Long Knives Out And Slashing In 31st Congressional District Race

(May 27) The primary race in the 31st Congressional District has devolved into the most intensive exchange of personal attacks of any of the current political contests in San Bernardino County, with four of the seven candidates taking part in the mudfest.
Two years ago, the Republicans used the peculiar rules of California’s open primary, which had once again been reestablished in the Golden State, to capture the Congressional seat in the 31st District despite the Democrats eight percent registration advantage.
Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent.
In 2012, two Republicans, Congresman Gary Miller and then-state senator Bob Dutton, ran, as did four Democrats, Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Renea Wickman and Rita Ramirez-Dean. Under California’s open primary arrangements, voters can cross party lines and vote for whichever candidate they choose and are no longer restricted to voting only for a candidate who identifies him or herself with that particular voter’s party of registration. The November election is then held between the two top vote-getters, regardless of political affiliation. In the June 2012 Primary, the first election held after the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, the aforementioned four Democrats – Aguilar, Kim, Ramirez-Dean, and Wickman – sought election, as did incumbent 41st District Republican Congressman Gary Miller and another Republican, Bob Dutton. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the Democrats who ran third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the June race were shut out and the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
Miller in February announced his decision to retire at the end of his current term, throwing this year’s race wide open. Again four Democrats came forward to run – Aguilar, who was the top vote-getter among Democrats in 2012 as well as former Congresman Joe Baca, Colton-based attorney and Democratic Party activist Eloise Gomez-Reyes and San Bernardino City Unified School District Board Member Danny Tillman. For a time it appeared that the Republicans might repeat the scenario they used in 2012 to capture the seat in the Democratic leaning district when two members of the GOP – Lesli Gooch, who had worked on Miller’s staff, and local anti-drug use crusader Paul Chabot qualified their candidacies. Subsequently, however, another Republican, Ryan Downing of Whittier, got in the race. Though Downing resides outside the 31st District, he is eligible to run there because under the rules of Congress, a member need not live within the district he or she represents and must merely reside within the state where the district is located.
Of the seven candidates in the race, Downing is the least well-funded and some members of the Party of Lincoln remain hopeful that Chabot and Gooch will lose only a minimal number of Republican votes to Downing and will still be able to outpoll all four Democrats to make the November race in the 31st an all Republican affair.
Remarkably, first Chabot and then Gooch, following Chabot’s lead, appeared committed to reducing that possibility.
Using emails early on, Chabot tore into Gooch, criticizing her as a carpetbagger in emails that accused her of being a resident of Alexandria, Virginia and reregistering in the 31st District just a day before she declared her candidacy.
Despite that complaint, the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee endorsed Gooch, which aggravated Chabot.  He and his strategist, John Thomas, sought to undercut Gooch where it would hurt her most, sending letters to her supporters and donors in an attempt to cut her off from the mother’s milk of all politics, funding to run her campaign. Chabot personally called upon Gooch to withdraw from the race and then attacked her on the basis that she is, or at least was, a lobbyist based in the nation’s capital whose first loyalty was to her clients and not the constituents in the 31st District.  Letters were then sent out to Gooch’s political donors, which celebrated that Gooch had as a client a non-profit low income housing foundation created by Jeff Burum, a Rancho Cucamonga-based developer who has been indicted in a case pertaining to alleged payoffs to county officials that resulted in the county making a $102 million settlement payout to end litigation brought against the county by another of Burum’s companies. Burum has not gone to trial on that matter and continues to assert his innocence.
“Voters should be appalled and disappointed to discover that Leslie (sic) Gooch has not only been dishonest about hiding her past as a lobbyist, but she has represented indicted individuals in our region’s biggest political corruption scandal,” Thomas said in the letter.
The Gooch campaign’s initial responses to Chabot’s attacks were relatively mild and low key, with Gooch campaign spokesman saying merely that Chabot had become “unhinged” over the central committee endorsement going to Gooch. Subsequently, however, the Gooch campaign sent out a mailer to high propensity Republican voters in which Chabot was lambasted as a “failed lobbyist” who was “a political bureaucrat for Bill Clinton.” The mailer went on to accuse Chabot of misrepresentations and misuse of governmental grant money utilized by his non-profit foundation “Partnership For A Drug Free California.”
“Paul Chabot pocketed nearly $1million of taxpayer money funneled through non-profits on failed government programs and government salaries. We can’t afford Paul Chabot’s costly decisions,” the mailer states, further tagging Chabot with “A history of reckless decisions costing taxpayers millions.”
On the Democratic side, the two most financially enabled candidates appeared, like their Republican counterparts, to be intent upon carrying the campaign against members of their own party.
In one of the first Democrat-trashing-Democrat mailers in this year’s 31st District race, Gomez Reyes took aim at Aguilar.  “Some career politicians always have their hand out for money and perks,” the front of the mailer states. “Pete Aguilar is one of them,” it states on the flip side. The mailer goes on to accuse Aguilar of “using his position to make personal profit,” of engaging in “pay-to-play schemes to raise campaign cash” and of “taking thousands [of dollars] in taxpayer-funded perks.”
Aguilar, who has been provided with over $1 million in donations coming largely from Democratic donors beyond San Bernardino County, fired his first salvo at Baca, excoriating him for what he claimed was Baca’s lack of  action in working to mitigate pollution while he was previously a member of Congress. “San Bernardino County has the worst smog pollution in the county,” the mailer targeting Baca from Aguilar stated. “So what did Joe Baca do?” the mailer asks, going on to answer, that he “opposed laws” that would have redressed the air and water pollution problem. “Joe Baca voted repeatedly against laws to protect our air and water.”
Baca also found himself as the focus of a mailer put out by Gomez Reyes, though he was lumped together with Aguilar, Gooch and Chabot in that piece of electioneering material. On the front page of the mailer, Chabot, Aguilera, Baca and Gooch are depicted in what appears to be a photoshopped image sitting at a table.  Bearing the header “Four lobbyists?” the mailer states, “They put themselves and their special interest friends first. Not you.”  At the bottom of the page, it reads, “You have a better choice,” accompanied by arrows to prompt the reader to open the mailer and view a photo of Gomez Reyes.
Not to be outdone, Aguilar hit back with an attack ad vectored at Gomez-Reyes, zeroing in on her tax delinquencies. The hit piece bears the Headline “Eloise Gomez Reyes Candidate For Congress Issued Three Tax Liens By The State.”
Charging Gomez Reyes with “a record of unpaid taxes and liens,” the mailer states, “Your tax dollars pay for essential services in San Bernardino County, like highway repair, health care for seniors and support for local schools and colleges. Despite this, Eloise Gomez Reyes has a record of not paying her taxes. In fact, the State of California has issued not just one, but three tax liens against her for failing to pay taxes. Her approach to taxes is not one San Bernardino County can rely on.”
Only Tillman and Downing, who are less well-funded than the others and  are not  considered viable candidates in the race, have escaped being the targets of the negative campaign materials.

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