Almendarez’s Bold Race Vs Baca Looks To Have Foreclosed His Political Future

Joe Baca Jr. made a convincing showing in capturing victory in Tuesday’s race for Fifth District San Bernardino County supervisor, turning back an effort by a renegade faction of the Republican Party to leapfrog Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez into the position now held by Josie Gonzales, the sole Democrat on the board of supervisors.
Baca’s victory ensures Democratic representation on the panel overseeing the county for at least the next four years.
Democrats have a registration advantage overall among the 1,107,123 voters throughout the county. The 451,848 registered Democrats or 40.8 percent of the county electorate outnumber the county’s 328,745 registered Republicans, who represent 29.8 percent of the body politic.
The county is divided into five supervisorial districts. In only one of those, the First District, the county’s largest subdivision geographically covering most of the desert area, do Republicans outnumber Democrats, 77,076 or 35.6 percent to 74,930 or 34.6 percent. In all of the other county districts, Democrats outnumber their Republican counterparts. In the Second District, there are 98,064 Democrats, representing 40.5 percent of the district’s electorate, and 75,033 Republicans, accounting for 31 percent of that district’s voters. In the Third District, Democrats narrowly outnumber the Republicans, 84,904 voters or 36.1 percent to 83,032 or 35.3 percent. In the Fourth District, the Democrats have widened their voter registration advantage over the GOP in recent years, such that at this point 94,412 or 43.7 percent of the district’s voters are Democrats and 57,438 or 26.6 are Republicans. In the Fifth District, the registration advantage is even more lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats, as 99,538 or 50.5 percent of the district’s 192,218 total voters are Democrats and 37,166 or 18.8 percent are Republicans. In the Fifth District, those voters with no declared party affiliation, 47,577 or 24.1 percent, outnumber Republicans.
Josie Gonzales, who has been Fifth District supervisor since 2004 and is now completing her fourth term, was barred by the county’s term limit regulation from again seeking the Fifth District supervisorial post. Since 2018, when Third District Supervisor James Ramos was elected to the California Assembly, Gonzales has been the only Democrat on the board. Between 2004 and 2012, when Ramos was first elected, Gonzales was the lone Democrat on the board.
Though municipal and county offices are officially considered to be nonpartisan ones, in San Bernardino County virtually all elections are influenced by party affiliation. Despite their greater voter registration numbers in all but the First Supervisorial District, the Democrats throughout most of San Bernardino County have consistently been outhustled by the Republicans in contests for local and even state political office, leaving San Bernardino County as one of the last bastions of the GOP in California.
Beginning nearly two years ago, there was talk among Republicans that despite the Fifth District’s overwhelming Democratic demographics, once Gonzales, with her incumbency, name recognition and the $684,046.65 in her various political war chests, was out of the way a concerted effort by the Republicans thrown behind a charismatic candidate in the Fifth District could result in the board of supervisors being dominated 5-to-0 by the Republicans. Though no consensus on precisely who that candidate would be had formed among the Republicans and their strategists, one name that surfaced continually was that of Dr. Clifford Young, who stands as one of San Bernardino County’s leading African-American Republicans. Young presented multiple advantages with respect to a Republican making an attempt at capturing the Fifth District supervisorial post. He was the last person and the last Republican to hold the Fifth District position before Gonzales, as he had been selected by the board of supervisors in 2004 to finish out the term of then-Supervisor Jerry Eaves, a Democrat, when Eaves had been forced into resigning after his conviction in a bribery and political corruption scandal. Young has name recognition and is currently an officeholder as a member of the board of directors of the West Valley Water District. The Fifth District, which stretches from the eastern half of Fontana on the west, through Rialto, Bloomington, Colton, El Rancho Verde, Glen Helen, Arrowhead Farms, Muscoy, Little Third and Rosena Ranch and extends to include the western half of San Bernardino, is a heavily blue collar area, with strong Latino and African-American demographics.
Gonzales, who at this point is considering vying for San Bernardino County assessor, resolved some time ago that her legacy would be enhanced by her chief of staff, Dan Flores, succeeding her as Fifth District Supervisor. She supported him. He already held an elected office, as a member of the board of trustees for the Colton Joint Unified School District. Flores was a Democrat, and as a Latino in a district with a substantial Hispanic population, he was deemed a viable candidate to succeed his boss. This was enhanced when an aggressive fundraising effort on his behalf ultimately brought in $312,966.39, including a $15,000 loan to himself, to assist him in that effort.
A major obstacle to Flores’ path to becoming Fifth District supervisor, however, emerged in the person of Joe Baca, Jr. Baca, whose father had been a California Assemblyman from 1992 until 1998, a state senator briefly from 1998 until 1999 and then a congressman from 1999 until 2013, inherited strong familial name recognition and positive name identification. He had capitalized on that when he was a relatively young man, gaining election to the California Assembly in the 62nd Assembly District in 2004, but then saw his political career temporarily stymied two years later when he sought to move up the political evolutionary chain, and ran for the state senate in the 32nd California Senatorial District, losing to Gloria Negrete-McLeod.
Immediately, however, he and his supporters regrouped and he ran for a position on the Rialto City Council in the November 2006 election, and won. He has remained in that position ever since, patiently biding his time, not rushing in the fashion he had after he was elected to the Assembly in 2004. He has thoroughly familiarized himself with the minutiae of city government, and worked well with the Democrats and Republicans on that panel. He has cultivated most or all of his father’s positive political attributes, few or none of the less favorable elements of his father’s aspect, and he has shunned being being divisive and argumentative, seeking to advocate for the positions he has adopted rationally, showing magnanimity when he prevails while accepting being on the losing side of votes without rancor. He has proven responsive to constituents seeking assistance and to those looking for information as well as to members of the press inquiring with regard to developments that have put him in both a positive and negative light. He possesses a calm and deliberative demeanor, among a multitude of other faculties that are desirable in a politician.
On the Republican side of the partisan divide in the Fifth District, a group of energetic activists and political operatives, evincing impatience with the county central committee leadership’s complacency in accepting that the Fifth District was the one Democratic stronghold in the county where it would be ill-advised and futile to commit Republican resources, in a dynamic move last year staged something of a mini-coup, one in which they sought to redirect the party’s collective thinking away from perceiving that Clifford Young would be the logical Republican-backed candidate in this year’s Fifth District supervisors race and instead substituting Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez. Armenderaz presented certain advantages, including the immediate one of being a financially successful real estate professional who was not afraid to invest a generous portion of his personal wealth in his effort to further his political career. This meant that the people coalescing around him would need not spend a lot of time seeking out the capital needed to initiate and carry out a campaign and could, instead, get right to work promoting their candidate. Last fall, this group, largely consisting of a younger set of Republicans but also counting within its ranks Phil Cothran, Sr., a major political donor and the father of Fontana City Councilman Phil Cothran, Jr; Michael Taylor, the former Baldwin Park police chief who is a member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors; Hesperia Councilwoman and Republican Central Committee Member Rebekah Swanson; and her husband, Hesperia School Board Trustee and Republican Central Committee Member Eric Swanson, moved to advance Armendarez. Working with stealth and then quickly once their plan was advancing, Jeremiah Brosowske, Christopher Dustin, Ross Sevy, Naseem Farooqi, Cameron Wessel and a handful of others convinced the Republican Central Committee to endorse Armendarez protégé Angel Ramirez in his challenge of Greg Young, who is no blood relation to Clifford Young, for Greg Young’s position on the West Valley Water District’s board of directors in the November 2019 election. The move to cut Greg Young off was meant as a show of force and power, as Greg Young had been a diligent and hardworking member of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee for over two decades and had shown himself to be committed to promoting Republican causes and candidates. By demonstrating that they could wrest the party’s endorsement from Greg Young and give it to the 22-year-old unproven Angel Ramirez, the cabal pushing the advance of Armendarez intimidated members of Republican Central Committee. It was lost on very few people that Clifford Young and Greg Young were political allies. The cabal, whose moves were being masterminded by Brosowske, then turned its attention to having the central committee step over Clifford Young. In short order that is what occurred, and in the blink of an eye, the central committee, led by its relatively weak chairwoman, Jan Leja, endorsed Armendarez.
This set the stage for the March 3 primary race in which the Democrats Baca and Flores, the Republican Armendarez and a fourth candidate, Nadia Renner, who claimed no party affiliation, were to vie against one another. By the time of the March election, $336,299.86 had been deposited in Armendarez’s election fund, of which $91,076.83 was a loan to himself. Flores had $312,966.39 in his campaign war chest. Baca had deposited a total of $116,443 in political donations into his campaign fund. Renner had $19,100 to carry out her campaign.
When the March 3 vote in the Fifth District race was tallied, Joe Baca Jr. came out on top with 19,948 of the 49,595 votes cast or 40.22 percent. Armendarez ran second, with 13,330 votes or 26.88 percent. Flores came in a distant and disappointing third, with 8,998 votes or 18.14 percent. Renner recorded 7,319 votes for 14.76 percent.
As the 2020 Presidential General election approached, the sheer enormity of what Armendarez was attempting to do at some point registered with his political team. Shortly after the primary, Flores endorsed Baca. Renner made no endorsement either way. With 40 percent of the electorate in the Fifth District having already shown it was inclined to support Baca, Armendarez found himself in the position of having to pick up something approaching 73 percent of the vote that had gone to Flores and Renner in the primary to be able to win. Ultimately in a desperation move toward the end of the election campaign, the Armendarez camp found itself in the position of having to associate Baca with President Donald Trump to convince Democratic voters in the district not to vote for Baca and instead vote for Armendarez. In doing so, hit pieces were sent out making the rather dubious claim that “Joe Baca, Jr. is Team Trump approved” and that “Joe Baca, Jr. earned the support of the same right-wing special interests that put Trump in the White House.” The mailers were not credited to the Armendarez campaign but originated from an outfit identified as the California Taxpayers Alliance. The hope was that the Democratic voters in the Fifth District would forget that Armendarez was a Republican and somehow be conned or confused into thinking that Baca was a Republican.
Ultimately, the voters of the Fifth District spoke at the ballot box this week. As of today, Friday, November 6, Baca claimed 46,537 of the 79,217 votes cast so far, or 58.75 percent. Armendarez had 32,642 votes or 41.21 percent. There were 38 write in votes for neither candidate.
There are several footnotes to the contest. One is that since January 1, 2020, $507,164.08 was contributed to Armendarez’s supervisorial campaign fund in what was a losing cause. By contrast, since January 1, 2020, Baca raised $353,450. It would appear that having reached for the brass ring, Armendarez might have fallen off the political merry-go-round entirely. Other than his willingness to spend his own money in promoting himself, Armendarez’s base of power had been his position on the Fontana City Council and as a member of Mayor Warren’s political machine. The ruthless manner in which he and his associates cut Clifford Young off at the knees to gain the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee’s endorsement, however, did not please Warren. Warren, who is herself one of the leading African-American Republican politicians in San Bernardino County, was one of Clifford Young’s closest political allies. After Armendarez, working with Brosowske, Farooqi, Phil Cothran, Sr., Taylor, Dustin, Ramirez, Sevy and Wessel, dry-gulched Clifford Young, Warren was shaken. She masked her anger at the way in which Armendarez allowed his ambition override a more rational and respectful approach to promoting GOP candidates, which includes demonstrating commitment and loyalty within a recognized hierarchy. Once the destruction of Clifford Young’s contemplated 2020 candidacy for supervisor was a fait accompli, Warren went along with the inevitable, and even transferred $4,700 earlier this year from her committee, Citizens and Friends of Acquanetta Warren for Mayor 2022, into Armendarez’s political war chest. But with Armendarez’s supervisorial campaign having gone down in flames, she in private this week expressed that she is shedding no tears that Armendarez, who had openly defied her by his destruction of Clifford Young, is no longer a member of her council coalition.
-Mark Gutglueck

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