Pre-Election Positioning Intense As Second District Race Looms

Spirited jockeying and even more intense speculation is ongoing as this year’s wide-open race for Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor approaches. While a few known candidates are positioning themselves for an aggressive run, or at least trying to do so, business interests with a stake in the outcome are looking hard to determine which horse they are going to put their money on, even while they are seeking to winnow the field in a way that will take the risk out of backing whoever they settle on as a malleable candidate willing to do their bidding.
Perhaps the most remarkable development in the yet-to-fully-shape-up contest is the possible resumption of Paul Biane’s political career.
In 2010, Biane, a former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman, was serving in the last year of his second four-year term as Second District supervisor and was looking forward to being reelected to a third term. At that point, he was challenged by then-Fontana Councilwoman Janice Rutherford along with Art Bustamonte, Greg Warner, Scott Markovich and Dennis Labadie. In the June primary, Biane had finished ahead of the others with 34.18 percent or 14,184 of the 41,492 votes cast. Since he had fallen short of being selected on a majority of the ballots, he was forced into a run-off against Rutherford, who had finished second with 31.74 percent or 13,169 votes.
In the November 2010 balloting, Rutherford outdistanced the incumbent, capturing 44,166 votes or 51.81 percent to Biane’s 41,086 votes or 48.19 percent.
The following year, Biane’s already declining political capital plunged even further when Bill Postmus, his erstwhile ally on the board of supervisors, pleaded guilty to criminal charges that had been lodged against him, turned state’s evidence and then testified before a grand jury, implicating Biane in an extortion and bribery scheme related to a vote Postmus and Biane had made along with Supervisor Gary Ovitt in November 2006 that conferred a $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners to bring a lawsuit that development consortium had filed against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in Upland. Following the $102 million settlement vote, the Colonies Partners’ principals had made political contributions totaling $100,000 each to both Postmus and Biane. In April 2011, Postmus’s testified before a grand jury and in May 2011, Biane was indicted along with one of the managing directors of the Colonies Partners and other public officials who had likewise received $100,000 contributions from that development company in the aftermath of the $102 million legal settlement.
Biane remained in limbo for nearly six years until the matter went to trial in January 2017, proceedings for which lasted for more than seven months, at which time he was acquitted.
Meanwhile, Rutherford flourished politically, and was reelected in 2014 and 2018. Having at this point served nearly two months into her fourth year of her third term, she is not eligible to remain as Second District supervisor after her current term concludes in December, which is a direct result of the term limits put into the county charter as the result of a measure sponsored by Biane in 2006.
Rutherford, recognizing that she would need to depart as supervisor later this year, shortly after her 2018 election began casting about for a way to extend her political career. Word was that she had closed a deal with San Bernardino County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk Bob Dutton by which he would vie this year to succeed her as Second District supervisor with her endorsement and she would simultaneously run, with his endorsement, for assessor/recorder/county clerk. That deal included, it was said, an agreement that the employees in each of their offices would retain their positions once both were elected. As it turned out, however, Dutton, a one-time Rancho Cucamonga councilman, assemblyman and state senator, opted against running for supervisor. He now appears intent on seeking reelection as assessor/recorder/county clerk, in which he is able to delegate virtually all of the responsibility for running his office, which provides him with $385,325.21 in total pay and benefits annually, to his underlings.
Rutherford has since endorsed Cucamonga Valley Water District Board Member Luis Cetina to succeed her, closing a deal with him in doing so that will guarantee that Cetina will retain most of her staff if he is elected supervisor. She also was instrumental in arranging for something on the order of $80,000 in donations toward his supervisorial election effort.
Late last year, in a rare circumstance in which Rutherford dissented in a decision made by the majority of her colleagues on the board of supervisors, a new district map for the county was accepted as part of the redistricting that takes place every ten years, this time in accordance with the population numbers in the 2020 Census. Previously, the Second District covered north Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, the roughly westernmost two-thirds of the City of Fontana and its unincorporated sphere, Mount Baldy, San Antonio Heights and the San Bernardino Mountain communities of Crestline, Cedarpines Park, Lake Gregory, Blue Jay, Lake Arrowhead, Twin Peaks, Valley of Enchantment and Cedar Glen. With the redistricting that will go into effect with this year’s election, the Second District is losing the San Bernardino Mountain communities but extending its border eastward in the Central Valley to encompass all of Fontana.
As a consequence of that redistricting, Jesse Armendarez, who was formerly a city councilman in Fontana and ran in 2020 for Fifth District county supervisor as an eastside Fontana resident, now lives in the Second District. He has declared his intention of running to succeed Rutherford this year. Armendarez’s move precluded the rumored ambition of Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, who previously counted Armendarez as an ally and a member of her ruling coalition on the Fontana City Council. Armendarez was elected to the council in 2016 with Warren’s support, and he proved a reliable vote in support of virtually every element of Warren’s agenda while he remained on the council for four years. In running for Fifth District supervisor two years ago, however, Armendarez, defied Warren, who was leaning toward supporting then-West Valley Water District Board Member Clifford Young in his contemplated bid for supervisor. It appeared that Armendarez’s ambition may have breached the once steadfast connection he had with Warren, who nonetheless came around to support Armendarez in his ultimately failed Fifth District supervisorial bid.
Armendarez was the only Republican vying in that contest, which featured two relatively well-funded Democrats – then-Rialto Councilman Joe Baca, Jr. and Colton Joint Unified School District Board Member Dan Flores, who was also then-Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales’s chief of staff. Baca won the 2020 contest, despite Armendarez’s determination, which was demonstrated by his having loaned his campaign over $90,000.
Previously, DeJonaé Shaw of Upland, a licensed vocational nurse currently employed with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, declared her candidacy in the Second District.
Of note is the degree to which partisanship is a major factor in San Bernardino County’s local races and supervisorial contests in particular.
This is because of the intensity and degree of efficiency with which the Republican Party functions in San Bernardino County.
California is a Democratic state. All of its major state political posts – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, controller, superintendent of public schools, treasurer, insurance commissioner – are held by Democrats. The Democrats hold supermajorities – meaning they hold more than two-thirds of the seats – in the state legislature, both the upper house state senate and the lower house assembly. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are Democrats. Of its current 51 members of the U.S. Congress, 42 are Democrats.
San Bernardino County is among the last bastions of Republicanism in the Golden State. The Republicans have maintained their edge in San Bernardino County despite being at not only a disadvantage but a considerable disadvantage to their Democratic counterparts in terms of voter registration.
Overall in San Bernardino County as of January 16, 470,799 of the county’s 1,142,760 voters, or 41.2 percent, are registered Democrats, which is 136,127 more than the county’s 334,672 registered Republicans, which represents 29.3 percent of the county’s voters. At the same time 247,075 of the county’s voters, or 21.6 percent, have no party affiliation. The remaining 7.9 percent of the county’s electorate identifies as members of the Libertarian, Green, Peace & Freedom, American Independent or other more obscure parties. The county is divided into five supervisorial districts. In only one of those districts, the Third, do Republicans outnumber Democrats, 88,826 or 37.1 percent to 81,584 or 34 percent. Nevertheless, in all but the Fifth Supervisorial District, where Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by an overwhelming 102,740 or 50.2 percent to 39,812 or 19.5 percent, the incumbent supervisors are Republicans.
By law, local elections are considered non-partisan in nature, such that candidates are not identified by party on the ballot, as are candidates in state or federal races. Nevertheless, in San Bernardino County, party affiliation has everything to do with local electoral contests. While the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee has been highly ineffective for more than 40 years and was for the eight years between 2012 and 2020 led by chairman who in his professional capacity as a political consultant worked on behalf of Republicans, the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee has burnished its reputation as one which is highly coordinated and well-funded, focused and efficient, capable of running aggressive campaigns aimed not just at promoting Republican candidates across the board but using hard hitting tactics in attacking their Democratic opponents.
In the Second District, the Democrats currently hold what appears to be a solid advantage in terms of voter registration numbers, with 108,115 or 43.4 percent of the district’s 249,293 voters affiliated with the Democrats and 69,300 voters or 27.8 registered as Republicans.
That is not overly concerning to local Grand Old Party activists, however, as their superior fundraising ability, the general innate tendency of the Democrats to show up at the polls or to use mail ballots to vote with far less frequency or reliability than Republicans, the Republicans’ tried and proven methods of appealing to independent voters and their determination to simply outhustle their Democratic rivals gives them confidence early in this election year that Rutherford, a Republican, will be replaced by a member of her party in December after the current election cycle concludes.
What is less than clear at this point is who will be the GOP’s standard bearer in the race.
A recent survey, one that was done either by the party itself, party members or quite possibly by a company with an interest in perpetuating the Republican hold on county government, has been making the rounds in the Second District in recent weeks. There is a question as to whether the poll is a straightforward effort to determine which of a set of potential Republican candidates would do best in the upcoming June primary and perhaps the ultimate November election or whether the poll is the first sally in an electoral effort on behalf of one of those candidates meant to shunt his Republican competitors for the Second District supervisorial post to the side.
One indication that the survey originated with either the Republican Party, some element of the local Republican establishment or perhaps a particular Republican hopeful is that it seeks to map out electability issues pertaining to Republican candidates only.
Despite the consideration that Shaw, a Democrat, declared her candidacy for Second District supervisor months ago, the poll makes no mention of her whatsoever. Rather, the reaction of potential Second District voters is tested only with regard to six current or past Republican officeholders living within the Second District – Rutherford, Biane, Cetina, Armendarez, former Assemblyman/Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Marc Steinorth and former Assemblyman/State Senator Mike Morrell.
Six single pages of the survey are devoted, separately, to Rutherford, Biane, Cetina, Armendarez, Steinorth and Morrell, asking simply what the responder’s reaction to each is, with the options listed being strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, strongly unfavorable, heard of but unsure or never heard of. Insofar as those questions go, the poll comes across as seeking to ascertain who among the five men might have an edge going into a campaign and whether Rutherford campaigning on behalf of one of those candidates would be a relative plus or minus. There were other questions or elements to the poll that suggest it was not simply an attempt at a scientific determination of popularity or relative popularity among the five ostensible candidates but that it is rather a push poll. A push poll is a questionnaire or set of questions that masquerades as an opinion survey but which has as its true objective swaying or influencing the voters taking the survey using loaded, manipulative or misleading questions. Push poll questions typically contain an assertion of fact or at least a suggestion of fact that is either favorable toward a candidate the sponsors of the poll are trying to get elected or, in the alternative, a premise that contains an insinuation that may or may not be accurate which casts a candidate in a negative light that is intended to convince the person being polled to vote against that candidate.
In this way, at least one of the questions in the poll being circulated in the Second District seems to be aimed at curtailing Steinorth’s electoral viability.
“As a state assemblyman, Marc Steinorth voted to extend a greenhouse gas program that permanently imposed up to $70 billion dollars (sic) in government fees on businesses which are being passed on to California residents in the form of higher prices. Would this make you more inclined to vote for Steinorth, less inclined to vote for Steinorth or would it make no difference in your decision to vote?” the question reads.
Armendarez was a subject of one of the survey questions, one which seemed angled at making a favorable impression on a survey taker who will vote in the upcoming election and who has a favorable impression of law enforcement, although the question did Armendarez the disservice of misspelling his name. That question reads, “Jesse Armendariz is supported by Fontana public safety officers. Would this make you more inclined to vote for Armendariz, less inclined to vote for Armendariz or would it make no difference in your decision to vote?”
The survey focuses on Biane, who has now been out of politics for more than eleven years. The substance of the question and the manner in which it is posed makes it difficult to ascertain whether the question is intended to rehabilitate Biane’s reputation, which was in some fashion damaged by his indictment, arrest and prosecution, or if it exists as a gesture to rehabilitate him in the public perception and thereby enhance his political prospects. That question reads, “In 2017, Paul Biane was unanimously found not guilty by a local jury on all allegations made against him. In 2018, the district attorney who prosecuted these false charges was removed by San Bernardino County voters because of his wrongful prosecution of Biane and three others. Would this make you more inclined to vote for Biane, less inclined to vote for Biane or would it make no difference in your decision to vote?”
There were no suggestive questions in the survey pertaining to Morrell, Cetina nor Rutherford.
The survey was conducted by San Diego-based Competitive Edge Research & Communication.
The Sentinel made phone calls to Competitive Edge this week in an effort to determine who had commissioned the survey, whether it was intended as a straightforward effort to determine the electability of the five candidates mentioned or if it was designed to enhance the viability of one particular candidate, if it was designed to torpedo Steinorth and why Shaw was omitted from the survey. Ultimately, those inquiries were met by John Nienstedt, Competitive Edge’s president.
Nienstedt told the Sentinel that the survey was “a confidential poll” and he could not disclose who had commissioned it nor what its intended purpose was.
Nienstedt has credentials as both a pollster and as a political operative. He is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. He is also a member of the American Association of Political Consultants. He holds both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science, which were earned at San Diego State University.
The Sentinel sought to reach Jeff Burum, one of the principals in the Colonies Partners to determine if his company had commissioned the poll and whether he and his company will back Biane in this year’s Second District supervisorial race. Burum did not respond by press time.
-Mark Gutglueck

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