By Mark Gutglueck
Recently-installed Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr. has hired political up-and-comer Channing Hawkins to serves as his special assistant.
Hawkins is the current president of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. A graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., from which he has both a bachelor of arts and a law degree, Hawkins has not yet taken up a career as a lawyer. He worked for a time as a field representative for Joe Baca, Jr.’s father, then-Congressman Joe Baca, Sr., and then did a stint as a lead representative with the Service Employees International Union. Subsequently, Hawkins went to work for the Barack Obama Administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Civil Rights. In that capacity, Hawkins enforced federal civil rights laws in programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such as the food stamp program. After more than two years as a federal employee, he returned to the Service Employees International Union to work within its governmental relations division, leaving that position in 2016 to go to work at the Laborers’ International Union of America as a labor relations representative.
In 2019, Hawkins ran successfully for a position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors representing that agency’s Division 4. In doing so, he supplanted the water board’s only Democratic member, Don Olinger. In that race, Hawkins, a Democrat, was supported by two of the board’s Republicans, Clifford Young and Greg Young. He was opposed in that race by the board’s two other Republicans, Michael Taylor and Kyle Crowther, both of whom supported Olinger.
On December 5, 2019, just 15 minutes after he had been installed as a member of the water district’s board, Taylor moved to build a bridge to Hawkins by nominating him to serve as the board president. This was an uncommon development, given that the role of president is normally reserved for those who have accrued seniority on a governmental ruling panel. Hawkins’ political ascendancy within the context of the West Valley Water District was seen as a potential precursor to his advancement to yet higher political office. Among a cross section of the community, it was widely assumed that Hawkins was being groomed first for a position on the Rialto City Council and thereafter for a position further up the political chain, such as county supervisor, state legislator or perhaps congressman. It was widely whispered that Hawkins would be a candidate for the Rialto City Council last year, in the November 2020 race. When he leapfrogged into the water board presidency position, there was speculation that his primary mentor and political patron, Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson, would decline to seek reelection as mayor in 2020, perhaps seeking election to one the two city council seats also up for election, and thereby allowing Hawkins to seek the mayoralty. When Robertson last winter and into the spring found herself besieged by accusations that she had acted improperly when she voted along with the rest of the city council to pass through to a nonprofit headed by her daughter federal Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant funding and to confer upon that same nonprofit entity free rent at a city-owned property, Robertson found it advisable to maintain her status as mayor to prevent her political rivals from capitalizing on the circumstance and claiming that she had been forced to leave office by the scandal. For whatever reason, Hawkins did not choose to seek election to the city council.
In the same election, Baca, who was Rialto city councilman elected most recently in 2018 to a four-year term, was elected supervisor in the county’s Fifth District. Baca’s acceding to the supervisorial position necessitated that he resign from the council, creating a vacancy. On December 8, the Rialto City Council took up the subject of how the position Baca had vacated would be filled. In a gambit that may have been an effort to test the extent of her political reach and simultaneously clear a path for Hawkins to achieve an appointment to the council upon the rejection of her first nomination, Robertson suggested that the council consider Stacy Augustine as Baca’s successor. Augustine had finished as the first runner-up in this year’s city council election which had seen council incumbents Rafael Trujillo and Andy Carrizales reelected. The four-fifths strength council, at that point consisting of Robertson, Trujillo, Carrizales and Councilman Ed Scott, did not evince sufficient support for Augustine. Before Robertson could redirect the council’s focus to a consideration of Hawkins as Baca’s replacement, the council instead floated the nomination of Karla Perez, the top vote-getter among the also-rans in the 2018 election when Baca and Scott were reelected. When a vote on Perez’s nomination was taken, she was approved by the council.
The county’s Fifth District stretches from Fontana in the west to San Bernardino in the east. In terms of voter registration numbers, the Fifth District is solidly Democratic. Nevertheless, four of five of the members of the West Valley Water District and four of the five members of the Fontana City Council are Republicans. Rialto like Colton has majority Democratic representation on its city council. The San Bernardino City Council, which prior to the November election was five-eighths Republican, has since gone Democratic. Rialto has been, and remains, solidly Democratic.
Baca, like his father a Democrat, intensified the Democratic hold on the machinery of county government in the Fifth District by hiring Hawkins. While neither the Democrats nor the Republicans celebrate the fact, competition between the two parties for sway over both county and municipal government in San Bernardino County is fierce, with the GOP consistently outgunning and outhustling the Democrats over the last five decades. Though the Democrats hold a voter registration advantage over the Republicans in the county in general and in all but the First Supervisorial District, four of the five members of the board of supervisors, with Baca as the lone exception, are Republicans. Among San Bernardino County’s 24 cities and incorporated towns, 17 of those before last year’s election counted more Republicans on their councils than Democrats. As a consequence of the November 2020 election, the Republican hold on the top decision-making panels of the county’s municipalities has slipped to 15. In this way, San Bernardino County, while remaining one of the last bastions of Republicanism in the Golden State, is seeing the Party of Lincoln’s primacy slowly erode. Viewed through that partisan prism, Baca’s elevation of Hawkins to the special assistant position in his office fits the overall circumstance.
Of note is that Baca’s appointment of Hawkins, which was effective December 14, eschewed the title chief-of-staff. It is not clear whether Hawkins, in the position of special assistant, will be serving in the de facto role of chief-of-staff. Hawkins’ basic remuneration is to consist of a salary of $115,086 with benefits of $72,185, for an estimated annual cost to the county of $187,271 prior to any pay add-ons. In this way, Hawkins’ beginning salary as Baca’s special assistant is close to the $119,870.42 that was paid to Phil Paule when he began as Supervisor Janice Rutherford’s chief-of-staff in 2017 after he had begun as then-Supervisor James Ramos’s chief-of-staff in 2015 at a salary of $119,612.04. Since that time, Paule’s annual salary has jumped to $131,686.89 per year. It is anticipated that Hawkins will be provided with other pay than his salary, as is the case of most of the supervisors’ senior assistants. For example, Paule in 2019 was provided with $17,000.10 in other pay. Thus, last year, Paule’s total annual compensation from the county, including $80,621.64 in benefits, stood at $229,308.63. Given Hawkins’ anticipated $187,271 in basic salary and benefits in 2021, if he were to receive another $15,000 in other pay in his role as special assistant, which would not be out of the ordinary, his total compensation this entire year will likely exceed $200,000.
Baca has also hired former San Bernardino City Councilwoman Virginia Marquez to serve as a community services liaison, effective January 5, 2021, for an estimated annual cost of $39,379,consisting of $36,000 in salary and benefits of $3,379. Marquez previously worked as a field representative for Joe Baca, Sr. when he was yet in Congress.
In the county’s First District, newly installed Supervisor Paul Cook, who had served in the U.S. Congress from 2013 until last month, as a California Assemblyman from 2006 until 2012 and as Yucca Valley mayor and councilman prior to that, hired Samuel Shoup, who had recently served on Cook’s Congressional staff, to provide support services to the First District Supervisor as a field representative, effective tomorrow, January 2, 2021. Shoup is to be paid $47,258 in salary with benefits of $37,591 for a total annual compensation of $84,849 before add-ons.
Shoup was a field representative for Cook for one year and 8 months from April 2019 until last month. Previous to that, he was on Cook’s campaign staff. Prior to his involvement with Cook, Shoup was from May 2017 until June 2018 resident services assistant with the University of Riverside’s housing office.
By Mark Gutglueck