By Mark Gutglueck
This year’s run-off election for San Bernardino County Fifth District supervisor represents a set of paradoxes, some of which are difficult to fathom and others which are patently simple elements of political reality. The ostensibly nonpartisan race involves a Democrat who is fighting to maintain his party’s relevancy in San Bernardino County politics, at least for the next two years, even as the Republican Party finds itself in the throes of irrelevancy in the Golden State.
The contest between Rialto Councilman Joe Baca Jr., a Democrat, and Fontana Councilman Jesse Armendarez, a Republican, involves a study in contrasts. Baca embodies at this point in his career an acquired patience, a willingness to wait until the time is ripe for him to make his advancement up the chain of political authority. Armendarez’s bid for the supervisorial post marks his third sudden, rushed and frenetic political move in less than six years.
Since its inception in pre-Civil War California in 1853, San Bernardino County has existed across several internal political eras, those that can be generally described as being dominated by the Democrats or by the Republicans or those in which there was a standoff between the two major parties. The era immediately preceding the current one began in earnest in 1936 when Harry Sheppard, a New Deal Democrat, replaced the Republican who preceded him as California’s 19th Congressional District Congressman, Sam L. Collins. The 19th Congressional District at that time overlapped some 90 percent of San Bernardino County. Over the next three decades, Sheppard, a former railroad executive who became the U.S. Representative in California’s 21st, 27th and 33rd Congressional Districts with each successive redistricting of the state as it grew population-wise each succeeding decade, enjoyed close ties with the Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. He grew to become one of the 50 most powerful men in the country. Sheppard was instrumental in directing a huge amount of federal dollars to San Bernardino County, perhaps most dramatically exemplified with the construction of what was originally known as the Victorville Army Air Corps Advanced Flying School which later became George Air Force Base in the High Desert, the San Bernardino Army Air Field which later became known as Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range which later became Fort Irwin north of Barstow and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center also known as Twentynine Palms Marine Base, the largest United States Marine Corps Base in existence.
In the span of a few days in January 1964, Congressman Sheppard opened three separate $10,000 accounts in each of eight savings and loan associations and deposited $10,000 in three banks and $5,000 in another bank, all of which were located in the Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland area. Sheppard’s faux pas in depositing $275,000 into the dozen financial institutions knelled the end of his tenure in Congress and signaled the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party’s primacy in San Bernardino County. Sheppard’s 27 separate $10,000 accounts – one penny below the threshold for an automatic report to the Internal Revenue Service and the other $5,000 deposit brought for the congressman much unwanted scrutiny when it was publicly revealed the following month. In words that would ring hollow, coming as they did from one of the more sophisticated operators in the House of Representatives, Sheppard offered the explanation that the money was his life savings that he had kept as cash in a safe deposit box since his election to Congress nearly 28 years previously. He insisted that he had just gotten around to making preparations to ensure his wife’s future by making those deposits, and that he previously did not have time to manage his investments and didn’t want the income from putting the money into an interest-bearing account because that would have pushed him into a higher tax bracket. Neither the IRS, nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor any other authorities took action against Sheppard, but the revelation meant the end of his political career. He did not seek reelection that year, and he left office on January 3, 1965.
Sheppard was succeeded by another Democrat, Kenneth Dyal, but Dyal served only a single term before he was replaced by a Republican, Jerry Pettis in 1966, the same year the Reagan Revolution began with Ronald Reagan’s election as governor in 1966. Republicans took control of San Bernardino County from that point forward.
For the next four decades, the number of registered Republicans in San Bernardino County outran the number of Democrats. With some notable exceptions, those elected to state legislative office, to the board of supervisors, district attorney, sheriff, and to the city councils and to the mayoralties of the cities within the county were by and large Republicans. In 2009, for the first time in 40-plus years, the number of registered Democrats surpassed those registered as Republicans in the county. Remarkably, however, despite the demographics that had swung in favor of the Democrats and more than a few scandals that Republican office holders in San Bernardino County had managed to embroil themselves in during the first decade of the Third Millennium, the GOP continued to dominate San Bernardino County.
Two decades ago, the Golden State as a whole fell into the hands of the Democrats. In the years since, the state has grown increasingly Democratic, such that at present the governor’s mansion is occupied by a Democrat. Further, the attorney general, the insurance commissioner, the secretary of state, the state treasurer, the state controller, the state auditor and the state superintendent of schools are all Democrats, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democratic supermajorities.
In neighboring Orange County, what was once presumed impossible has occurred. A quarter of a century ago, all of Orange County’s Congressional representatives were Republicans. Democrats were so few in Orange County that a jocular myth was that a bounty had been put on them there. Today, 25 years on, all seven of Orange County’s Congressional members are Democrats.
San Bernardino County remains, against the odds and against the numbers, one of the few remaining Republican bastions in the state. That the Republicans have been able to keep it so stands as a tribute to its local party members’ collective grit, determination, tenacity, energy, coordination, hard work, cohesiveness, cunning and willingness to defy expectations, convention and even the law to retain their primacy. That the Democrats have remained in the majority of cases shut out of the corridors of power and decision-making in the state’s largest geographical county and fifth largest in terms of population is a manifestation of its local party members’ overall complacency, discord, poor communication, indolence and gullibility.
Among the five Congress members representing San Bernardino County at the federal level, one is a Republican and four are Democrats. That is because, however, the districts for several of San Bernardino County’s members of the House of Representatives extend beyond the county boundaries into areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties which are heavily Democratic. An analysis of the vote in the Congressional races in San Bernardino County going back to 2016 shows that two of those four Democrats would likely not be in office if the determination of who was to represent them had been left up to San Bernardino County voters alone.
San Bernardino’s state legislative delegation is majority Republican, with three of its five state senators currently Republicans and four of its eight assembly members Republicans. Again, it is because the districts of some of those legislators extend beyond San Bernardino County’s borders that some of those Democratic Party-aligned office holders can claim incumbency.
Local elected offices in California are officially considered to be nonpartisan. In San Bernardino County, however, party affiliation is a primary consideration whenever and at whatever level an election is held.
At the most basic level of local governance in the county – among the elected members of the 24 city and town councils and the county board of supervisors – Republicans have remained in ascendancy. In 17 of the county’s 24 cities, the Republicans hold absolute control. In two of those cities there is no clear partisan leaning among elected decision-makers. In only five of the county’s 24 cities are there more Democrats on their ultimate decision-making panel than Republicans. Currently on the board of supervisors, four of its five members are Republican. In the March 3 primary election this year, three positions on the board of supervisors were up for election, those being the First District, the Third District and the Fifth District. Robert Lovingood, a Republican first elected in 2012, announced last year he would not seek reelection. Congressman Paul Cook, who is now 77-years-old and finding it more difficult to hold up under the strain of flying across the country between Washington, D.C. and Southern California two and three times a month, seized upon the opportunity Lovingood’s departure presented, allowing him to remain in politics by running for supervisor, which would entail a far less rigorous travel demand, consisting of driving the 45 miles between his newly established residence in Victorville and San Bernardino and then back as little as twice a month. In the March 3 election, the well-funded Cook easily outdistanced his three opponents, capturing 31,230, or 64.66 percent of the 47,365 votes cast, winning the First District seat outright. Similarly, in the Third District, where Dawn Rowe, once a member of Cook’s Congressional staff who had been appointed to serve out the last two years of James Ramos’s term as supervisor after he was elected to the State Assembly in 2018, triumphed in her election bid over four others, polling 32,577 or 54.96 percent of 57,028 total votes, claiming the Third District post until 2024. In the Fifth District, Josie Gonzales, who had first been elected to the board in 2004 and is now nearing the end of her fourth term on the board, is obliged to end her tenure as a supervisor pursuant to county voters’ 2006 passage of Measure P, which from its going into effect as of the 2008 election limited supervisors to three four-year terms. Gonzales, representing the overwhelmingly Democratic Fifth District, is the only Democrat on the board at present.
Gonzalez’s hope had been that her legacy of leadership would be extended with the election of her chief of staff, Dan Flores. Flores, a Democrat and member of the Colton Unified School District Board of Trustees, progressed toward the March 3 primary with a fair amount of confidence. Flores had the endorsement of the incumbent, a sizeable electioneering fund of his own that exceeded at the outset of the campaign $200,000, the willingness of Gonzales to back him even further with funding transfers from her own electioneering account which exceeded $604,000, Democratic-party affiliation, a working knowledge of the office itself that exceeded that of his opponents, together with a familiarity with the ongoing issues in the district that evolved from his interaction with county staff and the district’s residents on a constant basis. Many considered Flores to be the heir apparent to Gonzales.
Nevertheless, the long-anticipated departure of Gonzales as Fifth District supervisor had the effect of summoning the interest and attention of a number of politicians in the area. Primary among those was Joe Baca Jr. Baca’s father was a well-traveled politician, one who paid his dues early on in his effort to best another local Democratic office holder, Jerry Eaves. Eaves, a union official at the then-extant Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, had parlayed his union ties and Democratic bona fides into broad voter support in the blue-collar Fifth District to gain election in 1978 to the city council in Rialto, whereafter he captured the mayor’s post in 1980. In 1984, Eaves was elected to the California Assembly. From that base, he successfully vied for the California Assembly. Emerging very early on as Eaves’ major rival was Joe Baca Sr. The two had some legendary knock-down-drag-out elective battles in 1986, in 1988 and again in 1990, in which the dwindling number of Republican residents in San Bernardino County’s Central Valley was an irrelevancy and the battle between the two was for the hearts and minds of the Democrats, who comprised the overwhelming plurality of the district’s voters. In 1992, however, Eaves elected to depart from Sacramento, where he was a slightly less than medium-sized fish in a big pond to seek the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Fifth District position, where he would be one of five decision-makers overseeing the government in the largest county geographically in the lower 48 states. Eaves’ anointing of his protégé, Rialto Mayor John Longville, in an effort to have him succeed him in the Assembly, failed, however, as Baca did not miss the opportunity to vie for the Assembly once more, at last succeeding in becoming a member of the state legislature. After six years in California’s lower legislative house, Baca stepped up to run for California State Senate in the 32nd District, emerging victorious. He held that post for less than a year, when with the death of Congressman George Brown in 1999, he successfully ran in a special election to succeed him. For more than a decade, Baca, a Hispanic Democrat in the heavily Hispanic Democratic districts which he represented, appeared and indeed was politically invulnerable. In the meantime, there was considerable talk of the potential for a Baca Family Political Dynasty, as the names of two of his sons, Joe Jr. and Jeremy, and his daughter, Natalie, were being bruited about as possible candidates for any of several local political offices, with the suggestion they would eventually make their ways to Sacramento and perhaps even Washington, D.C. Penultimately, Joe Baca Jr. successfully vied for Assembly in the 62nd District in 2004, and four year’s later Jeremy unsuccessfully ran for the city council in 2008. In 2006, Joe Baca Jr, intent on moving up the political chain, forsook his hold on the 62nd Assembly District and ran for the State Senate in the 32nd California Senatorial District, losing to Gloria Negrete-McLeod. Having fallen off his political horse, Joe Jr. immediately remounted his steed, and ran for the Rialto City Council in that year’s race, emerging victorious. For the last 14 years, he has exercised a marked degree of discipline, having sidestepped controversy by avoiding audacious conduct and remaining on good terms with his council colleagues be they Democratic or Republican, while devoting himself to, if not the minutiae of municipal operation, then enough of the details with regard to its nuts and bolts that he instills confidence in his judgment and oversight of city staff. Having maintained himself in the office for nearly a decade-and-a-half, he has at this point overcome the impression that some might have gotten in 2006 that he was possessed by overleaping ambition when he abandoned the Assembly for the opportunity to move into the California State Senate prematurely. Having exhibited calm, patience and steadiness while Supervisor Gonzales monopolized the elected post that represented what had become for young Baca the most logical step up the political hierarchy, his move to challenge Flores and any others for the Fifth District supervisorial post did not strike anyone as unwarranted or presumptuous.
As 2019 dawned and anticipation over who would succeed Gonzales began in earnest, informed speculation was that Flores and Baca would likely be vying against one another, and that it was possible they would be the only two contestants in the race. Both were established Democratic officeholders within the district and both had a sufficient amount of money to ward off, it seemed, any other candidates who might have an interest but who were not financially equipped to compete in the overwhelmingly Democratic political subdivision. Indeed, so lopsided was the registration advantage the Democrats held over the Republicans, that it was commonly thought the Republicans, who are known for taking a very practical approach to politics, would be unwilling to squander monetary and other resources in an effort where the primary factors of electability stood so starkly against them.
Amongst the Republicans, however, was Jesse Armendarez. Armendarez’s political career at that point had been relatively brief. But at each stage of progress in his career, he had beaten the more numerous Democrats on their own turf. A real estate agent, Armendarez’s backing of Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren had been key to her establishing a vice-grip on the then-190,000 plus population city, a remarkable feat given that Fontana, the eastern half of which lies in the Fifth Supervisorial District and the western half of which lies in the Second Superivisorial District, is only two percent less Democratic than the Fifth District as a whole in terms of voter registration numbers. Remarkably, Warren, a rarity among African-American politicians in that she is affiliated with the Republican Party, with the assistance of Armendarez and other Republican Party donors bankrolling her effort, established a political machine in Fontana that elected her mayor and simultaneously elevated or reelected three other Republicans to the city council, such that Warren ultimately obtained and yet has an overwhelming 4-to-1 ruling coalition.
In 2011, an opportunity to keep the Democrats further off balance in Fontana emerged, and Warren and her political machine exploited it. It was learned that Leticia Garcia, a Democrat and member of the Fontana School Board, had been since 2002 married to Jason Garcia, who was convicted of murder in a gang-related shooting when he was 16 and had been in prison since 1984. Jason Garcia was incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, where he had himself sought and obtained a higher education for himself behind bars, through good behavior credits qualifying to take remote classes at San Jose State University, from which he obtained a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Leticia Garcia met Jason Garcia while she was working on a project for a criminology class in 2001. They married the following year.
Warren considered Leticia Garcia, who is active in Democratic politics, to be a potential threat to her own political viability. Garcia had been critical of a number of city policies, and had antagonized Warren by making several specific and in-depth sallies against an after-school program the city was running for the school district, which Warren had regularly touted as one of her signature accomplishments.
Working behind the scenes while occasionally surfacing to make public statements, Warren orchestrated a campaign aimed at stirring up sentiment against Garcia, one that consisted primarily of guilt-by-association charges. That included an appeal directly to the school district to take action to remove Garcia from the board. That request was met by a response from the superintendent, the district’s lawyer and the board itself that adequate legal grounds to effectuate Garcia’s ouster or force her into resigning did not exist.
Warren then turned to Armendarez, who in addition to raising money for a petition drive to qualify a recall of Garcia for a special ballot, served as the ostensible public coordinator of that recall effort. At Warren’s prompting, Armendarez widened the recall effort to include Sophia Green, another Democrat and member of the board, who, Armendarez pointed out, had a voting record on the school board virtually indistinguishable from Garcia’s. In actuality, Warren’s animus against Green stemmed from the equally strident and rapier-sharp attacks she had made on the quality of the city-run after-school program which Warren was closely identified with. All told, Armendarez raised over $125,000 to fund the Garcia/Green recall effort, which concentrated the bulk of its fire on Garcia, incessantly repeating that she was married to a man convicted of murder serving time in prison, that she had repeatedly visited him while he was incarcerated, slyly insinuating in the process that she was if not a convicted felon then some kind of moral reprobate, while constantly comparing Green’s voting record to hers, suggesting that having both on the board was a major contributory factor to the culture of instability within the Fontana Unified School District and that both were embarrassments to the community and derogatory to Fontana’s image, not to mention poor role models for the children in attendance at the district. Ultimately, the recall election took place in 2013, and both were removed from office.
To reward Armendarez, Warren supported him in his run for the school board in 2014, and prompted the other elements of her political machine, including her advisors, strategists and campaign consultants, to lend him the support he needed to win, which he did. Two years later, again with Warren’s support, Armendarez ran for city council. In doing so, he defeated and displaced Lydia Salazar-Wibert, a Democrat, prevailing by the relatively narrow margin of 13,812 votes, or 18.53 percent, to Salazar-Wibert’s 12,995 votes, or 17.43 percent.
With Armendarez’s defeat of Salazar-Wibert in 2016 and Phil Cothran Jr’s election in 2018 which effectively replaced the one-time-Republican-turned Democrat Michael Tahan on the city council, the Republican-to-Democrat balance on the Fontana City Council transitioned from 2-to-3 to 3-to-2 to 4-to-1, as Republicans Warren, Armendarez, John Roberts and Phil Cothran, Jr. now lopsidedly outnumber the sole Democrat on the panel, Jesse Sandoval. This was a substantial coup for Warren, as the voter registration numbers in Fontana at that time entailed over 48,000 or 48.979 percent of the city’s more than 98,000 voters being registered as Democrats, and roughly 18,500 or 18.877 percent of the city’s voters being registered Republicans. Indeed, the city’s more than 23,000 voters who expressed no party preference outnumbered the city’s Republicans. That Warren could not only reverse the ruling coalition on the council prior to the 2016 election from a Democratic one to a Republican lock in the face of the overwhelmingly superior Democratic registration numbers was remarkable.
While he did not deviate in the least from the path Fontana Political Boss Warren mapped out for him while he was functioning on the city council, voting right down the line with her on virtually every item that came before the city council for a vote, Armendarez evinced an ambition beyond the Fontana City Council that was not in keeping with Warren’s expectations. Like everyone else paying attention to the realpolitik of San Bernardino County, Warren was watching with keen interest the approaching end of Gonzalez’s tenure as Fifth District Supervisor. Though Warren did not covet the Fifth District position for herself, at least at present, she believed that the time had evolved for the Republican Party to make a coordinated effort to break the Democratic hold on the Fifth District, despite the blue party’s vast numerical superiority. Just as she and her fellow Republicans had laid claim to political primacy in her city where the Republicans were at a nearly two-to-five disadvantage to the Democrats, Warren believed the Republicans might likewise prevail in the Fifth District supervisorial race while functioning under what is practically the same 2-to-5 numerical disadvantage. Warren’s choice to carry the Republican standard in the 2020 race was not Almendarez, but rather Dr. Clifford Young, San Bernardino County’s other major African-American Republican officeholder. Nonetheless, Warren stayed neutral in the beginning as Armendarez and Clifford Young fought for support.
Young’s suitability for the task of wresting the Fifth District scepter from the Democrats was self-evident, a number of San Bernardino County Republicans calculated, including independent party analysts and strategists who bore no close connection to Young and casual observers of the political scene to say nothing of Young’s supporters including Warren. A former professor of public administration at San Bernardino State University, Young was the Fifth District supervisor in the 18 months before Gonzales acceded to the position in 2004. Young had been appointed to succeed Jerry Eaves as supervisor after he was convicted in a political corruption scandal and was forced to resign from office in 2003. Thus, Young was the first and to this date the only African-American to serve on the board of supervisors. Young elected not to remain as supervisor beyond his appointed tenure, and did not seek election in 2004, returning to his career as an educator. In 2013, however, he reentered the political fray, and ran successfully for a position on the West Valley Water District Board. In 2015, Young was chosen by his board colleagues to serve as board president. He was reelected to the board in 2017. The West Valley Water District is headquartered in Rialto, and includes a service area that extends into Fontana, Bloomington and Colton, all of which lie within the Fifth District. Like Fontana, the West Valley Water District’s constituents – its voters – are overwhelmingly Democrats. Nevertheless, the West Valley Water Board now boasts and for the previous three years had a five-member board that is composed of four Republicans. Strategists believed that because of the significant numbers of African-American voters in the Fifth District, his existing popularity among voters of both parties in Rialto, and with the endorsement of Warren in Fontana and the likelihood that virtually all Republican voters in the district would line up behind him, Young stood as good of a prospect as any Republican of being able to best a Democrat in the race.
Almendarez, however, in conjunction with a small but energetic band of mostly youthful supporters affiliated with the Republican Party moved to outmaneuver Young, depriving the older man of the San Bernardino County Republican Party’s endorsement in the race for supervisor, instead routing it to himself.
Key players in the effort to bypass Young in favor of Almendarez were Phil Cothran Sr. and Jeremiah Brosowske.
Phil Cothran Sr., a successful insurance agent in Fontana, first became heavily involved in Fontana politics in the 1980s. Initially that involvement did not have a hard partisan edge to it, as many of Fontana’s more dominant politicians at that juncture, such as Mayor Nat Simon in the 1980s and Dave Eshleman in the 1990s, were Democrats. But over time, as Fontana’s city council came to feature Republican majorities and the Republican leadership of the successive mayoralties of Mark Nuami, Frank Scialdone and Acquanetta Warren, Cothran, already a Republican, identified himself ever the more strongly with the Party of Lincoln, its members and its causes. His behind-the-scenes influence extended to a wide range of events and factors in the city, including enabling Warren in her domination of the city’s politics, extending to ensuring she has been surrounded on the council with Republicans at the ready to support her agenda with their votes. The most telling feature of this is Cothran’s and Warren’s dual successful effort in 2018 to elect his son, Phil Cothran Jr. to the city council.
Jeremiah Brosowske, now 30, a little more than a half decade ago was considered to be the wunderkind of the San Bernardino County Republican Party. After catching the political bug while involved in campus politics at Victor Valley College shortly after graduating from high school, Brosowske headed out into the real world where at the age of 22 he volunteered to participate and was heavily involved in no fewer than 14 political races in San Bernardino County, in each case working on behalf of a Republican candidate. Thirteen of those 14 candidates were victorious. Brosowske impressed virtually everyone he came into contact with by virtue of his youthful enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. In 2014, as Curt Hagman was nearing the end of his sixth year in the Assembly and was no longer eligible to seek reelection to that post because of term limits, he made himself scarce in Sacramento and returned to his home in Chino Hills where he wrested the chairmanship of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee from Robert Rego. That put Hagman in position to utilize the county party’s machinery to focus it upon assisting him in making the transition from a lame duck state legislator into a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the Fourth District. After Hagman emerged victorious against Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who was then a sitting congresswoman, he had the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee hire the 24-year-old Brosowske as its executive director. Brosowske was a protégé of former First District Supervisor/Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Bill Postmus. From 2004 to 2006, Postmus was chairman of the board of supervisors, and was concurrently the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. In 2007, Postmus had acceded to the position of San Bernardino County assessor, a position he held until he imploded in a political corruption scandal that led to his conviction on 14 felony counts and an eventual prison sentence. Barred by his conviction from holding political office ever again in California, Postmus had gone to Wyoming to create a company, Mountain States Consulting Group. Postmus then utilized Mountain States to engage with political candidates and officeholders in California and San Bernardino County in particular, providing them with assistance in running their campaigns and fundraising, and using Mountain States as a political fund laundering mechanism that would take in money from businesses which was then passed through to political candidates, preventing those businesses, many or even most of which had projects or contracts pending with the governmental entities those candidates were seeking elected office with, from being identified as having bankrolled those politicians. Brosowske at one point went to work for Postmus as an employee of Mountain States Consulting Group, in which capacity he learned firsthand many of the underhanded political techniques Postmus had employed during his rise to the pinnacle of San Bernardino County politics in the early 2000s before his fall from grace.
Brosowske became in large measure the architect of Armendarez’s campaign to cut Clifford Young off at the pass and seize the Republican Party’s endorsement for supervisor in the 2020 race. That involved Browoske, using his entrée as a member of the Republican establishment and his connection with a number of the members of the county’s Republican Central Committee, particularly those from the county’s High Desert and the committee’s youngest members, making a case that Armendarez rather than Young represented the wave of the future for the party, and convincing members of the central committee to endorse Armendarez for the position.
Another element of that strategy was to both weaken Young and make a convincing enough demonstration of Young’s weakness that the party as a whole would shy away from him. The means of doing that was inherent in the 2019 West Valley Water District Board race. While Young did not stand for reelection that year, having been reelected to a four-year term two years previously, up for election that year was one of Young’s political allies on the board, Greg Young. Despite their last names, there is no blood relation between Clifford Young and Greg Young. Brosowske, working with Armendarez and others, took aim at Greg Young, working intently to keep him from gaining reelection to the water board.
Greg Young first became involved in politics in earnest in 1998, working on behalf of Republican Elia Pirozzi in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Congress. As time and his other commitments permitted, Greg Young over the next decade involved himself in advancing the Republican Party’s fortunes, primarily in local and statewide races rather than national campaigns. A resident of Bloomington, and thus of the Fifth District, in 2008 Greg Young was granted as a show of recognition of his past efforts an appointment as an alternate to the San Bernardino County Central Committee. Appreciative of the opportunity and the faith expressed in him, Young endeavored not to disappoint his fellow party members nor squander the chance his presence on the central committee provided him to further the Republicans’ efforts to outmaneuver the Democrats. Party officials could not help but be impressed with Young’s energy and intensity, even though some felt that he was being a little bit unrealistic in seeking to make any inroads in lessening the Democrats’ grip that gave them such a stranglehold on the Fifth District. Remarkably, though not overnight, Young’s dogged persistence in what most others considered to be a hopeless circumstance began to show results. Through both suggestion and willingness to get out into the trenches himself and engage with voters, whom he approached not as an advocate of the Republican party but as someone selling a particular candidate who, if anyone checked, just happened to be a Republican, Young involved himself in or served as a major or prime mover in successful election after election in which the Republicans began to erode the Democrats’ base in the Fifth District. In 2013, Young supported Dr. Clifford Young in his successful race for a position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. In that race, Clifford Young displaced a longtime Democratic board member. Two years later, Greg Young, in what would be his maiden run for political office other than his position on the central committee, ran for a position on the West Valley Water District himself, placing first. Two years later, in 2017, Greg Young again assisted Dr. Clifford Young in his successful reelection effort. In that same contest, Greg Young assisted Dr. Young in getting two other Republicans – Dr. Michael Taylor and Kyle Crowther – elected to the West Valley Water Board, as well.
By 2019, a cabal of mostly young Republican Party members had coalesced around Armendarez, one which included Brosowske, Naseem Farooqi, Angel Ramirez and Phil Cothran. They were convinced that by acting at once they could ace out Clifford Young and secure the official Republican Party nomination for Armendarez. A major consideration in their calculation was that Armendarez offered the advantage of being able to in large measure bankroll himself, providing a substantial infusion of funding that would ward off any other pesky challengers for the Fifth District seat while simultaneously creating a buzz and synergy that would, as Armendarez’s campaign advanced and became recognized as an inevitability, convince other traditional donors to the Republican Party that they should endow him with the capital he needs to win. It went without saying that much of the early spending in the campaign was to demonstrate that the machine that had grown up around Armendarez was a force to be reckoned with.
Thus, the 2019 off-year election in which Greg Young was to stand for reelection to the West Valley Water Board presented for them an ideal opportunity to make a statement announcing Armendarez as the newest Republican juggernaut. The first order of business was to collect enough money from the various participants to rent Angel Ramirez, a 21-year-old election worker from Fontana and an Armendarez protégé, a room in a residence in Bloomington, which falls within the West Valley Water District’s Division 5. Ramirez then filed for candidacy in that election, joining with another Bloomington resident, Jackie Cox, in challenging Greg Young. Brosowske went to work, lobbying the members of the Republican Central Committee with whom he had contact – including Eric Swanson, Rebekah Swanson and Christopher Dustin, – to vote to have the central committee endorse Ramirez, whose work on behalf of the party had consisted of engaging in some precinct walking on behalf of Warren, Phil Cothran Jr. and John Roberts in the 2018 Fontana Municipal Election. Timing the move carefully to have the internal central committee vote suddenly called for and to occur at a meeting while some of the committee’s members were not in attendance and at which the Armendarez camp could marshal the full range of its forces, Brosowske was able to engineer it so the Republican Central Committee, headed by Jan Leja, went along with giving the endorsement to Ramirez, shunting aside Greg Young, whose demonstrated effective and fierce loyalty to the GOP for two decades was widely known. By that point, the Armendarez team had reached out to Michael Taylor, who along with Kyle Crowther had been elected to the West Valley Water District largely on the basis of the electioneering efforts Clifford Young and Greg Young had made for them in 2017, to convince them to support Ramirez. This was less difficult to do than it might have otherwise been as a consequence of certain differences that had arisen between Taylor and Dr. Young with regard to water district administration and management issues. Throughout the campaign in earnest, which lasted less than four months from the filing period in July 2019 until the election in November, Taylor transferred $17,964.70 from his electioneering fund to that of Ramirez. Additionally, Taylor provided $3,000 to the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, which was involved in generating anti-Greg Young political hit pieces. Thus, Taylor provided nearly $21,000 toward the effort to remove Greg Young from office.
Ultimately, however, the effort to unseat Greg Young failed, as Young captured 340 votes of the 646 cast, or 52.63 percent of the total to Ramirez’s 230 votes or 35.63 percent, followed by Cox, with 76 votes or 11.76 percent. Despite that, the viciousness of the attacks on Greg Young and the maneuvering by Brosowske to secure the Republican Central Committee’s endorsement for Almendarez convinced Clifford Young not to run for Fifth District supervisor.
Entering the race in addition to Almendarez, Baca, and Flores was Nadia Renner, a broadcast company executive. All four brought at least some elements of credibility to the table, as in Renner’s case her employment and entrée with and support by a local radio station, her affiliation with the government reform advocacy association The Red Brennan Group, and her backing by social benefactor and philanthropist Eric Steinman.
Joe Baca Jr. came into the contest with what was clearly the greatest degree of name recognition, based on both his own political career and that of his father. In 2012, his father’s name, for a short time, became a household word as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire at that time affiliated with the Republican Party, was on a crusade to end gun violence both nationally and in his city, which had just prior to that seen an increase in the homicide rate. Acutely aware that the lion’s share of his own party’s members and most of its elected officials were strong Second Amendment gun ownership rights advocates, Bloomberg’s plan of action entailed instigating a national movement to restrict gun ownership and allowing the Democrats in Congress to carryout the law’s eventual passage and adoption. Potentially obstructing that, Bloomberg believed, were no fewer than five so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, that is members of the party’s ever-shrinking conservative wing. Among these was Joe Baca, Sr., a Vietnam War-era veteran of the Army, who had from time to time offered his constituents assurances that he was a supporter of the Second Amendment and that he would do nothing to restrict gun ownership rights. In the 2012 election, Bloomberg poured money into the campaigns of the opponents of those five “Blue Dog” Democrats, including Gloria Negrete-McLeod, a Democrat who had competed against Joe Baca Sr. in that year’s primary and finished what for Baca seemed a more-than-comfortable 14.24 percent behind him. Nevertheless, under California’s open primary rules, Negrete-McLeod had qualified for the run-off against the incumbent Joe Baca Sr. in the November 2012 general election, despite their identical Democratic Party affiliation. Less than two months before the November 2012 election, Bloomberg announced his intention of targeting the five Blue Dogs and quickly followed up with $3 million in contributions to Negrete-McLeod, which paid for all manner of electioneering material – yard signs, billboards, television ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, brochures, handbills and mailers – both promoting her as a candidate and excoriating Joe Baca as a politician. When the vote was counted, Negrete-McLeod, the same woman who had turned back Joe Baca, Jr.’s climb from the Assembly to the State Senate in 2006, had defeated Joe Baca, Sr., ending his 13 years as a Congressman. Negrete-McLeod chose to remain in Congress only one term, and Joe Baca Sr. endeavored again and again to reignite his political career, twice in runs for Congress and once in an attempt to challenge Acquanetta Warren as mayor of Fontana, all unsuccessfully. At one point, Joe Baca Sr., having seen his once-storied political career sidetracked by Negrete-McLeod, Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar and Bloomberg, who has now reinvented himself as a Democrat, flirted with leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
Even though Joe Baca Sr. was unable to achieve the lofty success of his earlier political self, he has managed to keep his name being mentioned publicly over the last several years, at times stirring things up to the point that he has had more local publicity than he had when he was serving in Congress.
All of that has redounded to his son’s benefit. Indeed, it was either that name recognition, positive name identification or the admirable job he has done in the capacity of city councilman in Rialto that drove Joe Baca Jr. to victory in March. He did not win on the basis of his fundraising. Baca functioned throughout the campaign for the March 3, 2020 election with a total of $116,443 in political donations deposited into his 5th District campaign fund. Flores crushed Baca in fundraising capability, having collected $312,966.39, including a $15,000 loan to himself, that went into his campaign war chest.
Armendarez outperformed the others in terms of his fundraising effort, accumulating into his electioneering account $336,299.86, of which $91,076.83 was a loan to himself.
Armendarez used over half of that one-third of a million dollars to promote himself, which included an energetic sign campaign aimed at selling the Armendarez name brand. A significant portion of his funding was devoted to trashing Flores by means of hit pieces mailed directly to voters, Democratic voters in particular, after polling showed that the Fifth District race was going to be a wide open contest and that among those recognized by the electorates as likely successors to Gonzales were Clifford Young and Joe Baca Jr. Those polls further showed that when it came to name recognition, both Flores and Armendarez were further down the list. It nevertheless appeared that Flores, with his backing from the incumbent Gonzales, had the decided lead in the race in terms of financing. The Armendarez camp’s strategy was to essentially ignore Baca and attempt to define Armendarez to the electorate as a superior choice to Flores.
Nadia Renner succeeded in making herself a presence in the race, utilizing $19,100 to carry out her campaign.
Ultimately, Baca made a convincing showing, capturing 19,948 votes or 40.22 percent of the total 49,595 votes cast. To have claimed victory outright, however, he would have needed to poll a majority of the vote, at least 24,798 votes. Armendarez claimed second place and thus a berth against Baca in the upcoming November contest. He polled 13,330 votes or 26.88 percent. Flores finished a disappointing third with 8,998 votes or 18.14 percent. Renner captured 7,319 votes or 14.76 percent.
The results were a tad bit surprising to the Republican pollsters and prognosticators. They had expected both Armendarez and Flores to do slightly better than they actually did, and that Baca would not poll more than a third of the vote.
Analyzed from a financial standpoint, Renner, though losing in last place, ran the most efficient vote gathering effort, expending just over $1.10 per vote. Baca spent $5.84 per vote. Armendarez spent $25.23 per vote. Flores spent a whopping $34.78 per vote in an expensive losing cause.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the expense of his second place finish, Armendarez has summoned to his cause supporters – ones beyond the circle of Brosowske, Farooqi, Cothran, Crowther, Ramirez, Dustin and the Swansons – who have sat up and taken notice. Those of sophistication in the political world understand that money is a central and indispensable element of achieving elected office. That Armendarez has demonstrated his willingness to bear that expense or a major portion of it has perhaps not so much convinced a core group of Republican operatives and donors that Armendarez can overcome the long odds favoring the Democrats in general and Baca in particular in the Fifth District, but that it is an indicator that Armendarez is ready to wage the type of aggressive and energetic longshot campaign that just might defy those odds. The Republican Party has at this point, with a few notable exceptions, coalesced behind him.
For those Republicans looking to advance their party’s cause, they did not notice or have now looked beyond the manner in which Clifford Young was figuratively knifed in the backroom and the brutality of the proxy fight that Armendarez’s forces fought and lost against Greg Young when they attempted to replace him with Ramirez in a show of power against Clifford Young’s supporters. A year ago, Clifford Young was considered the GOP’s most logical candidate if the Republicans were going to indeed field an alternative to the Democratic candidates, be they Baca, Flores or anyone else. Informed by his supporters that they considered, and polling data indicated, the voters in the Fifth District generally had a high opinion of him and that he was the most logical candidate, Dr. Young in mid-2019 was mentally preparing himself for the run, having gotten his wife to accept the possibility that he would be committing four years to serving in the time-consuming-and-attention demanding role of county supervisor. After the ruthless attacks on Greg Young and the accompanying insinuations relating to himself had made the rounds, Clifford Young, his family and a substantial group of Republicans were sharply taken aback by the meanspiritedness of the jockeying for position relating to the Fifth District contest, and were particularly disillusioned by the attacks emanating from other Republicans. Dr. Young, yet believing he could make a competitive race against either Baca or Flores in a head-to-head race, seeing that his sources of political financial support were drying up because of the activity of Brosowske and some others, recognized he would need to take a personal financial hit if he were to get into the race and have to sustain it, at least initially, with his own savings. He opted out of running, as much as he wanted to pursue doing so.
Whereas last year, before Clifford Young had dropped out of the running, Armendarez’s people were engaging in a lot of arm twisting among the party’s donors to pressure them to back him rather than Dr. Young, with Armendarez having emerged as the Republican standard bearer in the Fifth District race, Republican money is now making its way freely into Armendarez’s campaign coffers.
To at least some, Armendarez’s electoral bid is seen as an effort for Fontana as a community sustaining itself politically. At present, two members of the board of supervisors, Gonzales and Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, are former Fontana city councilwomen, Gonzales having lived on the city’s Fifth District east side and Rutherford living in the city’s Second District west side. Armendarez would like for the Fifth District’s Democratic voters living in Fontana to forget that he is a Republican but remember that he is a councilman representing their city. Thus, Armendarez’s backing, in particular his early backing is relevant. Phil Cothran, a major provider of monetary donations to politicos in Fontana, has done a lot for Jesse Armendarez over the years. Cothran offered money to Armendarez in his supervisorial bid, even though that cut across the wishes of Mayor Warren, who favored Dr. Young. Ever since Armendarez has moved fully into the race, Cothran has been 100 percent committed to seeing him prevail.
While Cothran prides himself on being someone who can raise money for Republican political causes, Armendarez’s willingness to bankroll his own campaign has been a factor in putting him into a position where lightning might strike and make him, rather than Joe Baca Jr., the next Fifth District supervisor. He and his campaign are not hurting for cash.
With the Baca vs. Armendarez match set, it has now come down to a question of who is the better politician: Joe Baca Jr. or Jesse Armendarez.
In one sense, Armedarez surpasses Baca in terms of sheer assertiveness.
In another, Baca bests Armendarez in that the Rialto Councilman has not gone out of his way to make enemies over a political career that has lasted more than 16 years.
Armendarez, on the other hand, has stepped on more toes than he can count along the way in what has essentially been a six-year political career. Those that know Armendarez say he has at least a modicum of the necessities in a politician – brains, money, ego, connections, the ability to network, ambition, compassion or what passes for it, daring, boldness, courage and outright greed and covetousness. The ratios of those qualities or attributes is of some concern.
Armendarez’s ego and ambition outruns all else, those who have been close to him during his political ascendancy have told the Sentinel, followed by money, connections, daring and boldness and then his intelligence.
An illustration of his ego and ambition consists of his current political effort. Six years ago, he had yet to hold political office, and was vying for the Fontana School Board. Once in place there, he remained less than half of the term he had been elected to in order to run for the city council. Now a member of the city council and previously in good standing as a member of Mayor Warren’s political team, his ego and ambition have driven him to abandon what is most certainly a safe position on the city council for a chance to become a member of the board of supervisors prior to finishing his first term on the city council. His ambition is not unmatched by other important attributes, which includes his willingness to pay his way toward getting into building the solid foundation of a candidacy, an ability to raise money, and the willingness and energy to immerse himself in the grueling work of campaigning.
Whether Armendarez is sincere in his political advocacy is another question. He can come across as earnest, but that is often strained, particularly when the issues stray beyond those he has actively embraced as part of his campaign. With regard to the question of whether he is personable, he possesses sufficient emotional intelligence to know how he should act but he occasionally fails himself when he is unable to see how he is coming across to those he is interacting with. His ego is often in ascendance, and there is no masking that he is impressed with himself. He is capable of being cordial and charming, though that comes across as being somewhat forced.
In terms of his intelligence or his ability to project the appearance of intelligence, he is smart enough to avoid circumstances, at least in public, where the depth of his understanding of the issues he must deal with as an elected official or politician might be tested. He is articulate, but only in brief spurts where his speeches have been pre-written and the entire circumstance choreographed. He uses concepts and buzzwords effectively. His stump speeches make relatively effective use of platitudes, in particular ones that are outgrowths of Republican Party positioning. He is not a politician who is capable of inspiring, uplifting, eloquent and dramatic oratory. His speeches tend to be heavy on slogans and slim on substance. He will assure voters that he will accomplish certain goals without explaining how he will achieve his ends. He takes refuge often in telling the crowd that he is “glad you are all here” and calling for “moving things forward,” a phrase that is upbeat and positive, but which has no defined meaning, conveying a slightly different idea to any of those who hear it.
Where his intelligence, such as it is, and his more-heavily-in-evidence ambition converge, a byproduct is his willingness to work. He can be hardworking, though depending on what tasks he is engaged in, his intensity and the outcomes from his work can be uneven. Because of his ready access to money, he is prone to substituting the supposed expertise he has purchased for engaging in the process of choosing for himself a course of action and then executing upon it. Still the same, at times in the past his ambition has brought him to involve himself in the minutiae of a political campaign, either his own, or that of others or for some cause, and admirably, on one level, he has taken his best shot at whatever the circumstance calls for. On more than once occasion, however, his lack of understanding or command of the finer practical elements of politics has been painfully apparent. A case in point was when he was working with others to assist Kyle Crowther in his run for a position on the West Valley Water Board. He and others successfully pushed to get the Republican Central Committee to endorse Crowther’s candidacy. Then, however, on his own, Armendarez arranged to have an electioneering piece sent out to all of the voters in the district’s division in which Crowther was competing, including Democratic and Republican and non-party affiliated voters, informing them of the Republican endorsement. This betrayed a certain lack of sophistication, as a more seasoned political operative would have recognized that the Republican endorsement would likely dissuade Democratic voters from voting for Crowther.
Armendarez merits high marks in terms of working connections available to him to advance his own political fortunes. He, like Warren and other members of the Fontana City Council, have engaged in a significant degree of political horsetrading which has ultimately redounded to the benefit of those involved in the so-called logistics industry, that is those landowners upon whose property warehouses are eventually located, and the developers and operators of warehouses. Indeed, Fontana’s friendliness to those pursuing such projects has earned her the sobriquet “Warehouse Warren.” While advocates of such projects tout them for the economic development they represent and the addition of employment opportunities, their detractors decry the addition of truck traffic into the community as well as criticism for the relatively low pay such warehouse employment provides. Word has come that Armendarez has cut a deal with developers proposing to put a massive warehouse and truck terminal in Bloomington to allow that project to proceed. The calculation Armendarez has made here, which is probably a correct one, is that the warehouse proponents’ provision of a massive infusion of money into his campaign fund, one being made both directly and indirectly, is going to enhance his electoral chances, and that the voters in Bloomington will not learn of his connection to those developers or the deal he has made in favor of the warehouse until after the election.
Joe Baca Jr., like Armendarez, early in his political career displayed the ambition and impatience now displayed in his current opponent when, in 2006 he forsook the Assembly to make his ultimately failed State Senate bid. Since that time, having immediately sought election to the Rialto City Council, he has been biding his time, rebuilding his own image as a steady and faithful politician genuinely concerned about his constituents, and not simply living in the shadow of his father. He has labored to educate himself, cultivating a deeper knowledge of how local government is run, and has displayed a maturity expected in an elder statesmen rather than assuming the glib posturings of a young politician on the make. He does not give off the same vibe of unrestained ego in many other politicians. He is not unwilling to acknowledge having made mistakes, and in the face of provocations and attacks and insults, he is remarkably slow to anger, and generally avoids responding in kind.
The campaign being put on by Armendarez is being quarterbacked by Brosowske and assisted by other young Republican Party activists and functionaries such as Naseem Farooqi, Ross Sevy, Angel Ramirez and Cameron Wessel, not to mention Armendarez himself. While all of those have experience on successful campaigns, in most cases they have functioned in an atmosphere not at all similar to the one that exists now in the Fifth District. Brosowske’s, Sevy’s, Farooqi’s and Wessel’s success has typically come in races where the Republicans were not functioning at a severe registration disadvantage. Indeed, in most of those elections, traditional superior Republican voter turnout offset any registration advantage the Democrats possessed. In this year’s race, the team around Armendarez is gravitating toward the tactics they have used in the past, involving mailers, as well as leaflets and handbills delivered by college students working part time or mostly college-age members of the workforce seeking to augment their income. Those methods of distribution are less reliable than having a core group of volunteers who strongly believe in the candidate they are promoting. Moreover, the specialty in Brosowske’s campaign repertoire, beyond the standard electioneering material lionizing a candidate, consists of making savage hit pieces aimed at destroying an opponent. The Armendarez campaign has adequate funding to blanket the district with these mailers.
Since January 1, 2020, $507,164.08 has been contributed to Armendarez’s supervisorial campaign fund. By contrast, since January 1, 2020, Baca has raised $353,450.
Thus, Armendarez has now emerged as a riverboat gambler, one who is prepared to continuously raise the stakes and then recklessly call. With the election less than a month away, it appears he is putting all of his chips down on hit pieces now going out, targeting Democrat voters specifically, which tie, or attempt to tie, Joe Baca Jr. to President Donald Trump. The claimed association between Joe Baca Jr. and Donald Trump is poorly sourced, elliptical and highly questionable, if not downright spurious. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that Armendarez himself has a connection with the president, one that was documented in a photo of the two together. Of late, that photograph is nowhere to be seen.
The truth or falsity of the claims or suggestions that either Joe Baca Jr or Jesse Armendarez is in some way politically entwined with Donald Trump is, essentially, irrelevant to whether one or the other is more qualified to serve as Fifth District supervisor, and unrelated to the myriad of issues relating to governance in the Fifth District. What is of some moment is whether a substantial number of the Fifth District’s Democratic voters, who represent more than 50 percent of those eligible to vote in the contest, will be dissuaded from voting for Joe Baca Jr. because of the claim now being made, and whether those who do not vote for him for that reason will then choose to vote for Jesse Armendarez instead. Armendarez’s gamble is that somehow a critical portion of the Democratic voters in the district will ignore that he is himself a Republican and buy his representation that Joe Baca Jr., who is widely and deeply identified as a Democrat, is cavorting with the nation’s current Republican president.
An analysis of the vote on March 3 shows that Joe Baca Jr. began the phase of the election leading up to the November balloting in an advantageous position. In the primary election polling, he captured 40.22 percent of the votes cast. Armendarez, one of four candidates, achieved marginally more than one fourth of the votes cast, managing 26.88 percent. Assuming both Baca and Armendarez maintain the votes they received in March, Armendarez will need to capture a number of votes equal to all of the votes Renner received – 14.76 percent – and half the total of the 18.14 percent of the vote that Flores received to eke out a narrow victory. While the attack ads that Armendarez sent out regarding Flores most likely had some impact in March by drawing away some votes from Flores, it is by no means clear that all, a majority or even any of those votes fell to Armendarez. It would seem that most of those who voted for the Democrat Flores in March will be inclined to support the Democrat Baca rather than his Republican opponent in November. By the measure of most political observers, prognosticators and handicappers, this year’s Fifth District supervisorial race is Joe Baca Jr.’s to lose.
Paradoxes – huge ones – exist in the current effort to assist the ambitious Armendarez in climbing to the next rung on the political ladder. If he succeeds, the Democrats in San Bernardino County, who as of this week outnumber Republicans 450,780 or 40.9 percent to 328,624 or 29.8 percent, will be shut out entirely from the five-member board of supervisors. That would be a coup for the GOP, which though close to being a political irrelevancy in the Golden State, would yet be able to claim the state’s largest county geographically and fifth largest in terms of population as a Republican bastion. Further, if Armendarez prevails, the clique that has grown up around him, consisting of the younger set within the party – Brosowske, Sevy, Farooqi, Wessel and Dustin – in short order will be forgiven for the ruthlessness they engaged in when they moved to get Cliff Young out of the way so the party could, in Armendarez’s favorite phrase, “move ahead.” An Armendarez victory would also vindicate a trend that has been developing in the San Bernardino County Republican Party for some time. The party’s newcomers, the ones in their early, mid- and now late- twenties and early thirties, are increasingly seeing the mechanics of politics not as a calling or an avocation but a vocation. Though they make claims that their commitment to the party is one with an ideological basis, one that grows out of their belief in Republican ideals and their simple desire to ensure that the county’s elected positions are filled with more Republicans – a lot more Republicans – than Democrats, they have come to see that taking on the role of a political professional – a campaign consultant – is potentially lucrative. In this way, when serving in their fundraising capacity for a candidate they have a double incentive: Not only are they collecting enough money for that candidate to win, they are ensuring themselves a fat payday. This “privatization,” as it were, of Republican politics is changing the complexion of the political game in San Bernardino County.
Armendarez’s crew is so focused on achieving a favorable outcome that they have not fully taken stock of what the impact will be if they lose. The fashion in which they operated to ensure Armendarez’s ascendancy in the party so he could be positioned for the current run in the Fifth District was not without consequences. The way in which party members who had for years been working to build the GOP and maintain it in its position of control in San Bernardino County were steamrolled has not been forgotten. In June, Greg Young, embittered by the way he had been treated, resigned from the Republican Central Committee. Others who were active in campaigns in years past, have become inactive. While fundraising for the Armendarez campaign is humming along, some donors who were generous in year’s past are now reluctant to endow the party with money, concerned that it will be commandeered by an up-and-coming set of party functionaries who are more loyal to those within the party’s inner clique and themselves than they are to the party as a whole and the politicians they are seeking to support.
Without the superseding glue of an Armendarez victory next month that will hold the party together, there is a real prospect the party, which for so many decades has hung together and been focused on outhustling the Democrats, will fragment. While registration numbers in the county’s First and Third District either run in favor of the Republicans or are so close as to translate to a Republican primacy there that will last, most likely, for another decade, registration numbers in the county’s Fourth District have reached 93,692 or 44 percent for the Democrats and 56,585 or 26.6 percent for the Republicans, a ratio that brings into question whether Supervisor Curt Hagman, the Fourth District supervisor and current chairman of the board of supervisors, will be able to capture reelection in 2022 if he is challenged by a competent Democratic candidate. Similarly, in the once solidly Republican Second District, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 97,717 or 40.7 percent to 74,593 or 31 percent. If Armendarez loses and the party hierarchy moves to deal harshly with the upstart Brosowske/Armendarez/Sevy/Farooqi/Wesson/Dustin cabal, the party could be thrown into a downward spiral it could not climb its way out of, the upshot of which would be that San Bernardino County’s slide into the control of the Democrats would likely be effectuated by 2024.
Armendarez’s Fifth District candidacy, in the face of Warren’s preference for Clifford Young, has further endangered the Republican ruling coalition in Fontana. Armendarez’s defiance of Warren has brought into question her judgment in having advanced Armendarez into the position he now holds and her ability to control her own machine. Whatever her true feelings with regard to the matter, Warren has bowed to political reality, as all politicians at some point must, and she transferred $4,700 earlier this year from her committee, Citizens and Friends of Acquanetta Warren for Mayor 2022, into Armendarez’s political war chest.
Armendarez could have, had he chosen, run simultaneously for reelection to his council seat and for Fifth District supervisor. He did not do so. Should a Democrat succeed in replacing him on the city council, Warren’s grip on Fontana’s scepter will loosen. More damaging to Warren still is that Armendarez’s defiance has spread to other key members of her political coalition, including Phil Cothran, who sided with Armendarez in the power struggle between Armendarez and Clifford Young, despite Warren’s backing of Young. Warren’s previous relationship with Cothran was exemplary. His move to support Armendarez and slight her ally Clifford Young has made things problematic between them. Cothran represents a major source of money to her political team. Additionally, Cothran’s son, Phil Cothran Jr., is an element of her ruling council coalition. If she were to react too strongly with regard to Phil Cothran Sr.’s support of Armendarez, she risks a break with both of the Cothrans, and potentially a mayoral challenge by Phil Cothran Jr. in 2022, which would leave her ruling hold on the council in a shambles if she were to win and end her political viability altogether if she were to lose. She is thus in the position of having to accept the defiance of what was previously perceived to be her absolute authority in Fontana, an uncomfortable reminder that the oncoming generation is waiting until such time as the opportunity presents itself for the displacement of the older generation, of which she is a part.
By Mark Gutglueck