Continuing Republican Primacy In San Bernardino County Boosts Wallis Past Holstege In 47th District

San Bernardino County persists as one of the last bastions of Republicanism in the Golden State, a circumstance that was illustrated by the crucial role the voters in the 47th Assembly District who reside in the county played in ensuring the victory of Greg Wallis over Democrat Christy Holstege by one of the slimmest margins in California history on November 8.
In the immediate aftermath of the voting on election night and the next day, Holstege appeared to be the winner in the race to represent the 47th Assembly District, the borders for which were redrawn in accordance with the decennial redistricting that occurred as a consequence of the 2020 Census. The 47th Assembly District now includes all of Banning, Beaumont, Calimesa, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage and part of San Jacinto in Riverside County, along with all of Yucaipa and Yucca Valley as well as parts of Redlands and Highland in San Bernardino County.
Prematurely confident of her victory, Holstege flew to Sacramento to take part in an orientation for new members of the legislature on November 10. Wallis, however, made dramatic gains over the next several days, surpassing her and then falling behind and then retaking the lead, as the two remained neck-and-neck with each tally of incoming mail and provisional ballots.In most other legislative races throughout the state, clear winners had emerged by the third week of November. In the 47th Assembly District, however, neither Riverside County nor San Bernardino County election officials nor the California Secretary of State’s Office was willing to make a call as to the victor. When Riverside County officials certified the election results in that jurisdiction on December 1, it appeared that overall in the district Wallis had eked out a razor-thin win. The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office, however, did not certify its results until December 8, and both the Holstege and Wallis camps contemplated seeking a recount in the event that the final results showed its side coming up short.
The lion’s share of the slightly more than 309,000 registered voters in the district eligible to vote in this year’s election reside in Riverside County. Ultimately, Holstege, who was elected to the Palm Springs City Council in 2017 and became that city’s first woman mayor after her 2020 reelection to the council, fared far better among voters in Riverside County than she did in San Bernardino County.
All told, according to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters, 70,758 or 53.99 percent of the 131,061 Riverside County voters who cast votes in the Assembly District 47 race supported Holstege, compared to the 60,303 voters or 46.01 percent of voters in Riverside County who favored Wallis.
In San Bernardino County, the collective attitude of the voters residing in Assembly District 47 was substantially different. Within that portion of the district, the voters were lopsidedly supportive of Wallis. Among the 38,358 San Bernardino County residents in Assembly District 47 who voted at the polls or by mail, 24,449 or 63.74 percent endorsed Wallis and 13,909 or 36.26 percent voted for Holstege.
For more than a half century, the GOP has dominated San Bernardino County. In January 1964, the Democratic Party, which throughout Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Square Deal and during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations held sway in the 20,105-square mile county, fell into disrepute when Harry Sheppard, the Democratic Congressman who had represented it for 27 years at that point, opened three accounts in each of eight savings and loan associations in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia metropolitan areas, depositing $10,000 into each of them, and deposited another $35,000 in banks in or near the nation’s capital. The New Deal Democrat imploded in scandal thereafter as questions emerged about where he had gotten the $275,000 in question, and his 28-year career as a legislator came to an end when he opted not to seek reelection that year. Two years later, Sheppard’s Democratic successor as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kenneth Dyal, was defeated by Republican Jerry Pettis in the same election that brought Ronald Reagan to the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.
San Bernardino County has been a Republican enclave ever since. Indeed, in the 56 years since Ronald Reagan’s first public office electoral victory, with only a few notable exceptions, Republicans have held the majority of political offices at the local agency, municipal, county and state level in San Bernardino County. Even as the rest of California was falling more and more under the sway of the Democrats, San Bernardino County resisted that trend.
For more than 40 years, Republicans simply outnumbered Democrats in the county overall, with there being only a few heavy blue collar pockets within its 20,105-square mile expanse where Democrats predominated.
In 2009, that statistical demographic edge for the GOP ended, and for the first time in more than four decades, the number of Democrats in the county eclipsed the number of Republicans. That trend has continued, such that at this point, 471,952 or 41.2 percent of the county’s 1,144,612 total voters are registered as Democrats, while 335,077 voters or 29.3 percent affiliate with the Party of Lincoln.
Remarkably, however, local Republicans, despite the registration disadvantage they face, have succeeded in holding onto most of the county’s elective offices they controlled in their heyday, at least so far. This has largely occurred because Republicans turn out to vote in far higher percentages than do Democrats nationally, statewide and particularly locally. In San Bernardino County, as well, the party structure the Republicans have has proven far more energetic, efficient and engaged than the local Democratic Party. Republicans have proven far more effective at raising money than the Democrats and have more experience and are therefore more accomplished in employing the money they have to run convincing and targeted campaigns – using newspaper ads and both television and radio spots, billboards, handbills, mailers, phone banks as well as to conduct polls and door-to-door voter appeals – to drive Republican voters to the polls and wage efforts against their Democratic opponents. At present, four of the five members of the county board of supervisors are Republicans and in 17 of the county’s 24 municipalities there are more Republican members of the city or town councils than Democratic members.
Wallis is a protégé of Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a former Yucca Valley councilman and mayor who was elected to the California Assembly in 2014. A strident, right-wing Republican whose effectiveness in Sacramento was undercut by his close identification with the GOP, Mayes successfully ran for reelection in 2016, 2018 and reregistered as an independent in 2020, gaining reelection. He chose not to seek reelection in 2022. Wallis affiliated with Mayes through their shared religious upbringings and involvement in conservative political causes.
A graduate of California Lutheran University with a degree in political science, Wallis went to work for Mayes in 2014, at the age of 24. Mayes’ bolting from the Republican fold represented for Wallis something of a morale crisis, as he has gone on record as associating Democrats with a lack of morality and common sense, saying many of the party’s leadership are pandering to minorities and ultra-liberals. In seeking office, Wallis tried to bridge the gap he had created with Democrats by some of his more provocative statements, saying he will work with those across the aisle for bipartisan fixes to the state’s problems.
Wallis, who lives in Bermuda Dunes with his wife, Desiree, is mortified by Holstege’s political and personal eclecticism.
Holstege is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara with a law degree from Stanford. She is member of the Gilbert & Bourke Law Firm, where she practices real estate and civil rights law. She is married to the firm’s founder, Adam Gilbert, with whom she has a son. Holstege makes no secret of, indeed celebrates, her bisexuality, which advanced her political fortunes in her two successful runs for municipal office in Palm Springs, which is celebrated as “a gay friendly oasis in the California desert” by the element of the community that migrated there because of its atmosphere of tolerance, particularly retired and wealthy homosexuals. Holstege’s 2018 election was part of the full makeover of the city in which all five of those on the city council were part of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans/Queer lifestyle.
While identifying herself in that way appears to have boosted Holstege’s candidacy on the Riverside County part of the divide in Assembly District 47 in the November 8 election, it had the opposite impact in San Bernardino County.
While some Democratic strategists cautioned Holstege to soft-pedal her bisexual identity in her approach to voters in San Bernardino County, that proved unworkable as one of her most vociferous supporters in the area, Redlands City Councilwoman Denise Davis, herself an openly lesbian politician whose primary electioneering tactic consists of sharp advocacy of inclusiveness in all public affairs, repeatedly drew attention to Holstege as a candidate whose primary selling point was that she was a member of the LGBTQ movement.
Meanwhile, Wallis’s strategists, who had considered using Holstege’s bisexual identification against her in San Bernardino County, did not need to do so, as Davis’s efforts on behalf of Holstege did that for him.
In June, Holstege, competing against Wallis and Republican Gary Michaels and Democrat Jamie Swain, had polled 43,711 votes or 50.02 percent of the vote in Riverside County. Wallis claimed 27,241 votes or 31.17 percent in Riverside County in June. Michaels in Riverside County had captured 9,631 votes or 11.02 percent and Swain brought in 6,807 votes or 7.79 percent. In June in San Bernardino County, Wallis captured first place with 10,755 votes or 47.4 percent to Holstege’s 7,478 votes or 32.87 percent, while Michaels collected 3,085 votes or 13.6 percent and Swain received 1,393 votes or 6.14 percent. Thus, in June, Holstege had proven overall in the district  to be the top vote-getter with 51,189 votes, ahead of the second-place Wallis, who had 37,996. Together as Democrats in June, Holstege and Swain had 59,389, while Wallis and Michaels as Republicans boasted 50,712. Moreover, in June, overall in the district, Democrats outperformed the Republicans 53.94 percent to 46.06 percent.
Exit polling after the November election in Redlands and nearby Yucaipa and Highland, in comparison to the results of the June primary election, suggests, political analysts say, Davis’s insistence on touting Holstege as a candidate in favor of what many in the heartland of San Bernardino County consider to be an “alternative lifestyle” was the difference in the November race, and the bare 85 votes that separated Wallis from Holstege and tipped the race in Wallis’s favor.
Holstege appeared to acknowledge as much with a series of tweets she made on December 12.
“No openly bisexual woman has ever been elected to the California Legislature, and while we fell short, we came closer than any candidate ever has to breaking that glass ceiling,” she tweeted. “We’ve learned, once again in 2022, we can never take a woman or an LGBTQ candidate winning a race for granted, since the barriers to our success are still very much real.”
Nevertheless, Holstege was relatively upbeat in assessing what her campaign had accomplished.
“The votes have all been counted, and it is clear that by the very thinnest of margins, we have fallen just short of victory, coming the closest this district has ever come to electing a Democrat to the State Assembly,” she stated. “With slightly better turnout, we would have flipped this district blue. I called Greg Wallis this morning to congratulate him, and expressed to him that I hope we can work together these next two years to deliver measurable results for our communities. I am grateful for each and every one of our supporters for the passion and commitment that you brought to this campaign. I’m proud of the nearly 85,000 votes we earned in this race and I’m grateful to voters for responding to our message, caring deeply about the issues we highlighted, and participating in our democracy. The close margin shows that every door you knocked on, every call you made, every grassroots donation, and everything we did together made a difference in this extremely close race. If anybody ever tells you their vote doesn’t count, tell them about this Assembly race that was decided by just 85 votes. Our democracy depends on everyone participating and voting like their rights and their futures depend on it.”
Wallis on December 8 put out this statement on Twitter, “With today’s certification in San Bernardino County, all of the ballots in the 47th Assembly District have been counted and we’ve seen the democratic process through to its end. I’m honored that the people have elected me to represent our community. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get right to work. The governor has initiated a special session, and the legislature has already convened and started organizing. I’m excited to get to Sacramento right away and represent all constituents of our district.”
Wallis stated, “Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign. As promised, I’ll work with anyone with good ideas – Democrats, Republicans and independents – to make real changes that make life more affordable, with more opportunity for everyone.”
While the rest of the members of the Assembly elected in November were sworn in on December 5, because of the lack of certainty about the outcome in the 47th Assembly District and San Bernardino County not certifying the election until December 8, Wallis’s installation was delayed until Monday December 12.
-Mark Gutglueck

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