Democrat Assemblywoman Gómez Reyes Vs. GOP Councilman Garcia In 29th Senatorial District Match-Up

By Mark Gutglueck
Less than four years after offering his then-would-be constituents an assurance he would not use the position of representing the Third District as a stepping stone to higher office, Upland Councilman Carlos Garcia on Tuesday succeeded in qualifying himself as a candidate the California State Senate.
Early last year, Eloise Gómez Reyes, who was first elected to the California Assembly in 2016, representing the 50th Assembly District, announced she would not seek reelection to the State of California’s lower legislative house but seek election in the newly-drawn 29th Senate District.
Gómez Reyes, an attorney and longtime Democratic Party activist and fundraiser thought of as a leader within the progressive wing of her party, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 31st District in 2014, ultimately losing out to then-Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. In 2016, she defeated a sister Democrat, incumbent Cheryl Brown, in the California State Assembly District 47 general election, using a campaign in which she stated that Brown was not progressive enough. In that race, Gómez-Reyes showed a knack for fundraising, bringing in $766,901 in donations.
In the years since, Gómez Reyes has demonstrated herself as a nearly irresistible political force as she garnered both credibility and both legislative and further fundraising leverage, acceding two years ago to the position of majority leader in the Assembly, which lit in some people’s minds the idea that she might, before term limits force her to leave the state legislature at the end of 2028, become speaker of the Assembly.
In her journey, however, Gómez Reyes ran headlong into an immovable political object, that being Assemblyman James Ramos, the multimillionaire former chairman of the San Manuel Indian Tribe, who has been her colleague in the Assembly, representing the 40th and now the 45th districts, which immediately adjoined the 45th and now the 50th districts she previously represented and currently represents. While they are both Democrats and sometimes allies and could not be rightfully considered enemies or opponents, Gómez Reyes and Ramos have had an evolving relationship, such that they are rivals for power, in particular, the now-ended competition for a shot at becoming speaker of the Assembly. While it is by no means certain that Ramos will attain that coveted post, his wealth, which has given him the ability to make hefty donations to other members of the Assembly and his reputation as more of a Blue Dog Democrat, i.e., a more conservative-leaning politician rather than a liberal or progressive, slung him ahead of Gómez Reyes in the sweepstakes to become Assembly speaker. Moreover, the clock is running on the time both can serve in the legislature, as the term limits rule now in place restricts both to just 12 years in Sacramento in that capacity. Gómez Reyes was first elected to the Assembly two years before Ramos’s arrival in 2018, which gives him an extra two years during which to continue his progression toward the top of the California legislative evolutionary scale. Because Assembly members are elected to two-year terms and state senators are elected to four-year terms, this year represented the last time Gómez Reyes would have a chance to vie for a position in the Golden State’s upper legislative chamber. She cast her hat in the ring in the 29th District, a jurisdiction that includes Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Rialto, Bloomington, Colton, San Bernardino, Muscoy, Devore, Verdemont, University Heights along with portions of Highland and Redlands, and which has no incumbent.
A multitude of factors give Gómez Reyes a virtually insurmountable advantage over others. First, her experience as an attorney, business contacts and political connections, not to mention her political savvy which has given her the ability to know what battles she can certainly win, and which battles it is possible or even likely she is to lose means she was able to select a circumstance in which things would auger well for her.
Indeed, a run for the California Senate in 2024, is that circumstance. She is a Democrat; in the 29th Senatorial District, Democrats have a decided advantage over Republicans in terms of registered voters, with 227,323 of the district’s voters or 46.1 percent registered as Democrats, 116,170 or 23.5 percent registered as Republicans, 106,485 or 21.6 percent affiliated with no party and 8.7 percent registered with the Libertarian, Peace & Freedom, Green, American Independent or other more obscure parties.
Jumping into the race with her were Garcia, a Republican who runs his own computer services firm; former Fontana Unified School District Board Member Jason O’Brien, a Democrat who is employed as a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department; and Kathleen Torres Hazelton, a registered nurse who in 2020 ran unsuccessfully as the Republican nominee for California State Senate in the Senate District 25 against incumbent Democrat Anthony Portantino.
Gómez Reyes had more political experience and time in office than Garcia, O’Brien and Torres Hazelton combined. She had the advantage of the knowledge she took away from running for and losing a race for federal office when she vied for Congress in 2016 and she since then put together a string of victories in running for the Assembly in 2016, 2018, 202 and 2022. She has network of supporters and a redundancy of campaign staff. Gómez Reyes’s political war chest, a product of her prowess as a fundraiser, dwarfs that of her competitors.
Hazelton had no reportable funding according to both the California Secretary of State and the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office. O’Brien had no money in his state senate campaign fund and the last political campaign money available to him, according to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office was $3,757 he had spent on his 2020 reelection effort for the school board.
Garcia has collected $17,705.02 in 17 contributions, including $5,500 provided to him by Republican Central Committee Chairman Phil Cothran, according to the California Secretary of State.
Gómez Reyes has $937,310.29 in reserve for this year’s election effort, provided to her in 779 contributions. Those include donations of $5,500, the maximum amount allowed from a single contributor under California law, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Political Action Committee; TELACU Industries, Inc., the law firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy; Michael Bidart; the Knight Law Group; the law firm of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood & Campora; Teresa Frausto; the California Applicants Attorneys Association Political Action Committee; Wayne Jordan; Michael Scafiddi; the law firm of Bentley and More; the law firm of Singleton Schreiber; the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 398 Political Action Committee. She received $5,400 from the San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters Local 935 and another $5,400 from the California Applicants Attorneys Association Small Contributor Committee, as well as more than three score contributions of over $1,000 and as much as $4,000 from other contributors.
Beginning last fall, in preparation for the March 5 election, Gómez Reyes’s campaign, after surveying the field against her, without consideration of the funding gap between her and the others and the relative gap between Garcia and both O’Brien and Torres Hazelton, determined that Garcia was the weakest candidate.
O’Brien, an African American and Democrat, could, Gómez Reyes’s campaign handlers calculated, on the strength of his standing among Democrats poll roughly one quarter of the Democrat vote and, as a police officer, potentially take more than 90 percent of the Republican vote in the district along with half to two-thirds of the independent vote. Under at least two computerized models of the vote, with even modest financing O’Brien stood a 15 to 20 percent viability in a run-off against Gómez Reyes.
Torres Hazelton, as woman whose father – a highly skilled Mexican national physician who was recruited by the United States Department of Defense to serve as a doctor specializing in treating rare maladies at Veterans Administration Hospitals in the Washington D.C. area and then at sites around the country – had the potential of appealing to Hispanic voters, which would cut into Gómez Reyes’s Democratic constituency. Her status as a Republican might lock in most of the GOP vote, giving her a fight chance in the November election, according to prognosticators, such that she stood a 10 to 18 percent viability in a run-off against Gómez Reyes.
Garcia, a Republican, had more meager relative offsetting advantages to temper his overall disadvantageous position vis-a-vis O’Brien and Hazelton Torres when measured against Gómez Reyes, ones that consisted of his incumbency in the City of Upland where he enjoyed a fair degree of name recognition. He is a virtual unknown elsewhere in the district, however. Given the overwhelming two-to-one advantage in voter registration that the Democrats have over the Republicans, computer modeling gives Garcia only the slightest prospect that he can emerge victorious against Gómez Reyes, that being a 5 percent to 10 percent electoral viability.
Under the California Election Code, a candidate for legislative office cannot win in the primary, even if he or she gathers more than 50 percent of the vote at that time. The rules call for the first-place finisher, no matter his or her total, to stand for election or reelection, against the second-place finisher, no matter his or her total in the primary. There are examples in California of candidates taking first place in a primary election but losing in the November general election to the candidate that he or she bested five months or eight months previously.
Accordingly, the Gómez Reyes campaign pursed a strategy of getting her into this November 2024 election against Garcia, who is perceived to be the candidate with the least chance of outpolling her.
Roughly a month before the March 5 election, mailers from the Gómez Reyes campaign began landing in the mailboxes of high propensity voters – i.e., voters who based on their past voting patterns are like to participate in the election – in the 29th Senatorial District. On one side of the mailers was a standard promotion of Gómez Reyes and her record, one that unabashedly touted her as a Democrat with a progressive approach. The flip side of the mailer was devoted to an “attack” on Garcia, one that associated him with the Republican Party and, in particular, former President Donald Trump. Nowhere on either side of the mailer were O’Brien or Torres Hazelton mentioned. Of note, the mailer was sent to both registered Democrats and registered Republicans within the 29th District. The mailer did not go out to voters with no party preference or those registered as members of the American Independent, Green, Libertarian or Peace and Freedom Party. The intent was to drive home to Democrats that Gómez Reyes is a Democrat and that Garcia is a Republican, while simultaneously making sure that Republicans understood that Gómez Reyes is a Democrat and Garcia is a Republican. Gómez Reyes’s strategists knew full well that the mailer would go a good way toward convincing the Democrats who received it that they should vote for Gómez Reyes while simultaneously convincing Republicans that Garcia is their man. The calculation was that with the Democrats enjoying such a decided advantage over Republicans throughout the 29th Senatorial District, Gómez Reyes could afford losing decisively among her would-be Republican constituents to Garcia, since those votes would be more than offset by the number of Democrats within the district that would vote for her. By fortifying Garcia with the Republican vote, the Gómez Reyes campaign ensured that she would end up in a toe-to-toe battle with him in November rather than having to compete against O’Brien or Torres Hazelton.
Garcia was a political newcomer in 2020, when he ran as one of four candidates vying to be selected by the voters in Upland’s Third District to serve the final two years of the term of Ricky Felix, who had been elected in 2018 and resigned from the Third District position in May 2020 to move out of state.
In his 2020 campaign, Garcia offered both Third District residents and his supporters in other quarters of the city that he represented a break with the city’s existing political establishment and would devote himself to looking after the interests of residents, in particular those in the city’s southwest quadrant, which formed the Third District. He said he was opposed to a project by the Bridge Development Company to build just north of the Third District in the southern First District on a 50-acre property being leased from the Bongiovanni Family Trust slightly east of Central Avenue, north of Foothill Boulevard and south of Cable Airport the 201,096-square-foot Bridgepoint Distribution Center to be occupied by online sales behemoth Amazon, which had been approved in a 4-to-1 vote by the city council in April 2020. Felix had participated in approving the project just weeks before his abrupt departure, which occurred amid other actions by the city, including then-Mayor Debbie Stone’s sacking of members of the planning commission who had opposed the Bridgepoint project, leading to widespread suspicions and suppositions of graft at City Hall. A citizens group, Upland Community First, formed, which had sued the city over the approval of the Bridgepoint project, resulting in the suspension of its development. Garcia made several campaign pledges in his effort to get elected, which included his assurance that public safety would be his first priority; that he would temper any efforts to automatically renew the approval of the Bridgepoint Project if the legal challenge mounted by Upland Community First resulted in a ruling that the project’s previous environmental certification was invalid; that he would oppose the issuance of pension obligation bonds as a ploy to transfer debt accumulated by the city over the last 40 years onto the property tax rolls to have future generations retire that debt; that he would work toward undoing former Mayor John Pomierski’s concession to city employees of a four-day work week and reopen City Hall Monday through Friday and that in order to redress the city’s financial challenges he would exhaust efforts to deal with looming deficits on the expenditure side of the city’s ledger rather than the one pertaining to revenue, which practically translated into holding the line on the city’s greatest expense, salaries and benefits before resorting to the option of raising taxes. When then-Councilman Bill Velto, who was running for mayor, offered to introduce him to the city’s deepest-pocketed campaign donor, Jeff Burum, so that he might tap into Burum’s largesse to fatten his own political war chest and apply the money toward the 2020 special election in the Third District, Garcia declined. Garcia said that he did not want to engage in political alliances that would detract from his ability to serve his constituents in the Third District, such as taking money from major donors such as Burum. He said he did not consider himself to be a politician, but rather a servant of the residents he was hoping to represent. He had no political aspirations he said, vowing he would not seek higher office but would remain as Third District councilman as long as the residents there would continue to elect him.
Burum, who had once been the major supporter of former Upland Councilman Gino Filippi but had a falling out with him, bankrolled an independent expenditure committee’s campaign to oppose Filippi, who was also running for Third District councilman in the November 2020 election, along with Lamonta Amos, Tauvaga Hoching and Garcia. In this way, Burum indirectly assisted Garcia in the campaign, which concluded with Garcia emerging victorious with 2,868 votes or 44.59 percent to Hoching’s 1,483 votes or 23.06 percent, Filippi’s 1,126 votes or 17.51 percent and Amos’s 955 votes or 14.85 percent.
In relatively short order after assuming office, Garcia’s resistance to being absorbed into the Upland Establishment was compromised. During the summer of 2021, Garcia went along with the city seeking to issue $120 million in pension obligation bonds by initiating a so-called validation complaint that called upon any city residents opposed to the issuance to come forward within 30 days. In the absence of any response to that complaint, the city would have been free to make the issuance. The effort was thwarted when the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on behalf of some city residents answered the complaint and the city discontinued the effort.
During the same Summer 2021 timeframe, Upland conducted a recruitment to replace former City Manager Rosemary Hoerning, who had been pressured to leave earlier that year. The recruitment effort attracted 38 applicants. Garcia, during closed sessions, acceded to pressure to have the city hire Michael Blay, who had just over four year’s municipal administrative experience which did not include acting in the capacity of city manager anywhere previously. That decision was made on the basis of Blay’s close professional association with Upland’s then police chief, Darren Goodman, who had worked with Blay at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department earlier in their respective law enforcement careers. Of Blay’s 37 competitors for the position, 35 had more and deeper municipal management experience than did Blay. Despite Upland hiring Blay as a concession to Goodman, within seven months of Blay coming to Upland to begin as city manager in October 2021, Goodman departed from Upland to become police chief in San Bernardino.
Velto, who was elected mayor in the same November 2020 election that put Garcia on the council representing the Third District, began lobbying his council colleagues on behalf of Bridge Development while simultaneously seeking to open backdoor communications with Upland Community First to settle the lawsuit so that the Bridgepoint Project could proceed. When Bridge Development made offers, through Velto, of increasing the $17 million pass through to the city provided for in the original April 2020 development agreement to $37 million, Garcia reportedly signed on to the effort to have Upland Community First drop the lawsuit, despite the position by some member of Upland Community First that the impacts from the project over the 50-year life of Bridge Development’s lease with the Bongiovanni Family Trust represents $160 million in actual costs, including the city’s loss of sales tax because of Amazon’s online retail model, destruction and deterioration of the road infrastructure to be sustained from Amazon’s truck traffic on city streets, the cost of introducing protection measures against harmful air pollutants to be generated because of the Amazon operation and redressing any other untoward impacts of the project.
More than three years after he was sworn into office, Upland has still not redressed flooding issues at Sixteenth Street and Euclid, which remains one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for vehicles and a mortal hazard for pedestrians during rainstorms. According to Garcia and other city officials, City Hall’s commitment to maintaining employee salaries and benefits leaves the city with insufficient funding to redress the hazard at 16th and Euclid’s northwest corner.
At no point did Garcia ever seek to reestablish the five-day work week for Upland city employees, either before or after he voted to approve a new employment contract with the bargaining units for all classifications of the city’s employees.
Garcia sees no contradictions in his candidacy for California State Senate and his promise to not seek any office higher than Third District councilman nor his integration into the city’s political establishment, standing he once said he would never assume. “I’m not a politician,” he insisted.

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