Election Ended Dynasty, Put Latinos In Ascendency & Stymied Town’s Modernization

(November 16)   For the victors, there was elation after the November 6 election. For the losers, there was abject disappointment. At the polls throughout San Bernardino County there were a few unexpected twists and some perhaps predictable but still noteworthy developments.
The least expected outcome from November 6 was the fall of the Baca Political Dynasty. Incumbent Congressman Joe Baca, Sr. was sent into retirement by state Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who will now represent the voters of California’s newly redrawn 35th Congressional District  in Washington, D.C. Baca’s son, Joe Jr., was likewise turned back in his attempt to return to the state Assembly in his run against Cheryl Brown, the co-publisher of the Black Voice News and a staff member for outgoing Assemblywoman Wilmer “Amina” Carter. Of note, all of those involved in those races, both Bacas, Negrete-McLeod and Brown, are Democrats.
Joe Baca, Sr., a Vietnam Era Army veteran, engaged in epic battles against Jerry Eaves, another Democrat, in races for the Assembly in the 1980s. Baca came up short in each of those engagements but resiliently fought on, finally gaining victory and revenge in 1992 when he defeated Eaves’ protégé, John Longville to go to Sacramento to represent the 62nd Assembly District, newly redrawn after the 1990 Census. In 1998 he stepped up to the California Senate in the 32nd District. In 1999, he was elected to succeed longtime Congressman George Brown following his death in office. At that time, the senior Baca represented California’s 42nd Congressional District. Following redistricting based on the 2000 Census, he successfully ran for reelection as Congressman in California’s 43rd Congressional District.
Baca, Sr. was something of an enigma, a living paradox that seamlessly embodied contradictory elements. In the years he was struggling against Eaves, union backing eluded him, but once in office, he commanded strong union support. He aligned himself with and became a dominant figure within the Hispanic Caucus in Congress but then butted heads with a celebrated Latina lawmaker, Loretta Sanchez, who abruptly resigned from the Latino Caucus because of her differences with Baca.
Joe, Jr,, with the advantage of the name recognition and support provided by his father, successfully ran for the California State Assembly in the 62nd District in 2004. Two years later, he vied for the California Senate in the 32nd District. His opponent in that contest was Negrete-McLeod, who defeated him as she would his father six years later. That same year, Joe, Jr.’s sibling, Jeremy Baca, had sought to succeed him in the 62nd Assembly District, but lost to Carter. In time, Joe, Jr. would land another political gig, as councilman in Rialto.
2012 had held promise for the Baca family. If Joe Sr. and Joe Jr. had won, they would have represented the most powerful familial legislative combination in San Bernardino County, indeed in the state of California.
But McLeod, assisted by $2.7 million provided to her campaign by Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, surged to a come-from-behind victory over Joe, Sr.  Joe, Jr., who had better funding than Brown, was no more successful on November 6 than his father.
On the western side of the county, the long sleeping Latino political giant that has gradually been awakening over the last decade-and-a-half is coming to even fuller consciousness. It was not until 1999 that Ontario elected its first Hispanic councilman, Paul Leon. Leon was  not only the first Hispanic elected, he would be the first one reelected. He then acceded to the mayor’s post in 2006, and in 2010 became the first Latino re-elected mayor.
Pursuant to the polling on November 6, Leon will be joined by a second Latino on the council dais, Paul Vincent Avila. Voters also thought they were electing, or re-electing, a third Hispanic candidate, Debra Dorst-Porada. Four years ago, Dorst-Porada used her full name during her campaign. This year, she shortened her surname to simply Porada. Her yard signs did not even mention her first name. Many have mistakenly assumed that Porada is a Spanish surname, when actually, it is Polish.
While Dorst-Porada was granted another four years on the council, Avila displaced the other incumbent in the race, Sheila Mautz. Mautz went down to defeat despite having the advantage of incumbency and accompanying name recognition, not to mention the largest political war chest of any of the candidates – $80,000. Avila won despite having run virtually no campaign. He spent less than $1,000, ran no ads,  and did not provide a ballot statement.
In addition to Avila, there were three other Hispanic candidates in the race –  Josie Estrada, John Lira and Ruben Valencia. Notably, of the five candidates presumed to be Hispanic, it was the one at the top of the ballot – Avila – and the one at the bottom of the ballot – Porada – who won. Four years ago, when there were likewise two open seats up for election, it was the candidate at the top of the ballot – Mautz – and the candidate at the bottom of the ballot – Dorst-Porada – who prevailed, as well.
In the Ontario-Montclair School District Board race, there was further evidence of Latino political dominance. Sam Crowe, whose presence on the school board has been almost universally recognized as a stabilizing and beneficent factor key to sustaining a district that is under severe challenge because of financial and other factors, failed to achieve reelection. Selected by voters were J. Steve Garcia and Maureen Mendoza. Ironically, Mendoza, who has a Spanish surname, is not a Latina.
In Yucca Valley, the balloting this year proved something of a cliffhanging nail-biter, although it did not turn on personalities. Both of the incumbents in that town of 20,700 up for reelection, George Huntington and Robert Lombardo, faced no opposition. Rather the real horse race involved Measure U, which called for the imposition of a one percent municipal sales tax to provide town officials with funding to pay for a host of improvement projects, foremost of which is a sewer system being mandated on the town by the state of California.
There was something of a spectacle to Yucca Valley’s elected town officials, all of whom are Republicans who normally abide by a strong anti-tax ethos, advocating the passage of a tax measure. Prompting the town to this out-of-character tax gambit is the consideration that the desert town is entirely reliant on septic systems. In 2007, the state agency responsible for protecting water quality, the California Regional  Water Quality Control Board, adopted a resolution identifying the town of Yucca Valley as one of 66 communities throughout the state with groundwater threatened by the continuing overuse of septic systems. As such, the state has imposed septic discharge prohibitions due to be triggered as of May 19, 2016. Under that mandate, phase 1 of a wastewater system must be completed or significantly on its way to completion by that date or the state will initiate enforcement action. The first phase of the project is to cover the downtown area of Yucca Valley, the area most proximate to the heart of the groundwater basin.  Similarly, phase 2 must be completed or nearly completed by May 19, 2019 and phase 3 must be completed by May 19, 2022.
If those systems are not in place by the stipulated dates, further development in Yucca Valley will be prohibited. Moreover, existing property owners will receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines for non-compliance. They will be ordered to discontinue the discharge from their septic systems, seal them off and pump them regularly. If they do not, the fines to be levied against them can reach $5,000 per day.
In the face of those threats, town residents as a whole did not feel compelled to approve Measure U, which went down to defeat, as  3,147 residents of the town, or 47.97 percent voted yes and 3,443, or 52.03 percent voted against the measure.

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