Having Barely Beaten 2014 Dem Foe, Hagman Facing Serious 2018 Challenge

Having already defied long political odds, Fourth District San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman will face an even more challenging assignment next year in attempting to hang on to the position he now holds.
When 2014 began, Hagman’s prospect of moving into the Fourth District San Bernardino County Supervisor’s post appeared dim at best. The incumbent in the position was Gary Ovitt, like Hagman, a Republican. Ovitt, the then-mayor of Ontario had outdistanced then-Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa in a specially scheduled 2004 balloting to replace Patty Aguiar, the temporary holder of the position after her husband, Fred Aguiar, had departed to become a high ranking official in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial administration in 2003. Ovitt had been reelected convincingly in 2006 and 2010 and had the power of incumbency going into 2014. Ovitt’s strongest challenger appeared to be Gloria Negrete-McLeod, a one-term incumbent member of Congress, who had previously served six years in the California Senate, six years in the California Assembly and who had been a member and then president of the Chaffey College Board of Trustees prior to that.
In addition, Ontario City Councilman Paul Vincent Avila and Chino Unified School District Board Member James Na were interested in competing for the post.
In early 2014, voter registration in the Fourth District, which contained within its confines Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair and Ontario, decidedly favored Democrats. In April 2014, 64,985 of the district’s 158,046 voters, or 41.1 percent, were registered Democrats and 51,176, or 32.4 percent were Republicans. Because she was so well financed and because she held the prestige of being a member of Congress, Negrete-McLeod seemed best fixed to give Ovitt a run for his money. Ovitt, nonetheless, was not shrinking from the situation, believing he could count upon his already substantial campaign war chest and an infusion of funds from generous Republican Party donors to prevail.
Hagman, who was due to be turned out of the Assembly as of the end of 2014 after three two-year terms in Sacramento because of term limits, would have needed to challenge an incumbent Republican Party California State Senator to remain in state office. He opted to move one step down the political food chain to claim the position of Fourth County supervisor.
To do so, however, required Hagman to pull off a political hat trick. His first move was to befriend former state Assemblyman and state Senator Jim Brulte, who was moving in 2013 to become the chairman of the California Republican Party. Having formed an alliance with Brulte, who was proposing an energetic, if still quixotic, effort to wrest political control of the Golden State from the Democrats, Hagman then moved to depose Robert Rego as the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Rather than engaging in a knock down drag out Donnybrook with Rego, Hagman and his forces arranged to sweeten Rego’s exodus, offering him an important role in the party both locally and statewide down the road if he would simply agree to step down at the county level. Through this use of tact and politesse, Hagman and Brulte preserved the upside of Rego’s direction of the party, by which the Republicans in San Bernardino County turned out at the polls in far greater numbers than their Democratic counterparts despite the burgeoning Democratic registration countywide. Rego had previously sought to smooth over rivalries between locally competing Republicans. And even though Hagman and Brulte eased Rego out the door, they managed to do so without having Rego turn on the party, and Rego continued to assist them in the first order of business, which consisted of convincing party donors that they should continue to stock the party’s coffers with money.
From his enhanced position as county party chairman, Hagman then prevailed upon Ovitt to go quietly into the good night and opt out of running for reelection. Negrete-McLeod had at that point firmly resolved to leave as Congresswoman, she said, because she had grown to dread the bi-weekly California to Washington D.C. commute. She, too, now coveted the Fourth Supervisorial post, pitting her in the 2014 June primary against Hagman, Na and Avila.
In the June balloting, Negrete-McLeod prevailed, capturing 10,180, or 41.93 percent of the total 24,376 votes cast. Hagman pulled down 9,982 votes, of 41.12 percent; Na captured 2,313 or 9.53 percent, and Avila polled 1,801 votes or 7.42 percent.
Against the backdrop of the Democrats widening their voter registration advantage statewide, in Southern California, regionally, in San Bernardino County and in the Fourth Supervisorial District, Hagman and his political team put on a spirited and aggressive effort against Negrete-McLeod in the November election campaign. Despite Negrete-McLeod’s  advantages in terms of far greater Democratic registration numbers in the Fourth District and her seeming upper hand, as an incumbent federal office holder over Hagman as a state office holder, Hagman eked out a victory, albeit by a rather narrow margin, 24,480 votes, or 52.11 percent of the 46,982 votes cast to Negrete-McLeod’s 22,502 votes or 47.89 percent.
In the last three years, Hagman’s hold on the Fourth Superviorial District scepter has grown somewhat tenuous as the result of a number of factors.
The registration numbers favoring Democrats over Republicans in the Fourth District, and thus disadvantaging Hagman, are continuing to move lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats. As of this week, 71,509 or 43 percent of the 166,283 registered voters in the Fourth District are Democrats, while 46,515 or 28 percent are Republicans.
Afoot within the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee is an effort to oust that body’s chairman, Chris Robles. Growing numbers of local Democrats have become disenchanted with Robles’ performance in the role of county party chairman, as during his tenure the Democrats have not made gains in Democrats holding office commensurate with their growing registration advantage. Indeed, it is Hagman’s 2014 victory over Negrete-McLeod that many of the Democrats now attempting to make a case against Robles with party leaders in Sacramento are referencing. Accordingly, whether the faction looking to oust Robles, who is by profession a political campaign consultant, is successful or not, it appears those in the local Democratic Party will be uniformly focused on replacing Hagman with a Democrat in 2018.
Recently, Hagman has been touted, at least in some quarters, for his success in interesting investors in committing substantial monetary resources into local businesses and ventures as well as supporting certain public-private enterprises. Yet, much of that investment is originating with Asian banking institutions and wealthy Asian investors. Even if that development is gladly received in Chino Hills, where Hagman was a member of the city council and mayor before he acceded to the state Assembly, among a considerable segment of his constituency elsewhere, foreign investment, and in particular Asian investment, in the local economy is not viewed positively. For his perceived relationship to these foreign investors, Hagman may experience those he represents extracting a political price, punishing him at the ballot box next year.
Whereas Hagman’s strength in 2014 rested largely on his Republican bona fides, the solidity of GOP support for him next year is not at this point an absolute given. On this score alone, there have been two developments that might undercut him.
Since coming into office, Hagman has installed into a significant number of the positions in his office government employees and government officials. Right off the bat, he hired Mike Spence, who had been his chief of staff when he was in the Assembly, as his chief of staff in his role as San Bernardino County supervisor. In addition to being Hagman’s chief of staff when Hagman was in the Assembly, Spence had previously been the chief of staff for then-assemblyman Joel Anderson (R- El Cajon). And Spence was a creature of government himself, with a political career of his own as West Covina city councilman and mayor.
Also as supervisor, Hagman hired Chino Hills City Councilman/Mayor Ed Graham, whom Hagman had previously employed in his Assembly office, as his senior field representative. When Graham, who had been a public employee most of his life surpassed the retirement age of 65 and retired last year, Hagman replaced him with another government insider, Graham’s Chino Hills City Council colleague, Peter Rogers.
Last year, Hagman hired longtime Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, himself a retired Ontario police officer, as his policy adviser.
Republicans, historically and more recently, particularly in California, represent a bulwark against what they have characterized as a trend toward socialism, including the growth of government. A roiling issue in this regard is the degree to which public employees, through their unions, have exhibited control over the electoral process. By pooling their money, oftentimes in the form of union dues which are sometimes augmented with voluntary or involuntary contributions, and using that cash to back candidates of their choice, particularly ones willing to raise public employee salaries and benefits, most especially public employee pensions, public employees have come to exercise an influence over government in greater proportion than their actual numbers. Overwhelmingly, the candidates the public unions support, in California and nearly everywhere else in the United States, are Democrats.
In this way, Hagman’s advancement of public employees and public officials into key positions in his supervisorial office puts him in danger of falling out of step with the mainstay of his political support.
The greatest hazard to Hagman’s political future, however, may consist of what at least seemed to be the implosion of Spence last year.
If Hagman had a defense against those knocking his trend of staffing his office with creatures of government and longtime public employees, the primary exhibit in that defense would have been Mike Spence. Though he was a longtime public employee, Spence was not in league with the public employee unions. Spence was considered Hagman’s alter ego and was in many respects indistinguishable from Hagman himself, offering a reflection of their shared pro-business, pro-economic development ethos favoring the private sector over public sector superimposition of excessive regulation and bureaucracy. Spence is an anti-tax advocate who has long crusaded for cutting government red tape and alleviating the financial burden on taxpayers. Among his bona fides is that at the age of 32 in 1998, he was so spirited in his efforts to prevent the City of West Covina from imposing several hundred dollar-per year assessments on homeowners that City Hall sued him over that opposition. Ultimately, the city was unsuccessful with that lawsuit and, inspired by his example at fighting City Hall, the city’s voters rejected the proposed tax increase. Later, he was elected to the city council, rotating into the position of mayor.
In June 2016, however, Spence was involved in a single-vehicle traffic accident in the neighboring City of Covina. Toxicology tests determined he was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the accident. Ultimately, Spence was convicted of a misdemeanor driving under the influence offense. Hagman fired him a year ago.
While Hagman’s and Spence’s shared “Republican values” including principles of social conservatism and pro-law enforcement concepts virtually dictated that Hagman would need to part company with Spence, the impact to the Hagman political machine from the  loss of Spence is nearly incalculable. Spence was the architect of Hagman’s winning 2014 strategy. Spence game planned how to dictate the terms of the campaign from the beginning, and he formulated the campaign’s responses to the moves by the Negrete-Mcleod campaign on the fly. Spence provided the steady nerve needed in the face of developments that might have rattled other campaign managers into overreacting. He ensured that Hagman’s shots were well-placed and done with sufficient frequency, in proper numbers and with effective depth and reach.
A demonstration of Spence’s political dynamism is that this week, 17 months after his accident and just two weeks less than a year following his guilty plea to driving under the influence, he was elevated by his council colleagues in West Covina to the post of mayor as part of the traditional rotation of members of the council. In getting that appointment, Spence overcame suggestions the council should have skipped over him because of his faux pas last year. That Spence was still in office this week and that he was able to withstand the constant calls for him to resign while maintaining his elected position and political authority in the face of the DUI incident is a tribute to his political constitution and attests to his ability to negotiate the vicissitudes of political existence.
That facility is now no longer with the Hagman political machine and will not likely be available when the campaign for Fourth District supervisor begins next year.
-Mark Gutglueck

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