Fourth District Race To Pit Congresswoman vs. Assemblyman

(February 19)  What promises to be the most spirited supervisorial race in San Bernardino County in the last generation was set in motion on Tuesday when Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod announced she will not seek a second term in the House of Representatives and will instead battle Assemblyman Curt Hagman for the right to succeed Gary Ovitt as Second District county supervisor.
The race will prove a crucial one in the partisan and ideological battle for the soul of San Bernardino County, which is one of the last bastions of Republicanism in California.
Currently three of the county’s five supervisors are Republicans. Though county supervisor is considered a non-partisan office, governance in San Bernardino County in general and on the board of supervisors specifically is highly politicized. Over the last twelve years, three of the members of the board of supervisors have served as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee: Bill Postmus, Paul Biane and Ovitt.
Currently, Hagman, who represents the 55th Assembly District in Sacramento, is the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
Negrete-McLeod is a Democrat. If she prevails, the board will be populated by a majority of Democrats for the first time since the 1970s.
Negrete-McLeod won  a position in Congress in 2012 after a contentious race against fellow Democrat Joe Baca in the heavily Democratically-leaning 35th Congressional District. Baca was an incumbent at the time, in the 43rd District. Following the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, he had opted to run in the more Democrat-friendly 35th. He managed a comfortable  12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent victory over Negrete-McLeod in the June 2012 primary, but was unseated in November of that year, with Negrete-McLeod polling 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent. Negrete-McLeod’s victory came, ironically, after her campaign was boosted by $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by then incumbent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican.
Prior to her election to Congress, McLeod, now 72, served on the Chaffey College Governing Board, in the Assembly and California State Senate.
“It is a great honor and privilege to have represented the constituents of this district for almost two decades in many elected positions including Congress, but my heart is here in the district,” she said in announcing that she would not vie for reelection to Congress. “I have chosen to seek election to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and not reelection to Congress. This was a decision not made lightly. However my desire to represent this community locally, where I have lived for more than 40 years, and where I have long served as an elected official, won out. My federal, state and local experience will allow me the opportunity to effectively represent the constituents of the Fourth District.”
Negrete-McLeod’s move, which has been rumored about for several weeks, represents a serious challenge to Hagman, a still up-and-coming politician who is more than two decades her junior. A former mayor of upscale Chino Hills who ran a successful bail bond business, Hagman was elected in 2008 to the State Assembly from a strongly Republican District in the extreme southwest end of San Bernardino County and the southeastern portion of Los Angeles County and northeastern Orange County, including the communities of Diamond Bar, Walnut, Brea, Yorba Linda, La Habra and Rowland Heights.
While San Bernardino County’s Fourth Supervisorial District includes  pockets which are saturated with registered Republican voters primarily in Chino Hills, the district on balance leans Democratic, covering Chino Hills, Chino, unincorporated San Bernardino County, Montclair, Ontario and the southern end of Upland.
Hagman, who at 49 is relatively young in comparison to Negrete-McLeod and Ovitt, is aggressive, ambitious and energetic. Last year, he commandeered control of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee from its previous chairman, Robert Rego. That takeover was followed by reports that he would run for supervisor in San Bernardino County in 2014. Following his current term in California’s Lower House, Hagman is not eligible to run for the Assembly because of term limits. The next available state legislative position he would be eligible for, 29th District State Senator, is now held by Bob Huff and is not up for election until 2016. Thus, the position of county supervisor, an elected decision maker on a panel of five overseeing a 2.1 million population county with an annual budget in excess of $4 billion, appeared a suitably impressive one to keep Hagman’s political career intact.
While Ovitt denies that he was in any way pressured to retire in the face of Hagman’s potential challenge, in January he announced he would not seek reelection this year. Hagman, in control of the county Republican Party and vying for a position held by Republicans for the last 16 years and  seemingly facing no Democratic opposition with any fundraising horsepower, last month appeared a shoo-in in the June election.
The entrance of the congresswoman into the race entirely changes that outlook. As an incumbent in national office, Negrete-McLeod sports formidable fundraising capability and has banked money from past state campaigns – $900,000 – that can be used in the supervisor’s race.
Almost immediately upon Negrete-McLeod’s announcement, Hagman went on the attack, raising issues and votes on Negrete-McLeod’s part that he believes will reflect poorly on her with a majority of the district’s voters.
In a terse press release that came within two hours of Negrete-McLeod’s announcement, Hagman said, “I welcome Congresswoman Negrete-McLeod to the race. I look forward to hearing how she can make the county safer after she voted to release 20,000 dangerous inmates and voted to release even more through realignment.”
Hagman’s reference was to Negrete-McLeod’s votes as state senator to support legislation aimed at meeting federal mandates to ease overcrowding in the state’s prison system.
Hagman then cited her votes as a member of Congress.
“I¹m hoping her ideas for county health care services work better than disastrous Obamacare policies she helped implement and steadfastly defends,” Hagman said.
An hour later, Hagman told the Sentinel, “I am looking forward to her explaining her votes on Obamacare. In this district, crime is one of the higher level concerns voters have. The state of California released 20,000 prisoners into our communities with her support. I think she should explain that to the voters.”
But those issues will be less important than economic development in the Fourth District and San Bernardino County as a whole, Hagman said.
“While she was in the legislature, the Democrats took away redevelopment,” Hagman said. “Building infrastructure to help create jobs and improving our economic base is what people care about. I have created jobs all my life. She has been living on the government payroll. I know what it takes to make San Bernardino County competitive. I am strong on that issue. I am strong on policies to create jobs. She is strong on policies that make businesses that provide jobs leave. That is a major difference between us. I have to make the residents of the Fourth District see what those differences are.”
With regard to the county’s slow but steady slide away from one dominated by the Republicans to one in which the Democrats will be in ascendency, Hagman observed, “It is true that the demographics have changed over time” and he conceded that Democratic voter registration is up and Republican affiliation is relatively down. He said, however, “In general people are not voting along party lines in what is a non-partisan race. I see party affiliation and partisanship as less important than philosophy. I think the voters will look at our voting records and who was working to create jobs and opportunity for the people who live here. It’s more about education and taxes and jobs. Not all Democrats are happy about Obamacare. Gloria is one of its biggest supporters.”
As for Negrete-MeLeod’s decision to forsake her Congressional career and what appeared to be a safe seat for the foreseeable future, Hagman said, “I am disappointed that she could not handle the job. Being a U.S. Representative is a great honor. She wanted out of there. Basically, between the travel and the weather, she did not like going to work.”
Hagman said he was not daunted by the Democratic registration advantage in the Fourth Supervisorial District. He said being a Democrat gives a candidate an edge in terms of registration but that being a Republican gives a candidate an edge in terms of voter turnout.
“You can look at it any way you want to,” he said. “The Democrats hold a slight registration advantage. If you look at the turnout models, Republicans have much higher turnout, plus 11 or 12 percent in the primaries and plus 6 or 7 percent in the general elections.”
He was not deluding himself, Hagman said, with regard to Negrete-McLeod’s ability to wage a campaign.
“Gloria has been in government a long time,” he said. “She has money and she will hire the appropriate people who know how to run a campaign.”
With regard to Hagman’s criticisms of her prison realignment vote, Negrete-McLeod said, “He was in the assembly during that time. Did he not realize that our state and our governor had to let those prisoners go? Did he not realize we were under an order from the court and that a three-judge panel said we had to release those prisoners to relieve overcrowding? What does he not understand about that?  Hasn’t he read in the newspapers and seen the statistics that crime has gone down or is that something I have to call him to tell him? Those were hard choices but in the legislature you have to make hard votes.   Sometimes those votes are not popular but they are part of the job.”
Negrete-McLeod said that Hagman had mischaracterized her as the biggest supporter of Obamacare in Congress, noting that she had missed some votes on the matter when she was ill. Nevertheless, she acknowledged “At least 34 times I voted against the Republican efforts to either dismantle or abolish the Affordable Care Act . The Republicans wanted to undo it and even went to court. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that it was constitutional. The Affordable Care Act is working for senior citizens and others who do not have a way to get insurance. I am not interested in taking away people’s ability to find medical care.”
The congresswoman said that Hagman was mischaracterizing as well her attitude and voting record with regard to the support of small business owners and entrepreneurship.  “If you check my voting history in the California legislature you will see I was a moderate Democrat. If he is saying that it is typical of Democrats to vote for overregulation and weakening small business, than he is being a typical Republican in being opposed to any type of regulation. This is a non-partisan seat. Why is he bringing up these things from the past that have no bearing on the issues facing San Bernardino County? I am proud of my voting record protecting families and small businesses and making sure there is a safety net for those people who cannot help themselves.”
Negrete-McLeod said she did not want to go on the attack against Hagman, consenting only to say “Mr. Hagman was elected to the Assembly and in six years, he never made a hard vote. One of your principal jobs in the state legislature is to pass a budget. If you are going to say “no,” you should give a reason why you vote no. He did a good job of being against everything, but came up with very little in the way of ideas of his own.”

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