Cetina Bests Armendarez In The First Round Of This Year’s 2nd District Race; On To The Run-Off

As was almost universally anticipated by San Bernardino County’s political prognosticators, Luis Cetina and Jesse Armendarez will compete in a run-off in the November general election to determine who will succeed Janice Rutherford as county supervisor in the 2nd District, based on the results of this week’s primary election voting.
Unexpected by most of those familiar with the five-person match-up was that Cetina outdistanced Armendarez for first place and that DeJonae Shaw, a neophyte political figure, did as well as she did.
Under the ground rules for San Bernardino County’s supervisorial district contests, a candidate who manages to capture at least one more vote than fifty percent in the race which corresponds with that year’s primary election can claim victory outright. If no single candidate eclipses fifty percent, then a run-off is held in conjunction with that year’s general election. Two of those involved in this year’s Second District race, Armendarez and Nadia Renner, competed two years ago in the 2020 Fifth District supervisorial election. Late last year, in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Census, the county redrew its supervisorial district map. Both Renner and Armendarez are residents of east Fontana. They, along with Dan Flores, lost to the eventual winner in the Fifth District, Joe Baca, two years ago.  Whereas what is roughly the easternmost third of Fontana was formerly in the Fifth District, with the redistricting that took place last year all of Fontana was placed into the Second Supervisorial District, which now includes north Upland, San Antonio Heights, Mt. Baldy, Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.
As of 4 p.m. today, Friday, June 10, counting all of the voting that took place at the district’s precincts between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday and mail-in ballots that have come in to the registrar of voters’ office since late April up until this afternoon, Cetina polled 9,853 or 34.12 percent of the 28,875 votes cast, followed by 8,541 votes for Armendarez or 29.58 percent; 5,876 votes for Shaw or 20.35 percent; 2,444 endorsements of Eric Eugene Coker’s candidacy or 8.46 percent; and 2,161 ballot markings for Renner or 7.48 percent.
Like most races in San Bernardino County and California in general on Tuesday, voter turnout was poor in comparison to elections in recent years. There are 249,392 registered voters in the Second District. The voter turnout in the district so far stands at roughly 11.58 percent, with mail-in ballots that have yet to come in pending inclusion in the final tally.
Third place went to Shaw, who lives in Upland. She had a relatively strong showing, given that she had never run for office previously. Her ability to more than hold her own and capture over one-fifth of the vote was a reflection of her voter registration as a Democrat in a race that featured no other Democrats. Armendarez and Cetina are Republicans and Renner and Coker have no affiliation with any political party. While local governmental races in California under the Government Code and Elections Code are supposed to be nonpartisan, in San Bernardino County all elections are influenced by party affiliation and party identification of both the candidates and the voters. Throughout the mid-to-late 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and into the early years of the Third Millennium, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats in the Second District as they did throughout San Bernardino County. In 2009, however, the number of Democrats eclipsed the number of Republicans in the county. At present in the Second District, 108,328 or 43.4 percent of its registered voters are Democrats and 69,283 or 27.8 percent are Republicans while 54,115 or 21.7 percent express no political preference. The remaining 7 percent are members of more obscure political parties.
In addition to being a Democrat, Shaw is also active in the union at Kaiser Hospital where she works as a nurse.
Despite the steadily rising number of Democrats in San Bernardino County, it remains a GOP bastion. At present four of the five members of the board of the supervisors are Republicans. Seventeen of the county’s city and town councils have a majority of Republicans, including the three cities in the Second District: Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.
In their campaigning for office this spring, Armendarez and Cetina heavily emphasized their Republicanism, with Armendarez stressing that he and not Cetina had the endorsement of the Republican Central Committee and most of the county’s Republican establishment members. Armendarez is a former member of the Fontana City Council, where he was part of the Republican ruling coalition established there by Mayor Acquanetta Warren. Warren is the most prominent Republican African American political figure in San Bernardino County. Included as members of Warren’s political machine are Phil Cothran, Sr and Phil Cothran Jr. The elder Cothran is currently the chairman of the Republican Central Committee, and his son is a Fontana City Councilman.
As a member of Warren’s political machine, Armendarez had the advantage of monetary support from the Republican Party generally; the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, over which Phil Cothran, Sr has tremendous sway; and individual Republican donors. Moreover, Armendarez, a successful real estate broker and the past president of the Inland Valley Association of Realtors, has money of his own which he has previously used to support other Republican candidates as well as his own campaigns for school board, city council and Fifth District supervisor.
Cetina expended $124,630.05 on the race between January 1 and May 21, and collected $81,750 in donations through this week since January 1, which was added to the $95,000 he had in his electioneering fund when he decided in November to run for supervisor. He has substantially less immediately available money than Armendarez, but he is confident enough in his electoral prospects that he is willing to accumulate some debt to run his campaign. A question still stands, however, as to whether he will have the staying power in the final electoral round that will end in November, as money is no object with Armendarez.
Both the amount in Cetina’s campaign war chest and the money he spent was dwarfed by the $345.865.19 Armendarez had banked for his campaign, which was augmented with more than $100,000 in spending on his behalf by an independent expenditure committee, Citizens Against Wasteful Spending.
While Armendarez and his supporters doubtless spent more on the campaign than did Cetina, there is a question as to how wisely he spent it. At least some of the electioneering material he or those supporting him sent out hurt him as much as it assisted him. A case in point were mailers that belabored that Armendarez had the support of Republican stalwarts and the official support of the Republican Party while Cetina did not, many of which went to mixed political households, that is families where one member was a Republican but another, a spouse or child or parent, are not Republicans and very likely Democrats. Mentioning Cetina in this way may have boosted his candidacy in the June election and may very well redound to assist him in November.
One factor that may have favored Cetina, perhaps immensely, was the support he has received from Stephen Larson. Larson is the attorney for developer Jeff Burum, who two decades ago was one of the most prolific political donors in San Bernardino County. For more than a decade, Burum took a far lower profile as a political donor while he was in the midst of legal difficulty from which Larson ultimately extracted him. During that period of legal travail, Burum desisted in providing money to politicians. Now, he is back in the saddle again. Judging by the donation patterns of some of Burum’s closest associates – including Raymond Crebs, Chris Leggio, James Previti, Nick Cacucciolo, James Erwin and Nicholas Previti – it would appear that Burum would be inclined to support Armendarez, and support him with considerable generosity. Nevertheless, Burum’s relationship with Larson and the latter’s ability to serve as a moderating influence upon the wealthy developer may have dissuaded Burum from getting foursquare behind Armendarez. Indeed, Larson appears to have convinced Burum to support Cetina, albeit with what was for Burum a rather modest $500. Campaign finance records show that Burum does not hesitate to supply candidates he favors with donations of $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $25,000, $50,000 or even $100,000.
Unknown at this point is whether Burum will continue to hold himself in check and not come across with a substantial amount of money for Armendarez during the campaign for the November race. Burum’s influence on the contest could be huge, since his not supporting Armendarez going forward or, conversely, his willingness to do so could signal to his associates whether they too should hold off on enabling Armendarez or, in the alternative, whether they should swell his campaign coffers to the point that he could bury Cetina.
While Armendarez, his campaign and those independent actors supporting him did endeavor to attack Cetina during the primary campaign, those attacks were relatively tepid and not pointedly personal. Given that Cetina achieved a 4.54 percent edge over Cetina in the primary as counted so far, it would be logical for the Armendarez camp to step up the attacks on Cetina and get ugly when the race hits the clubhouse turn in late September or early October. Still, in Tuesday’s election, which had poor voter turnout, the relatively mild negative campaign tactics used against Cetina were not particularly effective and may have had the opposite effect on the high propensity voters who did show up to vote. If the low voter turnout of June repeats itself in November and there are not as large of a number of poorly-focused voters participating in the general election this year as there are normally, Armendarez might see those voters who are concerned about serious issues impacting government and the Second District reject his candidacy if he insists on engaging in a mudfest.
Armendarez’s political chops stem from his heavy involvement as a political donor, a term on the Fontana Unified School District Board of Directors and one term on the Fontana City Council.
Cetina was elected to the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board of Directors in November 2012, eight years after the entity he was elected to represent had changed its name from the Cucamonga County Water District. He represents Division 4 within the district. He has served on the district’s water resources and government as well as its public affairs committees, and he represents the district on the Chino Basin Water Bank Planning Authority as that entity’s chairman. Further, he is the Cucamonga Valley Water District’s representative on the Fontana Union Water Company Board of Directors as well as on the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce. He was elected to the Association of California Water Agencies Region 9 Board of Directors in 2018, again in 2020 and will serve his third term through 2023. He also serves on that entity’s agriculture and water quality committees.
Cetina is the chairman of the Gateway Chambers Alliance, a member of the San Gabriel Valley Legislative Coalition of Chambers, a Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce board member and an active participant in the Inland Empire Chamber Alliance.
This spring, both Cetina and Armendarez seemed determined to sell themselves as what they characterized as true Republicans, embracing conservatism and suggesting they had little sympathy for those who aren’t disciplined or don’t work hard. Neither hesitated at disclosing he has a mean streak.
“Criminals can be tough,” one of Armendarez’s mailers stated. “Jesse Armendarez is tougher.”
The mailer asked, “You want tough?” before noting that Armendarez, while on the Fontana City Council “stood up to radicals wanting to defund the police, and when they tried to riot, he backed the police and sent the criminals packing. Jesse is the only candidate endorsed by the law enforcement officers who keep us safe.”
Cetina, in one of his mailers mirrored what Armendarez had said. “As your next supervisor, I will use my experience in business and public policy to fully support our police and sheriffs and fight the liberals who are trying to defund the police. We must hold criminals accountable for their actions.” Cetina further vowed to “clean out the homeless camps.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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