Nickel In Effort To Keep Ramos From Claiming 40th For Dems

Republican incumbent 40th District Assemblyman Marc Steinorth’s decision to opt out of seeking reelection this year will not necessarily abandon the post to the Democrats, who will have multimillionaire James Ramos carrying the standard in the June Primary and most likely again in the November run-off.
The GOP is staking its hopes of hanging onto the 40th District on San Bernardino City Councilman Henry Nickel. The district spreads across Rancho Cucamonga, Lytle Creek, Devore, a sparsely inhabited expense across the San Bernardino Mountain foothills, Highland, much of San Bernardino, Loma Linda, Redlands and Mentone.
Ramos, the former chairman of the San Manuel Indian Tribe and San Bernardino County’s Third District supervisor since 2012, represents a formidable candidate. The San Manuel Reservation in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains above Highland is host to a casino, the proceeds from which are making members of the tribe richer by the day. It has been reported that as one of the tribe’s leaders, Ramos’ share of the casino take is $18,000 a day – $540,000 per month or $6.57 million per year. Ramos has not been reluctant to use that money to advance his own political candidacy, nor in supporting his political allies. This has turned him into something of a political juggernaut in San Bernardino County. And the 40th District, which lies at the core of what used to be solidly Republican San Bernardino County, was pretty close to evenly divided between the Republicans and Democrats when Steinorth first won there in 2014. But by 2016, the registration advantage in the 40th had shifted to some five percentage points in favor of the Democrats, as the whole of San Bernardino County itself was swinging more and more into the Democratic camp. As of this week, of the 40th Assembly District’s 222,348 registered voters, 89,319 or 40.2 percent are Democrats; 73,210 or 32.9 percent are Republicans; and 48,289 or 21.7 have no party preference; and 5.2 percent are affiliated with minority parties such as the American Independent, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom or Green. While Steinorth has said that his decision to leave the Assembly after just two terms and four years in Sacramento and instead run for Second District County supervisor was driven in the main by his desire to be closer to his family on a daily basis and that he thought he could in 2018 repeat his victory in the face of stronger Democratic registration as he had in 2016, the advantages that have accrued to Ramos – his wealth and the creeping Democratization of the 40th District – have led most political handicappers to conclude that Steinorth was a long shot to remain in the Assembly.
According to Nickel, however, the California Republican Party has concluded there are compelling reasons to not give up the ghost in the 40th and no one should assume that Ramos is a shoo-in. Rather, Nickel declared, Party of Lincoln stalwarts and donors believe there is a realistic pathway for Ramos to be beaten, and that he, Nickel, is the candidate to do so.
“It is a seat we have to hold onto,” Nickel told the Sentinel. “It’s really about making sure we have good representation in Sacramento. Marc (Steinorth) approached me a week or so ago, and then the party leadership contacted me and said they wanted me to run. I talked with my family and my employer to make sure this is the right decision. We do need representation in Sacramento and we need to know we have people speaking for us who have the perception and perspective of what our challenges are here.”
The strength of his candidacy lies, Nickel said, in his basic philosophy being more in tune with what a solid majority of the 40th District’s voters – Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated ones – believe than that espoused by Ramos.
“I know James well,” Nickel said “He has some ambition and he sees this more or less as a steppingstone. He has aspirations for higher office. I’m not opposed to that, but given the situation in Sacramento, there are problems that will be created in giving the Democrats an even stronger hold than they already have. We need a diversity of ideas in Sacramento. We don’t have to just assume that we have to accept that the rest of California is going to be saddled with the culture that prevails in Sacramento. In the state capital they are out of touch with much of the rest of the state and the Inland Empire in particular. I have known James for many years. I have met him at regional government joint powers meetings and while attending board meetings. He’s a gentleman. I’ve gotten to know him. We have common interests and some shared values. The tribe has an interest in the future of the city [San Bernardino] and they have the hotel and casino projects and we are both working to make those projects as successful. We both want the best for the community. I’m sure he wants to run a clean campaign and doesn’t want to risk getting into the mud and getting dirty. I want to run a clean campaign, as well. I have invited him to sit down for lunch before we tap gloves. At the end of this he will still be a supervisor or I will still be on the council, so we will still have common interests. We want there to be a decent, civilized discussion of public issues. This will be good. I’m looking forward to a debate and discussion that gives voter a real choice in this election.”
Nickel said he was confident of his position and as enthused as he could be going into the political fray. Asked how he figured he could win, Nickel said, “I’m not going to get into what our strategy is going to be. We obviously have our strategy figured out. I have the full leadership of the Republican Party behind me.”
Nickel continued, “This isn’t anything personal. I don’t believe James has a good grasp of what the majority of people have to deal with on a daily basis. It is going to be a real contest. He has advantages in terms of money. In some ways there are weaknesses and liabilities in having that kind of income, which is completely out of step with the majority of the 40th District. People facing everyday problems don’t have the luxury of living in a gated community. The wealthy don’t have to deal with the realities of crime. The culture in Sacramento and the Democratic Party is completely foreign to the way people live their lives here. I don’t own a casino. I don’t own a hotel. People are really struggling. His money and advantages do not align with the lives and the realities of the majority of the constituents in the 40th District.”
Nickel said he believes that in appealing to the voters in the 40th District, he can press the advantage of his philosophy and approach to governance over that of Ramos and the Democratic Party Ramos is affiliated with.
“The gas tax is something we have to get repealed,” said Nickel. “It is hurting working families intensely. It puts an unfair burden on working families, the people who can afford it the least. I am opposed to the gas tax and I support the repeal of Proposition 47 [which reduced certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors] and Proposition 57 [which allowed prison inmates convicted of nonviolent felony offenses to be considered for early release].”
Nickel admitted his campaign could be blunted if Ramos adopts conservative positions on these issues, and went so far as to say he would not mind if Ramos did just that. “I hope he is independent enough that he won’t be aligning himself with people in the Democratic Party, and he will do the best for the people of the state and the Inland Empire, but to be honest, I am a little concerned about who is backing him. He will not be aligned with the people in this district if he goes against the repeal of the gas tax and he is not aligned with the people if he is in support of propositions 47 and 57. The people in this district support law enforcement. It is not reform to release sex offenders back into the community. San Bernardino County has been the canary in the coal mine with a lot of these liberal experiments. The state is responsible for devastating circumstances in the City of San Bernardino and the region, both of which have had an uptick in crime.”
Nickel said he is prepared to go right down the line in illustrating how the Republican approach to governance is superior to the nostrums offered by the Democrats.
“Take home ownership,” Nickel said. “We have to make home ownership affordable. Sacramento is making home building more complicated and expensive. Democrats say low income housing is the way to go but the reality is building more homes is the way to get people into homes. When you have a regulatory environment that is constantly keeping the cost of building high, nothing is going to change. There won’t be change until we have change in Sacramento.”
Nickel asserted that his track record as a council member in San Bernardino is more impressive than the accomplishments Ramos can boast of as supervisor. Nickel was elected to a partial term on the council in 2014 to replace Chas Kelley, who was forced to resign as a consequence of criminal charges against him. Nickel was elected to a full term in 2015. The City of San Bernardino had declared bankruptcy in 2012, filing for Chapter 9 protection. Nickel, who has served as a member of the city’s Ways and Means, Legislative Review, Audit and Community Development Block Grant committees and as chairman of the Grants Committee, credited himself with having worked with his council colleagues to structure a fiscal recovery for the city. “We have been able to move the needle in San Bernardino, often against tremendous odds,” Nickel said. “It has been hard and it hasn’t always been pretty. We came out of bankruptcy. There have been a number of changes since I came into office, and we together, regardless of the differences in personalities, brought improvement to a city that was seriously in trouble. I see parallels in what is happening in Sacramento. There is intense disagreement between the state and federal government. Irrespective of what you think of the current president, we have to find a way to work with the administration to do what is best for California. The best interest of our state and our citizens is being set aside in favor of the political aspirations of a few politicians interested in their own careers.”
Nickel said, “I have a fairly good sense of what senior citizens, working families, law enforcement, and small businesses are dealing with. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with Sacramento. We need to do the right thing and quit playing politics with people’s lives. The decisions in Sacramento affect people’s lives. We have politicians in Sacramento who no longer understand what people are dealing with. Crime is going up, taxes are going up, small business are leaving the state and jobs are leaving the state. Sacramento is out of control. Politicians should ultimately make decisions that make our lives better, not worse. The decisions by Sacramento are making people’s lives worse.”
Nickel said he is just what the doctor ordered.
“I pride myself on being a good listener,” he said “Many politicians believe they are the boss and we work for them. I work for the people who elected me. They make the decisions and I cast the votes. I want my vote to be reflective of what they want accomplished.”
Nickel was able to jump into the election because the filing period, which was previously set to elapse on March 9, was extended when Steinorth, the incumbent, did not file for reelection. Under California’s elective system, the two top vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation and even if one receives more than 50 percent, qualify for a run-off in November. In addition to Nickel and Ramos, Libbern Cook, a Democrat, has also qualified as a candidate in the 40th District primary.
Mark Gutglueck

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