Leyva Leaving State Senate To Challenge Hagman For Fourth District Supervisor Post

Unwilling to run against an incumbent officeholder in her own party to stay in the political game, State Senator Connie Leyva has declared her intention of taking on arguably the most powerful Republican incumbent in the county in this year’s upcoming election.
Leyva, a former labor leader celebrated as a progressive Democrat who has represented California Senate District 20 since 2014, is moving to unseat San Bernardino County Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman and end his control of the county’s governmental structure, which he has in large measure dominated since 2017.
The match-up is an intriguing one, as it pits two hitherto successful politicians against one another, each of whom has certain advantages and corresponding disadvantages going into the contest.
In Hagman’s case, one of his advantages consists of his more extensive experience as a politician, and wider depth and breadth in office. He has continually held elected office since 2004, first as an elected councilman in Chino Hills, in which position he was elevated to mayor, followed by six years in the California Assembly from 2008 to 2014, at which point he was termed out of office and jumped to the county board of supervisors. Leyva, by contrast, held no elective office until she ran successfully for State Senate on her first attempt in 2014. Since 2004, Hagman has run in six elections, in 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018, winning every race. Leyva has endured only two contests, in 2014 and 2018.
Hagman is far more ruthless than Leyva.
An A-type personality, Hagman is possessed by an ambition that knows few limits. As 2014 approached and he was about to be termed out of the Assembly with the expiration of his third two-year term in California’s lower legislative house, Hagman surveyed the political landscape for where he could next land. The Fourth District supervisor’s post was held by another Republican, one-time Ontario Mayor Gary Ovitt. Ovitt had demonstrated that a moderately well-funded Republican could win in the Fourth District, despite voter registration numbers that favored Democrats. Calculating he could use his connections and the political chits he had accumulated while he was in the Assembly to his advantage and raise far more campaign money than the unsuspecting Ovitt, Hagman blindsided his fellow Republican, announcing he was going to run for supervisor while he had another year to serve as assemblyman.
Hagman simultaneously moved to depose Robert Rego, who was at that point the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Rego, an accountant by profession, had been particularly successful in raising funds for Republican candidates and causes as chairman. Hagman callously shunted Rego to the side, and took over the reins of the local party structure. As the county party chairman, Hagman had control of local party money, and it was immediately clear to Ovitt that he could no longer rely on GOP support to run his reelection campaign for supervisor. Ovitt opted out of running for reelection in 2014, clearing the way for Hagman to claim the Fourth District supervisorial post for himself.
While in Sacramento as assemblyman, Hagman had hired Mike Spence as his chief of staff. Spence had a natural feel and command of all things political. Like Hagman a Republican, Spence, after attaining a degree in political science from UCLA, had become active in promoting the GOP and gravitated to become then-Republican Assemblyman Joel Anderson’s chief of staff before he went to work for Hagman. An absolute demon of efficiency, Spence went on to a political career of his own, as both a councilman and mayor of West Covina. He virtually singlehandedly ran Hagman’s campaigns, dictating to those election workers acting on Hagman’s behalf what they needed to do to keep Hagman in office. Spence was the man behind Hagman’s throne. In addition to running Hagman’s campaigns, he worked on his boss’s behalf in softening up the other politicians Hagman had to work with, engaging in political horsetrading in the backroom, cutting deals, lining up votes so Hagman could accomplish his goals, advising the assemblyman and then the supervisor on how to proceed, what to do, what to say, what not to do, what not to say and coordinating the timing on what needed to be done or said. Spence was a whirlwind of energy and action, stringing together a host of accomplishments in two or three days that most others could not achieve in a month. In 2016, however, when a series of events revealed that Spence was struggling with a substance abuse problem, Hagman cashiered him before he could fully undergo rehab.
Upon coming into the Fourth District supervisor’s post, Hagman encountered a county administration headed by Greg Devereaux, the county’s chief executive officer. Devereaux had been Fontana city manager and then Ontario city manager prior to being hired by the county in 2010. Devereaux’s recognized talent was his ability to run a large organization with a multitude of moving parts efficiently, and he was credited with having rescued Fontana, which was teetering over the abyss of bankruptcy when he became city manager there in 1994. Within three years Devereaux turned the former steel town around financially. Subsequently in Ontario, under Devereaux’s watch, that city had grown to become the most stable and financially secure of all 24 of San Bernardino County’s municipalities, with two-thirds of a billion dollars channeling through all of the city’s funds annually. At the time Devereaux was brought in to manage the county, three years of a nationwide economic depression had led to diminishing tax and operating revenue that was resulting in a contraction of governmental services and authority. Upon arrival, Devereaux had imposed a litany of fiscal disciplines upon the county’s governmental structure that required concessions from county employees and their unions on previously signed and supposedly binding contracts, which he seemingly miraculously obtained and effectuated, thereby avoiding massive layoffs and firings. Devereaux had been entrusted with a vice-hold on county governmental operations from the top down, authority which Hagman himself yearned for. Unable to abide a rival with reach exceeding his own, Hagman worked to ease Devereaux out of his position, orchestrating his retirement in 2017, three years before Devereaux’s contract with the county was scheduled to elapse.
Hagman espouses a conservative and Republican-oriented political philosophy, including decrying unionism with its persistent pressure to up wages irrespective of employee performance, and the demands of public unions in particular to increase government employees’ paychecks and benefits, thereby escalating the cost of government and the burden on taxpayers. Upon being faced with demands from public employee unions, knowing those unions are willing to expend substantial amounts of money to convince the electorate to vote out of office any politician who will not support giving government workers regular salary increases, Hagman has voted as a supervisor over and over again to up taxes and fees to keep those county employees’ raises coming.
In Hagman’s circle, all is devoted to furthering his political objectives, which consist first and foremost of perpetuating Hagman’s tenure in office. While Leyva has built a successful political career so far, she has not demonstrated the same level of determination to climb over others to maintain herself as an elected official. With the decennial redistricting that took place in California late last year in accordance with the 2020 Census, Leyva had her 20th Senatorial District reapportioned out from underneath her. The entirety of the city of Chino, where she and her husband, Al, live, was moved into the newly-drafted Senate District 22, which also includes Ontario, Pomona and West Covina, as well as Baldwin Park, the home of incumbent District 22 Senator Susan Rubio, also a Democrat. Unlike Hagman, who did not flinch at having to curtail the roles being played by Rego or Ovitt or Spence or Devereaux when they got in his way, Leyva does not have the stomach to go toe-to-toe with Rubio.
Leyva’s strength consists of her bona fides as a union leader. It was her union affiliation that served as the platform for her successful run for State Senate in 2014. She was president of the California Labor Federation prior to running for office. Once in office, where she joined other pro-union Democrats who were so numerous they constitute supermajorities in the upper legislative house of the State Senate in Sacramento as well as the lower house Assembly, Leyva was in her element, one in which she did not have to be confrontational, but could achieve things by rolling consensus, willing to go along with whatever her fellow and sister Democrats have wanted to do, while they are in equal lockstep with what she has wanted to accomplish.
In one respect, at least, Hagman is not too much unlike Leyva. He is personable and non-confrontational in his regular interaction with people, mild-mannered, indeed jovial, and always agreeable in public. It is in the backroom, in the run-up to and preparation for what is to come when official votes are taken that he shows his mettle, oftentimes by proxy, where those he has already conformed to his will put the final touches on the action he has worked out in advance.
Hagman’s strength lies in his being a Republican and, paradoxically, his main vulnerability, should Leyva have the skill to exploit it, consists of his being a Republican.
Likewise, Leyva’s potential strength in going up against Hagman is that she is a Democrat. At the same time, her Achilles’ heel is that she is a Democrat.
Voter registration in the Fourth Supervisorial District stands strongly in favor of the Democrats. As of this week, 101,876 or 44.1 percent of the Fourth District’s 230,908 registered voters are affiliated with the Democratic Party. Republicans in the district number 61,233 or 26.5 percent, while 52,198 voters or 22.6 percent have aligned themselves with no party. The remaining 6.9 percent are registered as members of the Libertarian, Green, Peace & Freedom, American Independent or other more obscure political parties.
Voter registration numbers in San Bernardino County in general and in the Fourth District have been trending in favor of the Democrats for some time. In 2014, when Hagman, as an incumbent Republican assemblyman, vied against Gloria Negrete-McLeon, then an incumbent Democratic congresswoman, the numbers in the Fourth District were not quite as lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats, yet still significant at around 11 percentage points. In 2018, when Negrete McLeod, no longer in Congress but having been elected to the Chaffey College Board of Trustees, again vied for supervisor against Hagman, the voter registration numbers had shifted further in favor of the Democrats, by more than 14 percent. Despite that seeming advantage, Negrete-McLeod lost, albeit relatively narrowly, both times.
In 2014, in the final November run-off election, Hagman prevailed 24,480 votes or 52.11 percent to 22,502 or 47.89 percent. In 2018, in a straight head-on contest in the June Primary, Hagman again overcame Negrete-McLeod, 25,468 votes or 53.41 percent to 22,213, or 46.59 percent.
Generally, Republicans turn out to vote in percentages of their overall numbers that are higher than the percentage of Democrats who vote. Thus, in those cases where the Democrats have only a marginal lead over Republicans in registration numbers, the Republicans usually offset the Democratic registration advantage. Additionally, in San Bernardino County the Republican Central Committee has generally demonstrated itself to be more coordinated, efficient, skilled and committed than the Democratic Central Committee. Moreover, Republicans are more willing to donate and expend money in an effort to get members of their party into office. By bringing sound electioneering tactics to bear, the Republicans have on a consistent basis been able to outhustle their Democratic counterparts. This has included being more effective in tailoring electioneering material intended to promote Republican candidates to appeal to the large body of independent or unaffiliated voters, i.e., registered voters who are neither Republicans nor Democrats. In San Bernardino County, this applies equally in state and federal elections which are officially partisan as well as to local races which are officially nonpartisan.
Hagman was clever enough to refrain from letting the Democratic voters in the Fourth District know that he is a Republican, and thus picked up some stray votes from Democrats.
In both 2014 and 2018, Negrete-McLeod proved to be a lackluster candidate. She did not campaign aggressively, and squandered what should have been an advantage by failing to drive Democrats to the polls in sufficient numbers to match the Republicans who turned out to vote. In the November 2014 election, Negrete-McLeod was 73 years old. In the June 2018 election, she had not quite eclipsed her 77th birthday. Hagman in those elections was 48 and 52, and proved far more energetic and flexible than his rival. Leyva is 26 years younger than Negrete-McLeod.
One comparison that could favor Leyva this year is that she has won convincingly in every race she has been in. She trounced her opposition with 62.4 percent of the vote in 2014 and 69.5 percent in 2018. While Hagman cruised to comfortable victories when he was running for the Assembly in Republican-friendly districts in 2008, 2010 and 2012, he won far less convincingly when he ran for the city council and for supervisor. To beat Leyva, he will need to replicate what he achieved against Negrete-McLeod, something which might not be doable if Leyva can activate her supporters as she did in her senatorial races.
Hagman earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology at UCLA. Leyva holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communicative disorders from the University of Redlands.
It remains to be seen whether Leyva is capable of converting her status as a state senator into a fundraising mechanism and simultaneously inspiring the Democratic Party and the unions with which she is affiliated to provide her with sufficient capital to match the electioneering capability that Hagman has demonstrated in the past and will most assuredly again display in this year’s campaign, such that she can prompt enough of the far more numerous Democrats in the Fourth Supervisorial District to vote, either at the polls or by mail, to more than match the high percentage of Republicans who will, as always, participate in the elective process. If she can do that, and if she, unlike Negrete-McLeod, is willing to get out on the hustings and take the campaign to her rival, there is a fair prospect that she can oust Hagman, whose board colleagues more than a year ago reappointed him to an unprecedented second two-year term as the board’s chairman, a clear indication that he is considered San Bernardino County government’s undisputed leader.
-Mark Gutglueck

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