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By Mark Gutglueck
This year’s run-off election for San Bernardino County Fifth District supervisor represents a set of paradoxes, some of which are difficult to fathom and others which are patently simple elements of political reality. The ostensibly nonpartisan race involves a Democrat who is fighting to maintain his party’s relevancy in San Bernardino County politics, at least for the next two years, even as the Republican Party finds itself in the throes of irrelevancy in the Golden State.
The contest between Rialto Councilman Joe Baca Jr., a Democrat, and Fontana Councilman Jesse Armendarez, a Republican, involves a study in contrasts. Baca embodies at this point in his career an acquired patience, a willingness to wait until the time is ripe for him to make his advancement up the chain of political authority. Armendarez’s bid for the supervisorial post marks his third sudden, rushed and frenetic political move in less than six years.
Since its inception in pre-Civil War California in 1853, San Bernardino County has existed across several internal political eras, those that can be generally described as being dominated by the Democrats or by the Republicans or those in which there was a standoff between the two major parties. The era immediately preceding the current one began in earnest in 1936 when Harry Sheppard, a New Deal Democrat, replaced the Republican who preceded him as California’s 19th Congressional District Congressman, Sam L. Collins. The 19th Congressional District at that time overlapped some 90 percent of San Bernardino County. Over the next three decades, Sheppard, a former railroad executive who became the U.S. Representative in California’s 21st, 27th and 33rd Congressional Districts with each successive redistricting of the state as it grew population-wise each succeeding decade, enjoyed close ties with the Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. He grew to become one of the 50 most powerful men in the country. Sheppard was instrumental in directing a huge amount of federal dollars to San Bernardino County, perhaps most dramatically exemplified with the construction of what was originally known as the Victorville Army Air Corps Advanced Flying School which later became George Air Force Base in the High Desert, the San Bernardino Army Air Field which later became known as Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range which later became Fort Irwin north of Barstow and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center also known as Twentynine Palms Marine Base, the largest United States Marine Corps Base in existence.
In the span of a few days in January 1964, Congressman Sheppard opened three separate $10,000 accounts in each of eight savings and loan associations and deposited $10,000 in three banks and $5,000 in another bank, all of which were located in the Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland area. Sheppard’s faux pas in depositing $275,000 into the dozen financial institutions knelled the end of his tenure in Congress and signaled the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party’s primacy in San Bernardino County. Sheppard’s 27 separate $10,000 accounts – one penny below the threshold for an automatic report to the Internal Revenue Service and the other $5,000 deposit brought for the congressman much unwanted scrutiny when it was publicly revealed the following month. In words that would ring hollow, coming as they did from one of the more sophisticated operators in the House of Representatives, Sheppard offered the explanation that the money was his life savings that he had kept as cash in a safe deposit box since his election to Congress nearly 28 years previously. He insisted that he had just gotten around to making preparations to ensure his wife’s future by making those deposits, and that he previously did not have time to manage his investments and didn’t want the income from putting the money into an interest-bearing account because that would have pushed him into a higher tax bracket. Neither the IRS, nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor any other authorities took action against Sheppard, but the revelation meant the end of his political career. He did not seek reelection that year, and he left office on January 3, 1965.
Sheppard was succeeded by another Democrat, Kenneth Dyal, but Dyal served only a single term before he was replaced by a Republican, Jerry Pettis in 1966, the same year the Reagan Revolution began with Ronald Reagan’s election as governor in 1966. Republicans took control of San Bernardino County from that point forward.
For the next four decades, the number of registered Republicans in San Bernardino County outran the number of Democrats. With some notable exceptions, those elected to state legislative office, to the board of supervisors, district attorney, sheriff, and to the city councils and to the mayoralties of the cities within the county were by and large Republicans. In 2009, for the first time in 40-plus years, the number of registered Democrats surpassed those registered as Republicans in the county. Remarkably, however, despite the demographics that had swung in favor of the Democrats and more than a few scandals that Republican office holders in San Bernardino County had managed to embroil themselves in during the first decade of the Third Millennium, the GOP continued to dominate San Bernardino County.
Two decades ago, the Golden State as a whole fell into the hands of the Democrats. In the years since, the state has grown increasingly Democratic, such that at present the governor’s mansion is occupied by a Democrat. Further, the attorney general, the insurance commissioner, the secretary of state, the state treasurer, the state controller, the state auditor and the state superintendent of schools are all Democrats, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democratic supermajorities.
In neighboring Orange County, what was once presumed impossible has occurred. A quarter of a century ago, all of Orange County’s Congressional representatives were Republicans. Democrats were so few in Orange County that a jocular myth was that a bounty had been put on them there. Today, 25 years on, all seven of Orange County’s Congressional members are Democrats.
San Bernardino County remains, against the odds and against the numbers, one of the few remaining Republican bastions in the state. That the Republicans have been able to keep it so stands as a tribute to its local party members’ collective grit, determination, tenacity, energy, coordination, hard work, cohesiveness, cunning and willingness to defy expectations, convention and even the law to retain their primacy. That the Democrats have remained in the majority of cases shut out of the corridors of power and decision-making in the state’s largest geographical county and fifth largest in terms of population is a manifestation of its local party members’ overall complacency, discord, poor communication, indolence and gullibility.
Among the five Congress members representing San Bernardino County at the federal level, one is a Republican and four are Democrats. That is because, however, the districts for several of San Bernardino County’s members of the House of Representatives extend beyond the county boundaries into areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties which are heavily Democratic. An analysis of the vote in the Congressional races in San Bernardino County going back to 2016 shows that two of those four Democrats would likely not be in office if the determination of who was to represent them had been left up to San Bernardino County voters alone.
San Bernardino’s state legislative delegation is majority Republican, with three of its five state senators currently Republicans and four of its eight assembly members Republicans. Again, it is because the districts of some of those legislators extend beyond San Bernardino County’s borders that some of those Democratic Party-aligned office holders can claim incumbency.
Local elected offices in California are officially considered to be nonpartisan. In San Bernardino County, however, party affiliation is a primary consideration whenever and at whatever level an election is held.
At the most basic level of local governance in the county – among the elected members of the 24 city and town councils and the county board of supervisors – Republicans have remained in ascendancy. In 17 of the county’s 24 cities, the Republicans hold absolute control. In two of those cities there is no clear partisan leaning among elected decision-makers. In only five of the county’s 24 cities are there more Democrats on their ultimate decision-making panel than Republicans. Currently on the board of supervisors, four of its five members are Republican. In the March 3 primary election this year, three positions on the board of supervisors were up for election, those being the First District, the Third District and the Fifth District. Robert Lovingood, a Republican first elected in 2012, announced last year he would not seek reelection. Congressman Paul Cook, who is now 77-years-old and finding it more difficult to hold up under the strain of flying across the country between Washington, D.C. and Southern California two and three times a month, seized upon the opportunity Lovingood’s departure presented, allowing him to remain in politics by running for supervisor, which would entail a far less rigorous travel demand, consisting of driving the 45 miles between his newly established residence in Victorville and San Bernardino and then back as little as twice a month. In the March 3 election, the well-funded Cook easily outdistanced his three opponents, capturing 31,230, or 64.66 percent of the 47,365 votes cast, winning the First District seat outright. Similarly, in the Third District, where Dawn Rowe, once a member of Cook’s Congressional staff who had been appointed to serve out the last two years of James Ramos’s term as supervisor after he was elected to the State Assembly in 2018, triumphed in her election bid over four others, polling 32,577 or 54.96 percent of 57,028 total votes, claiming the Third District post until 2024. In the Fifth District, Josie Gonzales, who had first been elected to the board in 2004 and is now nearing the end of her fourth term on the board, is obliged to end her tenure as a supervisor pursuant to county voters’ 2006 passage of Measure P, which from its going into effect as of the 2008 election limited supervisors to three four-year terms. Gonzales, representing the overwhelmingly Democratic Fifth District, is the only Democrat on the board at present.
Gonzalez’s hope had been that her legacy of leadership would be extended with the election of her chief of staff, Dan Flores. Flores, a Democrat and member of the Colton Unified School District Board of Trustees, progressed toward the March 3 primary with a fair amount of confidence. Flores had the endorsement of the incumbent, a sizeable electioneering fund of his own that exceeded at the outset of the campaign $200,000, the willingness of Gonzales to back him even further with funding transfers from her own electioneering account which exceeded $604,000, Democratic-party affiliation, a working knowledge of the office itself that exceeded that of his opponents, together with a familiarity with the ongoing issues in the district that evolved from his interaction with county staff and the district’s residents on a constant basis. Many considered Flores to be the heir apparent to Gonzales.
Nevertheless, the long-anticipated departure of Gonzales as Fifth District supervisor had the effect of summoning the interest and attention of a number of politicians in the area. Primary among those was Joe Baca Jr. Baca’s father was a well-traveled politician, one who paid his dues early on in his effort to best another local Democratic office holder, Jerry Eaves. Eaves, a union official at the then-extant Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, had parlayed his union ties and Democratic bona fides into broad voter support in the blue-collar Fifth District to gain election in 1978 to the city council in Rialto, whereafter he captured the mayor’s post in 1980. In 1984, Eaves was elected to the California Assembly. From that base, he successfully vied for the California Assembly. Emerging very early on as Eaves’ major rival was Joe Baca Sr. The two had some legendary knock-down-drag-out elective battles in 1986, in 1988 and again in 1990, in which the dwindling number of Republican residents in San Bernardino County’s Central Valley was an irrelevancy and the battle between the two was for the hearts and minds of the Democrats, who comprised the overwhelming plurality of the district’s voters. In 1992, however, Eaves elected to depart from Sacramento, where he was a slightly less than medium-sized fish in a big pond to seek the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Fifth District position, where he would be one of five decision-makers overseeing the government in the largest county geographically in the lower 48 states. Eaves’ anointing of his protégé, Rialto Mayor John Longville, in an effort to have him succeed him in the Assembly, failed, however, as Baca did not miss the opportunity to vie for the Assembly once more, at last succeeding in becoming a member of the state legislature. After six years in California’s lower legislative house, Baca stepped up to run for California State Senate in the 32nd District, emerging victorious. He held that post for less than a year, when with the death of Congressman George Brown in 1999, he successfully ran in a special election to succeed him. For more than a decade, Baca, a Hispanic Democrat in the heavily Hispanic Democratic districts which he represented, appeared and indeed was politically invulnerable. In the meantime, there was considerable talk of the potential for a Baca Family Political Dynasty, as the names of two of his sons, Joe Jr. and Jeremy, and his daughter, Natalie, were being bruited about as possible candidates for any of several local political offices, with the suggestion they would eventually make their ways to Sacramento and perhaps even Washington, D.C. Penultimately, Joe Baca Jr. successfully vied for Assembly in the 62nd District in 2004, and four year’s later Jeremy unsuccessfully ran for the city council in 2008. In 2006, Joe Baca Jr, intent on moving up the political chain, forsook his hold on the 62nd Assembly District and ran for the State Senate in the 32nd California Senatorial District, losing to Gloria Negrete-McLeod. Having fallen off his political horse, Joe Jr. immediately remounted his steed, and ran for the Rialto City Council in that year’s race, emerging victorious. For the last 14 years, he has exercised a marked degree of discipline, having sidestepped controversy by avoiding audacious conduct and remaining on good terms with his council colleagues be they Democratic or Republican, while devoting himself to, if not the minutiae of municipal operation, then enough of the details with regard to its nuts and bolts that he instills confidence in his judgment and oversight of city staff. Having maintained himself in the office for nearly a decade-and-a-half, he has at this point overcome the impression that some might have gotten in 2006 that he was possessed by overleaping ambition when he abandoned the Assembly for the opportunity to move into the California State Senate prematurely. Having exhibited calm, patience and steadiness while Supervisor Gonzales monopolized the elected post that represented what had become for young Baca the most logical step up the political hierarchy, his move to challenge Flores and any others for the Fifth District supervisorial post did not strike anyone as unwarranted or presumptuous.
As 2019 dawned and anticipation over who would succeed Gonzales began in earnest, informed speculation was that Flores and Baca would likely be vying against one another, and that it was possible they would be the only two contestants in the race. Both were established Democratic officeholders within the district and both had a sufficient amount of money to ward off, it seemed, any other candidates who might have an interest but who were not financially equipped to compete in the overwhelmingly Democratic political subdivision. Indeed, so lopsided was the registration advantage the Democrats held over the Republicans, that it was commonly thought the Republicans, who are known for taking a very practical approach to politics, would be unwilling to squander monetary and other resources in an effort where the primary factors of electability stood so starkly against them.
Amongst the Republicans, however, was Jesse Armendarez. Armendarez’s political career at that point had been relatively brief. But at each stage of progress in his career, he had beaten the more numerous Democrats on their own turf. A real estate agent, Armendarez’s backing of Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren had been key to her establishing a vice-grip on the then-190,000 plus population city, a remarkable feat given that Fontana, the eastern half of which lies in the Fifth Supervisorial District and the western half of which lies in the Second Superivisorial District, is only two percent less Democratic than the Fifth District as a whole in terms of voter registration numbers. Remarkably, Warren, a rarity among African-American politicians in that she is affiliated with the Republican Party, with the assistance of Armendarez and other Republican Party donors bankrolling her effort, established a political machine in Fontana that elected her mayor and simultaneously elevated or reelected three other Republicans to the city council, such that Warren ultimately obtained and yet has an overwhelming 4-to-1 ruling coalition.
In 2011, an opportunity to keep the Democrats further off balance in Fontana emerged, and Warren and her political machine exploited it. It was learned that Leticia Garcia, a Democrat and member of the Fontana School Board, had been since 2002 married to Jason Garcia, who was convicted of murder in a gang-related shooting when he was 16 and had been in prison since 1984. Jason Garcia was incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, where he had himself sought and obtained a higher education for himself behind bars, through good behavior credits qualifying to take remote classes at San Jose State University, from which he obtained a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Leticia Garcia met Jason Garcia while she was working on a project for a criminology class in 2001. They married the following year.
Warren considered Leticia Garcia, who is active in Democratic politics, to be a potential threat to her own political viability. Garcia had been critical of a number of city policies, and had antagonized Warren by making several specific and in-depth sallies against an after-school program the city was running for the school district, which Warren had regularly touted as one of her signature accomplishments.
Working behind the scenes while occasionally surfacing to make public statements, Warren orchestrated a campaign aimed at stirring up sentiment against Garcia, one that consisted primarily of guilt-by-association charges. That included an appeal directly to the school district to take action to remove Garcia from the board. That request was met by a response from the superintendent, the district’s lawyer and the board itself that adequate legal grounds to effectuate Garcia’s ouster or force her into resigning did not exist.
Warren then turned to Armendarez, who in addition to raising money for a petition drive to qualify a recall of Garcia for a special ballot, served as the ostensible public coordinator of that recall effort. At Warren’s prompting, Armendarez widened the recall effort to include Sophia Green, another Democrat and member of the board, who, Armendarez pointed out, had a voting record on the school board virtually indistinguishable from Garcia’s. In actuality, Warren’s animus against Green stemmed from the equally strident and rapier-sharp attacks she had made on the quality of the city-run after-school program which Warren was closely identified with. All told, Armendarez raised over $125,000 to fund the Garcia/Green recall effort, which concentrated the bulk of its fire on Garcia, incessantly repeating that she was married to a man convicted of murder serving time in prison, that she had repeatedly visited him while he was incarcerated, slyly insinuating in the process that she was if not a convicted felon then some kind of moral reprobate, while constantly comparing Green’s voting record to hers, suggesting that having both on the board was a major contributory factor to the culture of instability within the Fontana Unified School District and that both were embarrassments to the community and derogatory to Fontana’s image, not to mention poor role models for the children in attendance at the district. Ultimately, the recall election took place in 2013, and both were removed from office.
To reward Armendarez, Warren supported him in his run for the school board in 2014, and prompted the other elements of her political machine, including her advisors, strategists and campaign consultants, to lend him the support he needed to win, which he did. Two years later, again with Warren’s support, Armendarez ran for city council. In doing so, he defeated and displaced Lydia Salazar-Wibert, a Democrat, prevailing by the relatively narrow margin of 13,812 votes, or 18.53 percent, to Salazar-Wibert’s 12,995 votes, or 17.43 percent.
With Armendarez’s defeat of Salazar-Wibert in 2016 and Phil Cothran Jr’s election in 2018 which effectively replaced the one-time-Republican-turned Democrat Michael Tahan on the city council, the Republican-to-Democrat balance on the Fontana City Council transitioned from 2-to-3 to 3-to-2 to 4-to-1, as Republicans Warren, Armendarez, John Roberts and Phil Cothran, Jr. now lopsidedly outnumber the sole Democrat on the panel, Jesse Sandoval. This was a substantial coup for Warren, as the voter registration numbers in Fontana at that time entailed over 48,000 or 48.979 percent of the city’s more than 98,000 voters being registered as Democrats, and roughly 18,500 or 18.877 percent of the city’s voters being registered Republicans. Indeed, the city’s more than 23,000 voters who expressed no party preference outnumbered the city’s Republicans. That Warren could not only reverse the ruling coalition on the council prior to the 2016 election from a Democratic one to a Republican lock in the face of the overwhelmingly superior Democratic registration numbers was remarkable.
While he did not deviate in the least from the path Fontana Political Boss Warren mapped out for him while he was functioning on the city council, voting right down the line with her on virtually every item that came before the city council for a vote, Armendarez evinced an ambition beyond the Fontana City Council that was not in keeping with Warren’s expectations. Like everyone else paying attention to the realpolitik of San Bernardino County, Warren was watching with keen interest the approaching end of Gonzalez’s tenure as Fifth District Supervisor. Though Warren did not covet the Fifth District position for herself, at least at present, she believed that the time had evolved for the Republican Party to make a coordinated effort to break the Democratic hold on the Fifth District, despite the blue party’s vast numerical superiority. Just as she and her fellow Republicans had laid claim to political primacy in her city where the Republicans were at a nearly two-to-five disadvantage to the Democrats, Warren believed the Republicans might likewise prevail in the Fifth District supervisorial race while functioning under what is practically the same 2-to-5 numerical disadvantage. Warren’s choice to carry the Republican standard in the 2020 race was not Almendarez, but rather Dr. Clifford Young, San Bernardino County’s other major African-American Republican officeholder. Nonetheless, Warren stayed neutral in the beginning as Armendarez and Clifford Young fought for support.
Young’s suitability for the task of wresting the Fifth District scepter from the Democrats was self-evident, a number of San Bernardino County Republicans calculated, including independent party analysts and strategists who bore no close connection to Young and casual observers of the political scene to say nothing of Young’s supporters including Warren. A former professor of public administration at San Bernardino State University, Young was the Fifth District supervisor in the 18 months before Gonzales acceded to the position in 2004. Young had been appointed to succeed Jerry Eaves as supervisor after he was convicted in a political corruption scandal and was forced to resign from office in 2003. Thus, Young was the first and to this date the only African-American to serve on the board of supervisors. Young elected not to remain as supervisor beyond his appointed tenure, and did not seek election in 2004, returning to his career as an educator. In 2013, however, he reentered the political fray, and ran successfully for a position on the West Valley Water District Board. In 2015, Young was chosen by his board colleagues to serve as board president. He was reelected to the board in 2017. The West Valley Water District is headquartered in Rialto, and includes a service area that extends into Fontana, Bloomington and Colton, all of which lie within the Fifth District. Like Fontana, the West Valley Water District’s constituents – its voters – are overwhelmingly Democrats. Nevertheless, the West Valley Water Board now boasts and for the previous three years had a five-member board that is composed of four Republicans. Strategists believed that because of the significant numbers of African-American voters in the Fifth District, his existing popularity among voters of both parties in Rialto, and with the endorsement of Warren in Fontana and the likelihood that virtually all Republican voters in the district would line up behind him, Young stood as good of a prospect as any Republican of being able to best a Democrat in the race.
Almendarez, however, in conjunction with a small but energetic band of mostly youthful supporters affiliated with the Republican Party moved to outmaneuver Young, depriving the older man of the San Bernardino County Republican Party’s endorsement in the race for supervisor, instead routing it to himself.
Key players in the effort to bypass Young in favor of Almendarez were Phil Cothran Sr. and Jeremiah Brosowske.
Phil Cothran Sr., a successful insurance agent in Fontana, first became heavily involved in Fontana politics in the 1980s. Initially that involvement did not have a hard partisan edge to it, as many of Fontana’s more dominant politicians at that juncture, such as Mayor Nat Simon in the 1980s and Dave Eshleman in the 1990s, were Democrats. But over time, as Fontana’s city council came to feature Republican majorities and the Republican leadership of the successive mayoralties of Mark Nuami, Frank Scialdone and Acquanetta Warren, Cothran, already a Republican, identified himself ever the more strongly with the Party of Lincoln, its members and its causes. His behind-the-scenes influence extended to a wide range of events and factors in the city, including enabling Warren in her domination of the city’s politics, extending to ensuring she has been surrounded on the council with Republicans at the ready to support her agenda with their votes. The most telling feature of this is Cothran’s and Warren’s dual successful effort in 2018 to elect his son, Phil Cothran Jr. to the city council.
Jeremiah Brosowske, now 30, a little more than a half decade ago was considered to be the wunderkind of the San Bernardino County Republican Party. After catching the political bug while involved in campus politics at Victor Valley College shortly after graduating from high school, Brosowske headed out into the real world where at the age of 22 he volunteered to participate and was heavily involved in no fewer than 14 political races in San Bernardino County, in each case working on behalf of a Republican candidate. Thirteen of those 14 candidates were victorious. Brosowske impressed virtually everyone he came into contact with by virtue of his youthful enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. In 2014, as Curt Hagman was nearing the end of his sixth year in the Assembly and was no longer eligible to seek reelection to that post because of term limits, he made himself scarce in Sacramento and returned to his home in Chino Hills where he wrested the chairmanship of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee from Robert Rego. That put Hagman in position to utilize the county party’s machinery to focus it upon assisting him in making the transition from a lame duck state legislator into a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the Fourth District. After Hagman emerged victorious against Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who was then a sitting congresswoman, he had the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee hire the 24-year-old Brosowske as its executive director. Brosowske was a protégé of former First District Supervisor/Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Bill Postmus. From 2004 to 2006, Postmus was chairman of the board of supervisors, and was concurrently the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. In 2007, Postmus had acceded to the position of San Bernardino County assessor, a position he held until he imploded in a political corruption scandal that led to his conviction on 14 felony counts and an eventual prison sentence. Barred by his conviction from holding political office ever again in California, Postmus had gone to Wyoming to create a company, Mountain States Consulting Group. Postmus then utilized Mountain States to engage with political candidates and officeholders in California and San Bernardino County in particular, providing them with assistance in running their campaigns and fundraising, and using Mountain States as a political fund laundering mechanism that would take in money from businesses which was then passed through to political candidates, preventing those businesses, many or even most of which had projects or contracts pending with the governmental entities those candidates were seeking elected office with, from being identified as having bankrolled those politicians. Brosowske at one point went to work for Postmus as an employee of Mountain States Consulting Group, in which capacity he learned firsthand many of the underhanded political techniques Postmus had employed during his rise to the pinnacle of San Bernardino County politics in the early 2000s before his fall from grace.
Brosowske became in large measure the architect of Armendarez’s campaign to cut Clifford Young off at the pass and seize the Republican Party’s endorsement for supervisor in the 2020 race. That involved Browoske, using his entrée as a member of the Republican establishment and his connection with a number of the members of the county’s Republican Central Committee, particularly those from the county’s High Desert and the committee’s youngest members, making a case that Armendarez rather than Young represented the wave of the future for the party, and convincing members of the central committee to endorse Armendarez for the position.
Another element of that strategy was to both weaken Young and make a convincing enough demonstration of Young’s weakness that the party as a whole would shy away from him. The means of doing that was inherent in the 2019 West Valley Water District Board race. While Young did not stand for reelection that year, having been reelected to a four-year term two years previously, up for election that year was one of Young’s political allies on the board, Greg Young. Despite their last names, there is no blood relation between Clifford Young and Greg Young. Brosowske, working with Armendarez and others, took aim at Greg Young, working intently to keep him from gaining reelection to the water board.
Greg Young first became involved in politics in earnest in 1998, working on behalf of Republican Elia Pirozzi in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Congress. As time and his other commitments permitted, Greg Young over the next decade involved himself in advancing the Republican Party’s fortunes, primarily in local and statewide races rather than national campaigns. A resident of Bloomington, and thus of the Fifth District, in 2008 Greg Young was granted as a show of recognition of his past efforts an appointment as an alternate to the San Bernardino County Central Committee. Appreciative of the opportunity and the faith expressed in him, Young endeavored not to disappoint his fellow party members nor squander the chance his presence on the central committee provided him to further the Republicans’ efforts to outmaneuver the Democrats. Party officials could not help but be impressed with Young’s energy and intensity, even though some felt that he was being a little bit unrealistic in seeking to make any inroads in lessening the Democrats’ grip that gave them such a stranglehold on the Fifth District. Remarkably, though not overnight, Young’s dogged persistence in what most others considered to be a hopeless circumstance began to show results. Through both suggestion and willingness to get out into the trenches himself and engage with voters, whom he approached not as an advocate of the Republican party but as someone selling a particular candidate who, if anyone checked, just happened to be a Republican, Young involved himself in or served as a major or prime mover in successful election after election in which the Republicans began to erode the Democrats’ base in the Fifth District. In 2013, Young supported Dr. Clifford Young in his successful race for a position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. In that race, Clifford Young displaced a longtime Democratic board member. Two years later, Greg Young, in what would be his maiden run for political office other than his position on the central committee, ran for a position on the West Valley Water District himself, placing first. Two years later, in 2017, Greg Young again assisted Dr. Clifford Young in his successful reelection effort. In that same contest, Greg Young assisted Dr. Young in getting two other Republicans – Dr. Michael Taylor and Kyle Crowther – elected to the West Valley Water Board, as well.
By 2019, a cabal of mostly young Republican Party members had coalesced around Armendarez, one which included Brosowske, Naseem Farooqi, Angel Ramirez and Phil Cothran. They were convinced that by acting at once they could ace out Clifford Young and secure the official Republican Party nomination for Armendarez. A major consideration in their calculation was that Armendarez offered the advantage of being able to in large measure bankroll himself, providing a substantial infusion of funding that would ward off any other pesky challengers for the Fifth District seat while simultaneously creating a buzz and synergy that would, as Armendarez’s campaign advanced and became recognized as an inevitability, convince other traditional donors to the Republican Party that they should endow him with the capital he needs to win. It went without saying that much of the early spending in the campaign was to demonstrate that the machine that had grown up around Armendarez was a force to be reckoned with.
Thus, the 2019 off-year election in which Greg Young was to stand for reelection to the West Valley Water Board presented for them an ideal opportunity to make a statement announcing Armendarez as the newest Republican juggernaut. The first order of business was to collect enough money from the various participants to rent Angel Ramirez, a 21-year-old election worker from Fontana and an Armendarez protégé, a room in a residence in Bloomington, which falls within the West Valley Water District’s Division 5. Ramirez then filed for candidacy in that election, joining with another Bloomington resident, Jackie Cox, in challenging Greg Young. Brosowske went to work, lobbying the members of the Republican Central Committee with whom he had contact – including Eric Swanson, Rebekah Swanson and Christopher Dustin, – to vote to have the central committee endorse Ramirez, whose work on behalf of the party had consisted of engaging in some precinct walking on behalf of Warren, Phil Cothran Jr. and John Roberts in the 2018 Fontana Municipal Election. Timing the move carefully to have the internal central committee vote suddenly called for and to occur at a meeting while some of the committee’s members were not in attendance and at which the Armendarez camp could marshal the full range of its forces, Brosowske was able to engineer it so the Republican Central Committee, headed by Jan Leja, went along with giving the endorsement to Ramirez, shunting aside Greg Young, whose demonstrated effective and fierce loyalty to the GOP for two decades was widely known. By that point, the Armendarez team had reached out to Michael Taylor, who along with Kyle Crowther had been elected to the West Valley Water District largely on the basis of the electioneering efforts Clifford Young and Greg Young had made for them in 2017, to convince them to support Ramirez. This was less difficult to do than it might have otherwise been as a consequence of certain differences that had arisen between Taylor and Dr. Young with regard to water district administration and management issues. Throughout the campaign in earnest, which lasted less than four months from the filing period in July 2019 until the election in November, Taylor transferred $17,964.70 from his electioneering fund to that of Ramirez. Additionally, Taylor provided $3,000 to the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, which was involved in generating anti-Greg Young political hit pieces. Thus, Taylor provided nearly $21,000 toward the effort to remove Greg Young from office.
Ultimately, however, the effort to unseat Greg Young failed, as Young captured 340 votes of the 646 cast, or 52.63 percent of the total to Ramirez’s 230 votes or 35.63 percent, followed by Cox, with 76 votes or 11.76 percent. Despite that, the viciousness of the attacks on Greg Young and the maneuvering by Brosowske to secure the Republican Central Committee’s endorsement for Almendarez convinced Clifford Young not to run for Fifth District supervisor.
Entering the race in addition to Almendarez, Baca, and Flores was Nadia Renner, a broadcast company executive. All four brought at least some elements of credibility to the table, as in Renner’s case her employment and entrée with and support by a local radio station, her affiliation with the government reform advocacy association The Red Brennan Group, and her backing by social benefactor and philanthropist Eric Steinman.
Joe Baca Jr. came into the contest with what was clearly the greatest degree of name recognition, based on both his own political career and that of his father. In 2012, his father’s name, for a short time, became a household word as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire at that time affiliated with the Republican Party, was on a crusade to end gun violence both nationally and in his city, which had just prior to that seen an increase in the homicide rate. Acutely aware that the lion’s share of his own party’s members and most of its elected officials were strong Second Amendment gun ownership rights advocates, Bloomberg’s plan of action entailed instigating a national movement to restrict gun ownership and allowing the Democrats in Congress to carryout the law’s eventual passage and adoption. Potentially obstructing that, Bloomberg believed, were no fewer than five so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, that is members of the party’s ever-shrinking conservative wing. Among these was Joe Baca, Sr., a Vietnam War-era veteran of the Army, who had from time to time offered his constituents assurances that he was a supporter of the Second Amendment and that he would do nothing to restrict gun ownership rights. In the 2012 election, Bloomberg poured money into the campaigns of the opponents of those five “Blue Dog” Democrats, including Gloria Negrete-McLeod, a Democrat who had competed against Joe Baca Sr. in that year’s primary and finished what for Baca seemed a more-than-comfortable 14.24 percent behind him. Nevertheless, under California’s open primary rules, Negrete-McLeod had qualified for the run-off against the incumbent Joe Baca Sr. in the November 2012 general election, despite their identical Democratic Party affiliation. Less than two months before the November 2012 election, Bloomberg announced his intention of targeting the five Blue Dogs and quickly followed up with $3 million in contributions to Negrete-McLeod, which paid for all manner of electioneering material – yard signs, billboards, television ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, brochures, handbills and mailers – both promoting her as a candidate and excoriating Joe Baca as a politician. When the vote was counted, Negrete-McLeod, the same woman who had turned back Joe Baca, Jr.’s climb from the Assembly to the State Senate in 2006, had defeated Joe Baca, Sr., ending his 13 years as a Congressman. Negrete-McLeod chose to remain in Congress only one term, and Joe Baca Sr. endeavored again and again to reignite his political career, twice in runs for Congress and once in an attempt to challenge Acquanetta Warren as mayor of Fontana, all unsuccessfully. At one point, Joe Baca Sr., having seen his once-storied political career sidetracked by Negrete-McLeod, Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar and Bloomberg, who has now reinvented himself as a Democrat, flirted with leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
Even though Joe Baca Sr. was unable to achieve the lofty success of his earlier political self, he has managed to keep his name being mentioned publicly over the last several years, at times stirring things up to the point that he has had more local publicity than he had when he was serving in Congress.
All of that has redounded to his son’s benefit. Indeed, it was either that name recognition, positive name identification or the admirable job he has done in the capacity of city councilman in Rialto that drove Joe Baca Jr. to victory in March. He did not win on the basis of his fundraising. Baca functioned throughout the campaign for the March 3, 2020 election with a total of $116,443 in political donations deposited into his 5th District campaign fund. Flores crushed Baca in fundraising capability, having collected $312,966.39, including a $15,000 loan to himself, that went into his campaign war chest.
Armendarez outperformed the others in terms of his fundraising effort, accumulating into his electioneering account $336,299.86, of which $91,076.83 was a loan to himself.
Armendarez used over half of that one-third of a million dollars to promote himself, which included an energetic sign campaign aimed at selling the Armendarez name brand. A significant portion of his funding was devoted to trashing Flores by means of hit pieces mailed directly to voters, Democratic voters in particular, after polling showed that the Fifth District race was going to be a wide open contest and that among those recognized by the electorates as likely successors to Gonzales were Clifford Young and Joe Baca Jr. Those polls further showed that when it came to name recognition, both Flores and Armendarez were further down the list. It nevertheless appeared that Flores, with his backing from the incumbent Gonzales, had the decided lead in the race in terms of financing. The Armendarez camp’s strategy was to essentially ignore Baca and attempt to define Armendarez to the electorate as a superior choice to Flores.
Nadia Renner succeeded in making herself a presence in the race, utilizing $19,100 to carry out her campaign.
Ultimately, Baca made a convincing showing, capturing 19,948 votes or 40.22 percent of the total 49,595 votes cast. To have claimed victory outright, however, he would have needed to poll a majority of the vote, at least 24,798 votes. Armendarez claimed second place and thus a berth against Baca in the upcoming November contest. He polled 13,330 votes or 26.88 percent. Flores finished a disappointing third with 8,998 votes or 18.14 percent. Renner captured 7,319 votes or 14.76 percent.
The results were a tad bit surprising to the Republican pollsters and prognosticators. They had expected both Armendarez and Flores to do slightly better than they actually did, and that Baca would not poll more than a third of the vote.
Analyzed from a financial standpoint, Renner, though losing in last place, ran the most efficient vote gathering effort, expending just over $1.10 per vote. Baca spent $5.84 per vote. Armendarez spent $25.23 per vote. Flores spent a whopping $34.78 per vote in an expensive losing cause.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the expense of his second place finish, Armendarez has summoned to his cause supporters – ones beyond the circle of Brosowske, Farooqi, Cothran, Crowther, Ramirez, Dustin and the Swansons – who have sat up and taken notice. Those of sophistication in the political world understand that money is a central and indispensable element of achieving elected office. That Armendarez has demonstrated his willingness to bear that expense or a major portion of it has perhaps not so much convinced a core group of Republican operatives and donors that Armendarez can overcome the long odds favoring the Democrats in general and Baca in particular in the Fifth District, but that it is an indicator that Armendarez is ready to wage the type of aggressive and energetic longshot campaign that just might defy those odds. The Republican Party has at this point, with a few notable exceptions, coalesced behind him.
For those Republicans looking to advance their party’s cause, they did not notice or have now looked beyond the manner in which Clifford Young was figuratively knifed in the backroom and the brutality of the proxy fight that Armendarez’s forces fought and lost against Greg Young when they attempted to replace him with Ramirez in a show of power against Clifford Young’s supporters. A year ago, Clifford Young was considered the GOP’s most logical candidate if the Republicans were going to indeed field an alternative to the Democratic candidates, be they Baca, Flores or anyone else. Informed by his supporters that they considered, and polling data indicated, the voters in the Fifth District generally had a high opinion of him and that he was the most logical candidate, Dr. Young in mid-2019 was mentally preparing himself for the run, having gotten his wife to accept the possibility that he would be committing four years to serving in the time-consuming-and-attention demanding role of county supervisor. After the ruthless attacks on Greg Young and the accompanying insinuations relating to himself had made the rounds, Clifford Young, his family and a substantial group of Republicans were sharply taken aback by the meanspiritedness of the jockeying for position relating to the Fifth District contest, and were particularly disillusioned by the attacks emanating from other Republicans. Dr. Young, yet believing he could make a competitive race against either Baca or Flores in a head-to-head race, seeing that his sources of political financial support were drying up because of the activity of Brosowske and some others, recognized he would need to take a personal financial hit if he were to get into the race and have to sustain it, at least initially, with his own savings. He opted out of running, as much as he wanted to pursue doing so.
Whereas last year, before Clifford Young had dropped out of the running, Armendarez’s people were engaging in a lot of arm twisting among the party’s donors to pressure them to back him rather than Dr. Young, with Armendarez having emerged as the Republican standard bearer in the Fifth District race, Republican money is now making its way freely into Armendarez’s campaign coffers.
To at least some, Armendarez’s electoral bid is seen as an effort for Fontana as a community sustaining itself politically. At present, two members of the board of supervisors, Gonzales and Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, are former Fontana city councilwomen, Gonzales having lived on the city’s Fifth District east side and Rutherford living in the city’s Second District west side. Armendarez would like for the Fifth District’s Democratic voters living in Fontana to forget that he is a Republican but remember that he is a councilman representing their city. Thus, Armendarez’s backing, in particular his early backing is relevant. Phil Cothran, a major provider of monetary donations to politicos in Fontana, has done a lot for Jesse Armendarez over the years. Cothran offered money to Armendarez in his supervisorial bid, even though that cut across the wishes of Mayor Warren, who favored Dr. Young. Ever since Armendarez has moved fully into the race, Cothran has been 100 percent committed to seeing him prevail.
While Cothran prides himself on being someone who can raise money for Republican political causes, Armendarez’s willingness to bankroll his own campaign has been a factor in putting him into a position where lightning might strike and make him, rather than Joe Baca Jr., the next Fifth District supervisor. He and his campaign are not hurting for cash.
With the Baca vs. Armendarez match set, it has now come down to a question of who is the better politician: Joe Baca Jr. or Jesse Armendarez.
In one sense, Armedarez surpasses Baca in terms of sheer assertiveness.
In another, Baca bests Armendarez in that the Rialto Councilman has not gone out of his way to make enemies over a political career that has lasted more than 16 years.
Armendarez, on the other hand, has stepped on more toes than he can count along the way in what has essentially been a six-year political career. Those that know Armendarez say he has at least a modicum of the necessities in a politician – brains, money, ego, connections, the ability to network, ambition, compassion or what passes for it, daring, boldness, courage and outright greed and covetousness. The ratios of those qualities or attributes is of some concern.
Armendarez’s ego and ambition outruns all else, those who have been close to him during his political ascendancy have told the Sentinel, followed by money, connections, daring and boldness and then his intelligence.
An illustration of his ego and ambition consists of his current political effort. Six years ago, he had yet to hold political office, and was vying for the Fontana School Board. Once in place there, he remained less than half of the term he had been elected to in order to run for the city council. Now a member of the city council and previously in good standing as a member of Mayor Warren’s political team, his ego and ambition have driven him to abandon what is most certainly a safe position on the city council for a chance to become a member of the board of supervisors prior to finishing his first term on the city council. His ambition is not unmatched by other important attributes, which includes his willingness to pay his way toward getting into building the solid foundation of a candidacy, an ability to raise money, and the willingness and energy to immerse himself in the grueling work of campaigning.
Whether Armendarez is sincere in his political advocacy is another question. He can come across as earnest, but that is often strained, particularly when the issues stray beyond those he has actively embraced as part of his campaign. With regard to the question of whether he is personable, he possesses sufficient emotional intelligence to know how he should act but he occasionally fails himself when he is unable to see how he is coming across to those he is interacting with. His ego is often in ascendance, and there is no masking that he is impressed with himself. He is capable of being cordial and charming, though that comes across as being somewhat forced.
In terms of his intelligence or his ability to project the appearance of intelligence, he is smart enough to avoid circumstances, at least in public, where the depth of his understanding of the issues he must deal with as an elected official or politician might be tested. He is articulate, but only in brief spurts where his speeches have been pre-written and the entire circumstance choreographed. He uses concepts and buzzwords effectively. His stump speeches make relatively effective use of platitudes, in particular ones that are outgrowths of Republican Party positioning. He is not a politician who is capable of inspiring, uplifting, eloquent and dramatic oratory. His speeches tend to be heavy on slogans and slim on substance. He will assure voters that he will accomplish certain goals without explaining how he will achieve his ends. He takes refuge often in telling the crowd that he is “glad you are all here” and calling for “moving things forward,” a phrase that is upbeat and positive, but which has no defined meaning, conveying a slightly different idea to any of those who hear it.
Where his intelligence, such as it is, and his more-heavily-in-evidence ambition converge, a byproduct is his willingness to work. He can be hardworking, though depending on what tasks he is engaged in, his intensity and the outcomes from his work can be uneven. Because of his ready access to money, he is prone to substituting the supposed expertise he has purchased for engaging in the process of choosing for himself a course of action and then executing upon it. Still the same, at times in the past his ambition has brought him to involve himself in the minutiae of a political campaign, either his own, or that of others or for some cause, and admirably, on one level, he has taken his best shot at whatever the circumstance calls for. On more than once occasion, however, his lack of understanding or command of the finer practical elements of politics has been painfully apparent. A case in point was when he was working with others to assist Kyle Crowther in his run for a position on the West Valley Water Board. He and others successfully pushed to get the Republican Central Committee to endorse Crowther’s candidacy. Then, however, on his own, Armendarez arranged to have an electioneering piece sent out to all of the voters in the district’s division in which Crowther was competing, including Democratic and Republican and non-party affiliated voters, informing them of the Republican endorsement. This betrayed a certain lack of sophistication, as a more seasoned political operative would have recognized that the Republican endorsement would likely dissuade Democratic voters from voting for Crowther.
Armendarez merits high marks in terms of working connections available to him to advance his own political fortunes. He, like Warren and other members of the Fontana City Council, have engaged in a significant degree of political horsetrading which has ultimately redounded to the benefit of those involved in the so-called logistics industry, that is those landowners upon whose property warehouses are eventually located, and the developers and operators of warehouses. Indeed, Fontana’s friendliness to those pursuing such projects has earned her the sobriquet “Warehouse Warren.” While advocates of such projects tout them for the economic development they represent and the addition of employment opportunities, their detractors decry the addition of truck traffic into the community as well as criticism for the relatively low pay such warehouse employment provides. Word has come that Armendarez has cut a deal with developers proposing to put a massive warehouse and truck terminal in Bloomington to allow that project to proceed. The calculation Armendarez has made here, which is probably a correct one, is that the warehouse proponents’ provision of a massive infusion of money into his campaign fund, one being made both directly and indirectly, is going to enhance his electoral chances, and that the voters in Bloomington will not learn of his connection to those developers or the deal he has made in favor of the warehouse until after the election.
Joe Baca Jr., like Armendarez, early in his political career displayed the ambition and impatience now displayed in his current opponent when, in 2006 he forsook the Assembly to make his ultimately failed State Senate bid. Since that time, having immediately sought election to the Rialto City Council, he has been biding his time, rebuilding his own image as a steady and faithful politician genuinely concerned about his constituents, and not simply living in the shadow of his father. He has labored to educate himself, cultivating a deeper knowledge of how local government is run, and has displayed a maturity expected in an elder statesmen rather than assuming the glib posturings of a young politician on the make. He does not give off the same vibe of unrestained ego in many other politicians. He is not unwilling to acknowledge having made mistakes, and in the face of provocations and attacks and insults, he is remarkably slow to anger, and generally avoids responding in kind.
The campaign being put on by Armendarez is being quarterbacked by Brosowske and assisted by other young Republican Party activists and functionaries such as Naseem Farooqi, Ross Sevy, Angel Ramirez and Cameron Wessel, not to mention Armendarez himself. While all of those have experience on successful campaigns, in most cases they have functioned in an atmosphere not at all similar to the one that exists now in the Fifth District. Brosowske’s, Sevy’s, Farooqi’s and Wessel’s success has typically come in races where the Republicans were not functioning at a severe registration disadvantage. Indeed, in most of those elections, traditional superior Republican voter turnout offset any registration advantage the Democrats possessed. In this year’s race, the team around Armendarez is gravitating toward the tactics they have used in the past, involving mailers, as well as leaflets and handbills delivered by college students working part time or mostly college-age members of the workforce seeking to augment their income. Those methods of distribution are less reliable than having a core group of volunteers who strongly believe in the candidate they are promoting. Moreover, the specialty in Brosowske’s campaign repertoire, beyond the standard electioneering material lionizing a candidate, consists of making savage hit pieces aimed at destroying an opponent. The Armendarez campaign has adequate funding to blanket the district with these mailers.
Since January 1, 2020, $507,164.08 has been contributed to Armendarez’s supervisorial campaign fund. By contrast, since January 1, 2020, Baca has raised $353,450.
Thus, Armendarez has now emerged as a riverboat gambler, one who is prepared to continuously raise the stakes and then recklessly call. With the election less than a month away, it appears he is putting all of his chips down on hit pieces now going out, targeting Democrat voters specifically, which tie, or attempt to tie, Joe Baca Jr. to President Donald Trump. The claimed association between Joe Baca Jr. and Donald Trump is poorly sourced, elliptical and highly questionable, if not downright spurious. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that Armendarez himself has a connection with the president, one that was documented in a photo of the two together. Of late, that photograph is nowhere to be seen.
The truth or falsity of the claims or suggestions that either Joe Baca Jr or Jesse Armendarez is in some way politically entwined with Donald Trump is, essentially, irrelevant to whether one or the other is more qualified to serve as Fifth District supervisor, and unrelated to the myriad of issues relating to governance in the Fifth District. What is of some moment is whether a substantial number of the Fifth District’s Democratic voters, who represent more than 50 percent of those eligible to vote in the contest, will be dissuaded from voting for Joe Baca Jr. because of the claim now being made, and whether those who do not vote for him for that reason will then choose to vote for Jesse Armendarez instead. Armendarez’s gamble is that somehow a critical portion of the Democratic voters in the district will ignore that he is himself a Republican and buy his representation that Joe Baca Jr., who is widely and deeply identified as a Democrat, is cavorting with the nation’s current Republican president.
An analysis of the vote on March 3 shows that Joe Baca Jr. began the phase of the election leading up to the November balloting in an advantageous position. In the primary election polling, he captured 40.22 percent of the votes cast. Armendarez, one of four candidates, achieved marginally more than one fourth of the votes cast, managing 26.88 percent. Assuming both Baca and Armendarez maintain the votes they received in March, Armendarez will need to capture a number of votes equal to all of the votes Renner received – 14.76 percent – and half the total of the 18.14 percent of the vote that Flores received to eke out a narrow victory. While the attack ads that Armendarez sent out regarding Flores most likely had some impact in March by drawing away some votes from Flores, it is by no means clear that all, a majority or even any of those votes fell to Armendarez. It would seem that most of those who voted for the Democrat Flores in March will be inclined to support the Democrat Baca rather than his Republican opponent in November. By the measure of most political observers, prognosticators and handicappers, this year’s Fifth District supervisorial race is Joe Baca Jr.’s to lose.
Paradoxes – huge ones – exist in the current effort to assist the ambitious Armendarez in climbing to the next rung on the political ladder. If he succeeds, the Democrats in San Bernardino County, who as of this week outnumber Republicans 450,780 or 40.9 percent to 328,624 or 29.8 percent, will be shut out entirely from the five-member board of supervisors. That would be a coup for the GOP, which though close to being a political irrelevancy in the Golden State, would yet be able to claim the state’s largest county geographically and fifth largest in terms of population as a Republican bastion. Further, if Armendarez prevails, the clique that has grown up around him, consisting of the younger set within the party – Brosowske, Sevy, Farooqi, Wessel and Dustin – in short order will be forgiven for the ruthlessness they engaged in when they moved to get Cliff Young out of the way so the party could, in Armendarez’s favorite phrase, “move ahead.” An Armendarez victory would also vindicate a trend that has been developing in the San Bernardino County Republican Party for some time. The party’s newcomers, the ones in their early, mid- and now late- twenties and early thirties, are increasingly seeing the mechanics of politics not as a calling or an avocation but a vocation. Though they make claims that their commitment to the party is one with an ideological basis, one that grows out of their belief in Republican ideals and their simple desire to ensure that the county’s elected positions are filled with more Republicans – a lot more Republicans – than Democrats, they have come to see that taking on the role of a political professional – a campaign consultant – is potentially lucrative. In this way, when serving in their fundraising capacity for a candidate they have a double incentive: Not only are they collecting enough money for that candidate to win, they are ensuring themselves a fat payday. This “privatization,” as it were, of Republican politics is changing the complexion of the political game in San Bernardino County.
Armendarez’s crew is so focused on achieving a favorable outcome that they have not fully taken stock of what the impact will be if they lose. The fashion in which they operated to ensure Armendarez’s ascendancy in the party so he could be positioned for the current run in the Fifth District was not without consequences. The way in which party members who had for years been working to build the GOP and maintain it in its position of control in San Bernardino County were steamrolled has not been forgotten. In June, Greg Young, embittered by the way he had been treated, resigned from the Republican Central Committee. Others who were active in campaigns in years past, have become inactive. While fundraising for the Armendarez campaign is humming along, some donors who were generous in year’s past are now reluctant to endow the party with money, concerned that it will be commandeered by an up-and-coming set of party functionaries who are more loyal to those within the party’s inner clique and themselves than they are to the party as a whole and the politicians they are seeking to support.
Without the superseding glue of an Armendarez victory next month that will hold the party together, there is a real prospect the party, which for so many decades has hung together and been focused on outhustling the Democrats, will fragment. While registration numbers in the county’s First and Third District either run in favor of the Republicans or are so close as to translate to a Republican primacy there that will last, most likely, for another decade, registration numbers in the county’s Fourth District have reached 93,692 or 44 percent for the Democrats and 56,585 or 26.6 percent for the Republicans, a ratio that brings into question whether Supervisor Curt Hagman, the Fourth District supervisor and current chairman of the board of supervisors, will be able to capture reelection in 2022 if he is challenged by a competent Democratic candidate. Similarly, in the once solidly Republican Second District, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 97,717 or 40.7 percent to 74,593 or 31 percent. If Armendarez loses and the party hierarchy moves to deal harshly with the upstart Brosowske/Armendarez/Sevy/Farooqi/Wesson/Dustin cabal, the party could be thrown into a downward spiral it could not climb its way out of, the upshot of which would be that San Bernardino County’s slide into the control of the Democrats would likely be effectuated by 2024.
Armendarez’s Fifth District candidacy, in the face of Warren’s preference for Clifford Young, has further endangered the Republican ruling coalition in Fontana. Armendarez’s defiance of Warren has brought into question her judgment in having advanced Armendarez into the position he now holds and her ability to control her own machine. Whatever her true feelings with regard to the matter, Warren has bowed to political reality, as all politicians at some point must, and she transferred $4,700 earlier this year from her committee, Citizens and Friends of Acquanetta Warren for Mayor 2022, into Armendarez’s political war chest.
Armendarez could have, had he chosen, run simultaneously for reelection to his council seat and for Fifth District supervisor. He did not do so. Should a Democrat succeed in replacing him on the city council, Warren’s grip on Fontana’s scepter will loosen. More damaging to Warren still is that Armendarez’s defiance has spread to other key members of her political coalition, including Phil Cothran, who sided with Armendarez in the power struggle between Armendarez and Clifford Young, despite Warren’s backing of Young. Warren’s previous relationship with Cothran was exemplary. His move to support Armendarez and slight her ally Clifford Young has made things problematic between them. Cothran represents a major source of money to her political team. Additionally, Cothran’s son, Phil Cothran Jr., is an element of her ruling council coalition. If she were to react too strongly with regard to Phil Cothran Sr.’s support of Armendarez, she risks a break with both of the Cothrans, and potentially a mayoral challenge by Phil Cothran Jr. in 2022, which would leave her ruling hold on the council in a shambles if she were to win and end her political viability altogether if she were to lose. She is thus in the position of having to accept the defiance of what was previously perceived to be her absolute authority in Fontana, an uncomfortable reminder that the oncoming generation is waiting until such time as the opportunity presents itself for the displacement of the older generation, of which she is a part.
Two desert cities that succumbed to the lure of the county’s seductive FP-5 fire tax without a vote of the people and gave up their local fire departments have now spent more of their precious funds to no avail in an attempt to deprive citizens of their right to vote on a voter initiative that would repeal the fire tax those citizens did not vote to approve previously. To the chagrin of current officials with the City of Needles and Twentynine Palms, Measure U, the voter “Initiative to Repeal the Special Tax Associated with Fire Protection Service Zone Five” (also referred to as “FPD5” and “FP-5”) is on the ballot and currently being voted on by voters in communities forced into the fire district and impacted by the $157 per year parcel tax placed on their annual property tax bill without their permission.
The California Constitution requires that taxes be approved by two-thirds of the voters who are to be subject to that tax. Neverthless, a loophole in that requirement exists that allows local governments to substitute a “protest process” for the two-thirds ballot approval. This is done by announcing in a letter mailed to the voters or residents of the area to be subjected to the new tax that the new tax or assessment is to be applied to them or their property. Included in the letter is an invitation for its recipient to submit to the county’s local agency formation commission a letter protesting the imposition of the new tax. All such letters of protest received back from the residents/voters to be taxed or assessed are recorded as votes against the tax’s imposition. All of those who do not protest are deemed to have supported the new tax. In the overwhelming number of cases in California where the protest process is applied, the new taxes are “approved.”
Beginning in 2015 and over the next two years, the cities of San Bernardino, Upland, Needles and Twentynine Palms dissolved their municipal or local fire departments and entered into an arrangement involving the absorption of all of the land within those municipalities’ city limits into a fire assessment zone – FP-5 – which was originally created for the unincorporated communities of Helendale and Silverlakes in the Mojave Desert in 2006. Subsequently, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors placed all of the county’s unincorporated areas – equal to more than 94 percent of the county’s total land mass – into FP-5.
Following a petition drive in which more than 70,000 signatures of county residents were gathered, the Red Brennan Group, a government reform coalition, qualified for this year’s ballot an initiative, Measure U, which will repeal the FP-5 assessment from everywhere it is applied except Helendale and Silverlakes.
In a move that many county residents found offensive, the cities of Needles and Twentynine Palms paid attorneys to bring a motion to prevent those cities residents and the rest of the county’s residents from having the opportunity to vote on repealing the FP-5 assessment arrangement, which many people – including all 70,000 of those who signed the Red Brennan Group petition – consider to be an unlawful tax.
Stating that it is beyond the power of the voters to adopt an initiative that would repeal the tax and thus dissolve the fire district by defunding it, the cities of Needles and Twentynine Palms, through their attorneys, asked the court for “emergency relief” to remove Measure U from the November 3, 2020 ballot. The cities of San Bernardino and Upland chose not to enter into the litigation which has now become a moot point since Measure U is already on the ballot.
By a unanimous vote of the Needles City Council on July 14, 2020, attorneys John O. Pinkney Esq., and Chelsea M. Healey, Esq., of Slovak Baron Empey Murphy & Pinkney are now being paid by the people of Needles on behalf of the city. Attorneys being paid for by the people of Twentynine Palms, at the will of their city leaders are Patrick Munoz Esq., and Jennifer Farrell, Esq., of Rutan & Tucker, LLP. Named in the suit was Bob Page, the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters. The other respondents were citizens exercising their right to redress grievances by drafting and circulating a voter initiative, obtaining enough signatures and putting that voter initiative on the ballot. They are named as David Jarvi, Richard Sayer and Charles Pruitt, all of whom are associated with the Red Brennan Group.
According to the pleadings, between August 16, 2019 and February 11, 2020, sufficient signatures were collected on a petition entitled “Initiative to Repeal the Special Tax Associated with Fire Protection Service Zone Five” (also referred to as “FPD5”). The signatures were certified by the registrar of voters on March 25, 2020. On April 7, 2020, after receiving the certification from the registrar, the fire district’s board of directors [the county board of supervisors] voted to submit the initiative without alteration to the voters pursuant to California Elections Code section 1405 and acknowledged that the election for the FPD5 initiative will be held on November 3, 2020.
The writ of mandate requested by the two cities asked the court to find the initiative to be unlawful, invalidate it, order the respondents to refrain from taking any steps to place it on the ballot and require that the registrar of voters include supplemental materials in the voter pamphlet explaining that the FPD5 initiative has been invalidated and is not subject to a vote. The petitioners also asked the court to award them with the cost of the suit.
The lawsuit was filed on July 23, 2020, nine days after the Needles City Council gave the thumbs up for expenditure of funds. The critical target date of August 7, 2020, when the registrar of voters would send all materials to the printer, was made known to the court, leaving only two weeks for a decision as to the legality of placing the measure on the ballot. By default, the case went to Department S-26 at the San Bernardino Law and Justice Center, Judge David Cohn’s courtroom. By July 27, a preemptory challenge had been made by the plaintiffs against Judge Cohn and the case was reassigned to Department S-23. By July 28, the respondents had made an appearance, paid their filing fees and made a motion for a change of venue. After hearings on the motion, the case was transferred to the Superior Court in the County of Riverside on July 30, 2020. On August 11, 2020, the Riverside County Superior Court acknowledged the receipt of the records, but by that time the target elections filing deadline of August 7, 2020 had been missed. Nevertheless, the petitioners had the belief and expressed to the court that the ballot could potentially be modified up until September 1. That date has also passed and the ballots have been printed and delivered with Measure U, calling for the repeal of the fire tax, as a voting option.
“Obviously the city council was wrong in the first place to give up our local fire department,” said Ruth Musser, a current candidate for the Needles City Council. “The Needles City Council, including every single one of them, should be ashamed. They let these attorneys talk them into this lawsuit. Now, they have forced us to pay these attorneys, which in essence was us paying them to try to keep us from being able to exercise our constitutional right to vote on increased taxes. They voted behind closed doors, and never asked the public for its input. They never told us what was going on until after they voted to pay these attorneys to file this case. Now the people of Needles are paying for the huge expense of frivolous litigation designed to keep the people of Needles from their constitutional right to vote for or against a tax on their own property. The entire thing is a huge boondoggle at our expense. Since 2015, the county raised in excess of $40 million a year with this tax, which is enough to build at least five stations per year. Then, this month, the city increased a service charge tax on utilities without our vote while at the same time raising all of the rates, electric, water and wastewater, based upon an arbitrary and capricious projection of future cost-of-living increases at a time when people are losing their jobs, and the economy is sagging.”
Musser-Lopez added, “If Measure U passes and these same council people aren’t voted out of office, they will no doubt force us into paying for more litigation, to sue to overturn Measure U instead of asking us for a more reasonable solution, like a progressive tax unlike the current flat regressive tax that unfairly burdens the poorest among us.”
A total of 22 candidates are seeking election to the Victorville City Council in this year’s election in which three positions are at stake. Two of those candidates, Gloria Garcia, the current designated mayor, and Councilwoman Blanca Gomez, are incumbents. Jim Cox, the third incumbent, is not seeking reelection.
The Sentinel has sought information from all of the candidates in this year’s race, and has so far been able to publish articles containing biographical information on six of those hopefuls as well as their positions relating to the current issues in Victorville.
To fill in the gaps with regard to many of the other candidates who are running, the Sentinel has mined public sources for a glimpse of how nine of them present themselves with regard to their intentions for Victorville if they are elected.
Saying she “embraces the feel of the High Desert,” which she said “is exactly a serene country life with a ‘little bit’ of a city twist,” Lizet Angulo said, “It is without saying, our city needs to increase the revenues in our city, to meet the needs to our community. I would like to do “Coffee with Lizet” gatherings for discussions throughout our city as a councilmember. Communication is one of keys in building a strong council and city.”
She possesses, Angulo said, an associate’s degree in business management, a bachelor’s degree in higher education administration and a master’s degree in business administration. She has a medical insurance billing certificate. She is a teaching entrepreneurship instructor, and was formerly employed as a medical office manager, an executive assistant/bookkeeper in the industrial field and a compliance coordinator with an educational facility.
Ashiko Newman said, “My childhood was rough, but those hurdles did not defeat me.” She said that she has “served others for my entire career. As a Navy veteran, I made a commitment to sacrifice in efforts to protect and serve our country. I learned valuable lessons regarding teamwork, service, and commitment. I earned a master’s degree in social work, not only to continue this mission, but also because of my own history. For the past ten years, I have fought as a social worker, dedicated to children and families, to ensure that strong homes and communities are built and solidified. However, victory is never gained alone. It takes a strong, committed team. As member of the Victorville City Council, I intend to take my experience as a leader and commitment to others, and work to be the voice of the people. A good leader must first serve others well.”
If elected, she said, “I intend to bring a team-centered approach to race reconciliation, public safety, accountability/transparency. Victorville needs homeless solutions, safe neighborhoods, and positive connections with law enforcement. I aim to be the change I want to see.”
Ryan McEachron, who previously served on the city council said, “Throughout the last several decades, I have owned and operated a third-generation small business in Victorville. My company was started by my grandfather and throughout the past few decades, we have grown into a thriving insurance agency and have employed dozens of local High Desert residents. Our family is also very involved in education. My wife, Jodi, works with our local students at The Dr. Ralph Baker 21st Century Learning Center and our 2 children have all attended local schools.”
McEachron said, “Victorville needs change. We have continued to watch crime go up, roads go into despair, and the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated our small businesses. I am running for Victorville City Council to represent our family values, combat crime and gangs, reduce homelessness, support our local businesses and drive meaningful development to our local road infrastructure. There is so much to do to drive positive change to Victorville.”
Born in Canada, Robert Bowen came to the United States with his parents and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen when he was 11.
He was employed in the aircraft industry after serving a hitch in the Marine Corps.
Bowen maintains he wants to end dissension on the city council and bring order to its meetings. He is a capable leader, he said, but is not a politician. He suggested most career politicians are untrustworthy.
Bowen originally moved to Victorville in 2005, but was forced by changes in the aeronautics industry to locate to Seattle and then San Antonio, Texas as a consequence of his employment by Boeing. He is back in Victorville now, retired and ready to serve the city, he said.
Upon being elected, Bowen said, he will dedicate himself to reducing crime, eliminating homeless encampments and reducing the blight plaguing the city. Bowen is an enthusiastic supporter of Measure P, which will increase the city’s sale tax by one cent per dollar spent. He scoffed at those opposed to the tax increase, calling it “small.”
He will facilitate communication among the city’s residents, Bowen said.
Bowen and his wife, Sandra, have have three adult children and seven grandchildren.
An advocate for social improvement, Kareema Abdul-Khabir is originally from Akron, Ohio, and has lived in the High Desert since 1992 and Victorville since 2012.
Abdul-Khabir maintains there is a relationship between economic and social justice and that the local economy should be a source of income and opportunity for all individuals and families living in the city. The city should look after the homeless and other unfortunate victims of the failing economy, she said. The city should not be afraid of funding park and recreational programs, providing assistance to the needy and keeping its library open.
She will magnify the voices of those who want to be heard by City Hall, Abdul-Khabir said. The city’s greatest strength can be realized by its effort to address its weaknesses, Abdul-Khabir maintains.
Abdul-Khabir warned against the mindless and reflexive tendency to simply hire more police officers if the city’s residents agree to give passage to the one cent sales tax enhancing Measure P. More police will likely mean more police-on-citizen abuse, Abdul-Khabir opined.
Abdul-Khabir called for the city holding more town hall meetings to get a consensus of the citizens with regard to proposed municipal action before acting on those proposals.
Abdul-Khabir was a board member with the High Desert Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She has advocated against the continued operation of private prisons housing those detained by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on immigration violations.
Abdul-Khabir has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Irvine. She has been employed as a teacher with the Barstow Unified and Victor Valley Union high school districts.
Now 84, current Victorville Mayor Gloria Garcia has been a member of the city council since 2012. She is vying in this year’s election to remain in office for four more years.
She said she is a voice of compassion for the 333 homeless people who live on Victorville’s streets, on the banks of or the flood plane of the Mojave River and in the city’s numerous encampments of the dispossessed.
“We have already begun work redressing our homeless problem,” she said. “I want to continue to make available long term transitional living and training to these people so they can become self-sufficient.”
She said the city is banking on obtaining more than $16 million in grant funding to carry out the lion’s share of the construction of a 168-bed homeless shelter to be built on 10 acres adjoining Eva Dell Park.
Garcia can be credited, along with others, she said, for reestablishing the Victorville Fire Department as a municipal agency after the city liquidated that institution for more than ten years in favor of contracting with San Bernardino County for fire protection services.
She has been a team player on a number of worthwhile undertakings, she said, including the La Mesa/Nisqualli Interchange bridge project, the Mojave Riverwalk and the advent of Restaurant Row.
Garcia said she is a hardcore supporter of the sheriff’s department, indicating she is absolutely against defunding law enforcement agencies, and that she wants more, not fewer, sheriff’s deputies patrolling Victorville’s streets.
The founder, owner and operator of a bookkeeping, income tax preparation and notary service since 1974, Garcia is a Victorville native and, she insists, the city’s most vociferous advocate for economic development.
“Our whole way of life and our quality of life is dependent upon us bringing in industry and commercial development with substantial wages and benefits, so our residents can work here, better themselves and raise families,” she said.
She called upon the city’s voters to return her to office and on the same ballot approve Measure P, which would increase the city’s sales tax by one percent, creating a $15 million revenue stream in the process, which she said the city’s officials will put to good use.
Widowed in 2014, Garcia has two grown sons.
Leslie Irving said her candidacy for city council this year, which follows by two years her previous effort to achieve election to that panel, is an opportunity for the community to make use of her wealth of knowledge within the realm of civic affairs and education.
She has a commitment, Irving said, “to public service and our City of Victorville and its future. As our city continues to experience rapid residential and business growth, I see an opportunity to use my experience and commitment to assist our city in realizing its potential to become the hub of economic, educational and social prosperity in the High Desert.”
She possesses, Irving said, “the education and experience to serve as a strong steward for our city. I have previously served in elected office, as a former school board member and college board member. I have first-hand knowledge and experience of how to work together with other committed persons to accomplish our community’s mission. I will bring that knowledge and experience to our city to enable it to become the great city that it can become.”
A native of Los Angeles County, Irving, now 56, moved to Victorville in 2016. In 2003, while she was then living in Los Angeles County, Irving was elected and served as a member of the Compton Unified School District Board of Trustees. In 2013, she served as a member of the Compton College Board of Trustees.
“During my tenure as a school board member, I experienced the complexities of leading the school district out of receivership and fiscal insolvency and to restoration of local control,” Irving said. “With sound knowledge of processes and systems, perseverance to stay the course and solid leadership skills, my former colleagues and I demonstrated a style of governance that made community control of the school district a viable and sensible reality.”
Irving said, “The major challenges facing our city relate to jobs creation, developing our infrastructure to accommodate our growing population, addressing our homeless population and providing more services for our youth and seniors.”
Irving said her presence on the city council would imbue the community with “a greater sense of community, the need for inclusiveness and accountability.”
She is employed as a special education teacher. She is a member of the San Bernardino County Teachers Association, the Victor Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Victor Valley Chamber of Commerce and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Irving is not presently married and has one adult son, Ian.
Victorville City Council candidate Elizabeth Becerra has an intimate knowledge of the city she is seeking to lead politically. She is a Victorville native and a 34-year city employee, the last several of which she has worked in the capacity of a supervisor in the public works department.
She knows the city inside and out, Becerra maintains. This gives her, she said, not only a sharp and near perspective on what the problems are but a leg up on how to apply solutions for fixing them.
Becerra is a member of the San Bernardino County Fair Board. The fairgrounds are located in Victorville.
She has a commitment to public safety and the practical knowledge to ensure that it is maintained, she said.
Becerra is an unabashed supporter of Measure P, which will provide the city with a further one percent of sales tax on all goods sold within the city.
As a city employee who has had to deal with the proliferation of homeless encampments and been tasked with cleaning them up in the aftermath of their denizens taking leave of them, Becerra has expressed less willingness to indulge the dispossessed in the city than some of the others running for office, and she is definitely against mollycoddling them. She wants the homeless to be evacuated from where they are squatting, either on public or private property or in the riverbed or on the riverbanks. Those who are willing to undergo treatment should be processed into the institutions that can provide that and those not willing to, in her words, “get help” with their drug use problems or mental illness should be persuaded to leave town.
The homeless have been responsible for fires and vandalism and other damage that have cost the city and its residents millions of dollars, she said.
Becerra has studied public administration at Victor Valley College.
Currently unmarried, Becerra has two grown children and two grandchildren.
Kimberly Mesen-Herrera says she has taken a good look at Victorville and what she sees isn’t pretty.
“As a lifelong Victorville resident, I’ve witnessed our city change – and not for the better,” she said. “Crime and homelessness continue to increase, our students are falling behind, and our small businesses are stagnating.”
The city’s deterioration is something that is taking place outside her personal sphere, Mesen-Herrera insisted. What is needed is for the city’s voters to give her the keys to City Hall so she can take a stab at improving things. She has already demonstrated the right attitude, she said.
“After graduating from Victor Valley High School and Cal State University San Bernardino, I wanted to serve my community by working for Congressman Colonel Paul Cook,” Mesen-Herrera said. “As his veterans services director, I have dealt firsthand with the tragedy that is veterans’ homelessness. I’m proud to help our heroes secure stable housing, access to Veterans Administration benefits, and the medical care they deserve.”
Mesen Herrera said, “As Victorville’s crime rates continue to increase, we must ensure our families have safe and secure neighborhoods. I’ll work with local community leaders to build trust and foster understanding. As the next generation enters the workforce, it is critical that they have local jobs to start a career, raise a family, and build a meaningful life. I’ll support the small business community to ensure they receive the help they need to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever. My family, like yours, moved to Victorville and found a safe community, good schools, and a strong economy. With your vote, I will restore the promise of our city.”
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors next week is scheduled to consider whether it will second guess the county planning commission with regard to the go-ahead that panel in January gave to the Church of the Woods’ request to construct three buildings totaling just under 70,000 square feet on its property in Rimforest.
On Tuesday, the board of supervisors is to conduct a public hearing to consider an appeal by the Save Our Forest Association, Inc., the Sierra Club and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society asking that the board rescind the San Bernardino County Planning Commission’s January 23, 2020 5-to-0 vote approving a conditional use permit for a religious facility consisting of a 27,364-square foot, two-story youth center/gymatorium, recreational facilities, a 41,037-square foot, two-story assembly building with a maximum seating capacity of 600, and a 1,500-square foot, two-story maintenance/caretaker unit in two phases on a 13.6-acre portion of the church’s 27.12-acre site.
At the January 23 planning commission meeting, county planning staff made a recommendation for approval of the project. At the hearing, 37 members of the public expressed their concerns about the project and asked that it be denied, while 26 members of the public expressed support for the project and asked that it be approved.
The appellants contend the environmental impact report for the project does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, does not adequately describe the project, and failed to adequately evaluate and mitigate the project’s impacts on biological resources, traffic, evacuation routes, drainage and water quality, geology and soils, aesthetics, land use, and cumulative impacts.
The county’s land use services division has recommended that the board of supervisors deny the appeal and allow the project to proceed. According to county staff, the project description in the environmental impact report adequately and accurately characterizes the project. Further, according to staff, the environmental impact report calls for the implementation of mitigation measures, such that the project’s impacts would be reduced to below levels of significance with the exception of cumulatively considerable impacts to special-status species wildlife habitat, construction noise, and impacts to intersections that are under the control of the California Department of Transportation that are outside of the county’s jurisdictional authority to assure mitigation.
For a 55-hour period covering the entirely of this weekend, all of the ramps onto the 60 Freeway in Ontario are to be closed while the freeway’s lanes along that span undergo pavement improvement.
The California Department of Transportation, known by its acronym Caltrans, has scheduled a series of 55-hour lane closures on the eastbound and westbound Pomona Freeway. The project is intended to restore the roadway and improve the ride quality by rehabilitating the existing lanes with pavement that will extend the life of the roadway a minimum of 40 years, only requiring minimal maintenance by Caltrans once completed. Currently, construction is ongoing Monday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., with an enforced speed limit of 50 mph throughout the work zone. 55 hour lane closures ensue the weekday work on Friday through Monday, 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., to minimize traffic impacts. Residents and local businesses located near the freeway may experience noise, vibrations and dust associated with construction activities. Signs will be posted. Although this is not a full freeway closure, motorists should expect delays and are strongly advised to use alternate routes, according to Caltrans.