginal lead over Republicans in the 40th Assembly District in terms of voter registration numbers. Superior Republican voter turnout won the day for Steinorth.
In 2016, Steinorth faced a stiffer challenge as the Democrats were making significant inroads in terms of registering voters in all of San Bernardino County, and the 40th Assembly District was a key area in that effort. In the June primary, Steinorth was opposed in a one-on-one contest by Democrat Abigail Medina, a San Bernardino City Unified School District board member. Medina beat Steinorth in the June polling 36,524 votes or 50.5 percent to 35,814 votes or 49.5 percent. Primary election results in California, however, are not binding beyond qualifying the top two finishers for a run-off in the November general election. Steinorth, who owns a direct mail advertising company and could use his incumbency to raise considerable funds, made a concentrated effort to promote himself in the months and weeks prior to the November election. Expending $2.3 million from his campaign war chest in the effort, Steinorth had less money than did Medina, who was provided with $3.3 million by her backers, including the Democratic Party, which wanted to establish a supermajority in the state legislature and saw the removal of Steinorth as possible. Steinorth was able to use his mastery of techniques for recognizing likely voters and reaching them through effective and repeated mass mailings while not squandering his money on ineffective mailing efforts to voters who were unlikely to vote. Steinorth’s sophistication in this regard outran Medina’s, whose campaign misused resources to reinforce her candidacy with voters already committed to supporting her that would have better been used at appealing to voters not registered with either party or driving to the polls Democratic-registered voters with a poor history of showing up to vote. Steinorth reversed the June election results, pulling down 76,537 votes or 50.6 percent to Medina’s 74,589 votes or 49.4 percent.
Steinorth’s 1,948 vote lead proved to be the closest margin of victory for any state legislator in the 2016 race.
None of this has been lost on James Ramos, the former chairman of the San Manuel Indian Tribe who successfully knocked off incumbent Third District Supervisor Neil Derry in 2012 and was handily reelected in 2016. Ramos is a Democrat, although he has had widespread support from Republicans, particularly those from Redlands, which is the seat of a political machine going back generations which at one time dominated San Bernardino County. Ramos was embraced by these Republicans because his personal wealth as a member of the San Manuel Tribe, which operates a casino on its reservation in the foothills above Highland, provides him with electioneering money that gives him a commanding advantage over any rivals he might come across, be they Democrat or Republican. One report is that Ramos’ income as a member of the tribe and principal in the casino is roughly $18,000 per day, $540,000 per month or $6.48 million per year.
Steinorth has just over $330,000 in his campaign coffers at present.
Simultaneously, the Democrats have been steadily improving their registration numbers vis-à-vis the Republicans throughout San Bernardino County and particularly in the 40th Assembly District. As of this week, of the district’s 221,554 voters, 89,192 or 40.3 percent were registered Democrats and 73,304 or 33.1 percent were registered Republicans.
Despite his connection to the Redlands Republican political machine, Ramos identifies as a Democrat, has long been registered as a Democrat and is supported by a faction of Democrats in San Bernardino County, including ones formerly associated with another Democrat who was on the board of supervisors two decades ago, Larry Walker.
Steinorth told the Sentinel “It’s clear my vote and continued opposition to the gas tax increase has made Sacramento politicians furious. Their game plan is no different than 2016, where they found a candidate who will blindly vote for their agenda that hurts middle class families. Our community can’t be fooled. We’re smarter than that.”
He continued, “The voters made their choice and reelected me to serve them in the legislature. I’m confident this time will be no different. I’m proud of the work I’ve done as an effective, independent voice for our community, including my work on repairing our roads without raising taxes, campaign finance reform to hold politicians accountable, and increasing punishments for sex offenders in our neighborhoods. I’ve been accessible and accountable and that’s what our community deserves.”
In addition to Ramos, two others, school teacher Libbern Cook and Mark Parker, have filed to run against Steinorth in the June 5 primary.