From the Berkeley Daily Planet
In November, voters in Berkeley and the rest of the historically progressive 15thAssembly District will decide between two dramatically different candidates: Buffy Wicks, a newcomer to the district, with no local track record, but with record amounts of outside money, and Jovanka Beckles, a locally based candidate with a strong record of progressive activism.
Follow the Money
Through May 19, Assembly District candidate Buffy Wicks, who finished first in a 12 candidate race in the June 5 primary, received contributions totaling $656,597.91, a record amount for this district, according to campaign filings with the California Secretary of State.
On top of that, an independent expenditure committee of Govern for California, a group of wealthy “philanthropists” who support charter schools, spent $493,332.70 to support her candidacy, while the California Dental Association Independent Expenditure PAC spent $99,481.46 to support her.
The money her campaign raised added to the money spent to support her by outside groups totals $1,249,414, a record amount for a candidate in our local Assembly District and far more than in previous elections. Govern for California’s heavy spending for Wicks makes this election very different from previous 15th District races.
The Out of State Candidate
Buffy Wicks, who has never held any elected office, managed Hilary Clinton’s 2016 California Primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also worked in Barack Obama’s campaigns and in the Obama White House. She has only been registered to vote in the 15th Assembly since 2016 and between 2008 and 2016 lived out of state or in Los Angeles.
She has no track record working on local issues in the district and, for that reason, it may not be surprising that only 14% of those who have contributed money to her campaign so far live in the district.
48% of contributors to Wicks’ campaign committee live out of state. 20% are residents of Washington D.C. and its suburbs. She has more contributors not only in DC and its suburbs, but in Chicago and its suburbs, and in New York City and its suburbs, than she does in either Berkeley or Oakland.
There has never been a such an expensive local Assembly race or a candidate who has relied so heavily on outside money. It’s not unusual for candidates to receive some contributions from family members and friends in other parts of the country, but it is unusual for a local East Bay candidate to rely so heavily on out of state money.
The Locally Based Candidates
In sharp contrast, Jovanka Beckles, Vice Mayor of Richmond, in her second term as a member of the Richmond City Council, who came in second behind Wicks, raised a more modest $157,844.25 in the same period, less than a quarter of what Wicks raised. Beckles spent less per vote received than any of the other six major candidates. Spending for Wicks per vote received was more than three and a half times spending for Beckles as of the end of the latest filing period, with total spending not yet reported.
67% of Beckles’ contributors live in the District; only 4% of her contributors live out of state. No outside money from independent expenditure committees run by wealthy investors or special interests was spent to support her. Not surprisingly, she has the most contributors from Richmond.
Berkeley school board member Judy Appel, who finished fourth, raised $288,791; 7% of her contributors reside out of state; 59% reside in the district. Appel had the largest number of contributors from Berkeley and was endorsed by four current Berkeley councilmembers.
Two Berkeley-based candidates, East Bay MUD director Andy Katz and Berkeley City Councimember Ben Bartlett also raised very little money from out of state and got most of their contributions from AD-15 and the larger Bay Area.
Big Increase Over 2014
In the 2014 Assembly District 15 primary, Elizabeth Echols received 31.1% of the vote in the June primary, running ahead of Tony Thurmond who received 24.4%.
In the same reporting periods that year, Echols, the best financed candidate, received contributions totaling $358,528.05, while Thurmond’s contributions totaled $242,014.90. Thurmond went on to win the November election.
Wicks this year raised about $300,000 more than Echols did in 2014 for the same campaign filing periods.
Who is Govern for California?
So who the outsiders who are pouring so much money into our local Assembly race? Harriet Steele’s June 1 post on 48hills.org helps to answer the question and is worth reading. You can find it here: https://48hills.org/2018/06/big-right-wing-money-east-bay/
Steele reports that Govern for California’s founders are David Crane, a former advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; David Penner, currently chairman of the board of Wal-Mart, and Ron Conway, a wealthy tech investor.
One of Govern for California’s committees takes the money it receives from wealthy donors and gives it as PAC contributions to candidates they like. Wicks received two $4400 PAC contributions (one for the primary; one for the general election) from this committee, the maximum that can be given in a state race. Another Govern for California Committee acts as an intermediary for wealthy donors, with the majority giving the maximum $4400 to Wicks. Over $76,000 was raised for Wicks’ campaign committee by Govern for California. This money from wealthy donors is equal to almost half of the money Beckles raised, most of it from local donors.
More significant is the Govern for California Action Committee, which is the committee that expended to date $493,332.70 in support of Buffy Wicks. This paid for mailers supporting Wicks as well as for research and consulting work in support of her candidacy. A little over $120,000 was donated to this committee by David Crane. Over $36,000 was donated by a pro-charter schools PAC. Crane is a charter school supporter and critic of teachers’ unions.
While per pupil spending in in California ranks 41st in the nation, these wealthy donors to Govern for California are not advocating for reform of Prop 13 to generate more money for education. Nor will you find them calling for a higher minimum wage, single payer health care, funding for affordable housing or advocating other progressive positions. This is not a group that is addressing the growing economic inequality in this country.
The Govern for California Action Committee seems to exist largely to support Buffy Wicks. While two other candidates have received some support, over 95% of the expenditures to support candidates, in the current election cycle, have been spent to support Wicks, apparently the favorite of Govern for California and its founder David Crane. It seems fair to assume that they think she will advance their agenda if elected and would prevent election of a progressive Assembly member who would challenge that agenda.
Other candidates receiving support from Govern for California, via its Network Committee, include Marshall Tuck, who is running against Tony Thurmond for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, with over $175,000 in contributions channeled to Tuck, the second highest amount of support from Govern for California committees.
Catherine Baker, the Republican candidate in Assembly District 16, which includes Eastern Alameda County, Lamorinda and part of Walnut Creek, is also backed by Govern for California, which was an intermediary for over $88,000 in donations. The group also backs some moderate Democrats like Scott Weiner, author of SB 827.
The CNA-backed Candidate
Buffy Wicks was not the only candidate to benefit from independent expenditures, though far more outside money was spent for her than for any other candidate. Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Mayor Pro Tem of El Cerrito and a neonatal nurse at Alta Bates Hospital, who finished fifth in the primary, benefited from $137,715.40 of independent expenditure by a committee affiliated with her union, the California Nurses Association, and from $56,114.30 spend by the California African American PAC. Pardue-Okimoto was endorsed by current AD-15 Assembly member Tony Thurmond.
Rochelle Pardue Okimoto was not the only candidate backed by her union. Jovanka Beckles, who makes her living as a mental health specialist working with children, was supported by the PAC affiliated with her onw union, Teamsters Local 856 and by other Teamsters PACs, and by PACS affiliated with unions representing healthcare workers and other workers. Other candidates, including Dan Kalb, Andy Katz and Judy Appel had some union PAC support, with Appel winning support of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and other unions representing educators. Both Appel and Beckles received contributions from the Equality California PAC.
Dan Kalb, supported by the Sierra Club, received a contribution from the Club’s PAC and one from a solar industry PAC. Union PAC money and the few other PAC contributions, though, played a relatively small role in the race, being totally dwarfed by all the outside money flowing to Buffy Wicks and spent in support of her candidacy by wealthy donors from outside the district.
What’s at Stake
It’s not just on charter schools and education that the candidates differ. Buffy Wicks is the only Democratic candidate in the primary who does not support repeal of Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Under Costa Hawkins, cities like Berkeley that passed rent control before 1995 cannot extend rent control to housing built since rent control was adopted (1980 in Berkeley). And no city can apply rent control to any housing built after 1995. Costa Hawkins prevents cities from taking steps, if they choose to do so, to protect tenants from soaring rents. There will be an initiative on the fall ballot to repeal Costa Hawkins.
This fall’s election will determine whether outside money will prevail and whether a candidate with few ties to the East Bay and no track record, will end up representing one of the country’s more progressive districts. Her wealthy financial backers are not spending huge sums of money supporting her candidacy because they want to see progressive policy initiatives from AD-15’s representative.
Technical note: contributions received is the sum of those reported on the form 460 for calendar year 2017 and those reported on Form 460 for 2018 through May 19. Money received after May 19 is not included, nor are expenditures made after May 19, which will be included in later campaign filings. Percent contributors from inside the District and from out of state is calculated from the spreadsheets for contributions on the Secretary of State’s Web site for AD-15. People whose contributions were returned for some reason are not included in my count. Some contributors made more than one contribution. Data based on percent of contributions, which is easier to calculate, would differ somewhat from date based on contributors, where each contributor is counted only once. Not all of Oakland falls within AD-15. Six zip codes made up entirely or partly of parts of Oakland fall wholly or partly in AD-15. Any person or group with one of these six zip codes is considered to be a resident of AD-15, though in a few cases they aren’t since district boundaries do not conform exactly to zip code boundaries. Street addresses are not given, so sorting by zip code is the best that can be done. Average contribution per contributor is calculated by dividing the total amount of contributions as found in the spreadsheets on the Secretary of State Web site by the number of contributors.
Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who finished third behind Beckles, raised $279,21739 in the same period; 3% from out of state; 48% from inside the District. Much of the rest of his money came from parts of Oakland not in the District and from other Bay Area Cities.
Final Election Results Assembly District 15
Wicks vs Beckles in November
Contra Costa County finished their count of vote by mail and provisional ballots. Alameda County finished their count last week. Here are the final totals. Jovanka Beckles beat out Dan Kalb for second place by 619 votes and will face Buffy Wicks, who finished first, in November. Official Statements of Vote, when released, will provide results by precinct and city.
Buffy Wicks Votes Percent
Alameda County: 24,655 32.5%
Contra Costa County: 12,478 29.3%
Total: 37,133 31.4%
Alameda County: 11,123 14.6%
Contra Costa County: 7,602 17.9%
Total: 18,725 15.8%
Alameda County: 14,770 19.4%
Contra Costa County: 3,236 7.6%
Total: 18,006 15.2%
Alameda County: 10,714 14.1%
Contra Costa County: 2,875 6.8%
Total: 13,589 11.5%
Alameda County: 4,065 5.4%
Contra Costa County: 5,760 13.5%
Total: 9,825 8.3%
Alameda County: 3,038 4.0%
Contra Costa County: 3,907 9.8%
Total: 6,945 5.9%
Alameda County: 3,461 4.6%
Contra Costa County: 2,747 6.5%
Total: 6,208 5.2%
Alameda County: 2,787 3.3%
Contra Costa County: 1,162 2.7%
Total: 3,949 3.3%
Alameda County: 1,229 1.6%
Contra Costa County: 2,779 6.5%
Total: 4,008 3.4%
Alameda County: 39.7%
Contra Costa County: 39.8%
Turnout was a lot higher than for the 2014 primary election, but a lot lower than turnout in the 2016 presidential primary. Results can be found on the Secretary of State’s Web site: https://vote.sos.ca.gov/returns/state-assembly/district/15
In 1990, the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) engaged in one of the most successful hostage rescue operations in history: Henry’s Hostage Crisis. This was not a case of foreign terrorism. The attacker was just 29 when he obtained three guns and took 33 people hostage. The BPD’s measured response to the situation was executed with textbook perfection. Their actions earned the BPD national acclaim, a legacy that our officers live up to each day.
Decades later, we see the BPD participating in a new and altogether different style of training — Urban Shield, a set of war games, tactical exercises, and weapons expos designed around a Bush-era counter-terrorism agenda. Using millions of dollars in Department of Homeland Security funding, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office puts on 48 hours of tactical anti-terrorism exercises for federal and local departments. The only way to get full points in the competition is through full escalation of force. In a real-world hostage situation at Children’s Hospital in 2010, officers successfully resolved the crisis without loss of life but in an Urban Shield hostage scenario based on the event, teams “won” by escalating and killing the perpetrators.
Far from this real life example, many scenarios at Urban Shield are improbable and are built around military-grade technology featured by for-profit companies in the vender expo. Take one of last year’s exercises, supposedly based on the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Designed by Execushield, the sensationalized scenario had officers use Navy-grade aquatic raiding craft to kill members of a Hezbollah terrorist group, which had crossed the US border from South America to set up an armed encampment in a wooded cabin near a reservoir in Livermore. More than just improbable, the exercise bore almost no relationship to the Mumbai attacks, which featured multiple shootings and bomb threats distributed across multiple days and urban locations.
Berkeley can and should do better than Urban Shield. After months of subcommittee meetings including the Police Chief and presentations from the SRT team (Berkeley’s SWAT), the Council’s Urban Shield Subcommittee recommended on June 4th that the BPD suspend participation for the 2018 vendor expo and tactical exercises until revisions are made to the program. Berkeley is not pulling out of Urban Shield entirely. Certain modules of this year’s Urban Shield — like the Emergency Operations Center exercises and the community fair – will focus on mass care and casualty. I encourage the BPD to attend these modules.
The Urban Shield program does not reflect our needs. In the past decade, rather than confronting terrorist threats, the police department has trended toward facing high-risk search, arrest warrant services, patrol support, and crowd management. The tactical exercises at Urban Shield do not focus on these activities but instead on politically-motivated mass violence, obscuring the principle of de-escalation in community crime encounters. Urban Shield squanders resources that could be used for pressing community concerns. Going forward, we propose that Urban Shield focus on much more likely crises such as earthquakes and the 1991 Oakland fire.
Moreover, the Urban Shield competition and expo don’t reflect our values as a community. Take ICE’s involvement in Urban Shield. Alameda is a Sanctuary County and Berkeley was the first Sanctuary City in the nation; even so, Urban Shield has stubbornly continued to host ICE, forcing our officers to exercise alongside a group that clearly stands against our city’s commitment to justice. In 2017, Urban Shield hosted the far-right Oath Keepers, a fundamentalist vigilante organization that provides security for white supremacist events like last year’s protests in Berkeley. Additionally, the exercises reinforce implicit racial biases against black and brown people in their representation within the program, expressing what Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty calls racist undertones. Berkeley is against full escalation and the unnecessary use of force by officers — yet Urban Shield encourages officers to escalate.
Reform from within is no longer realistic. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors put guidelines in place that claimed to reform the event. Last year saw the Oath Keepers, ICE and surveillance firms participating anyway. Only some of the guidelines have been upheld and only after a community member brought violations to the attention of the Board, when the Sheriff signed a contract with a vendor that engages in blatant racial stereotyping.
Urban Shield is not salvageable through our involvement because Berkeley and the BPD have no input into it. Many of its failures could have been avoided if local input was considered. Outsourcing public safety training without local input is dangerous, and Urban Shield has refused to listen to the communities it is meant to protect.
Our officers need even more training in everyday emergency response and disaster preparedness. Lasts week’s shooting in South Berkeley shows this. The shooting was not by a terrorist or active shooter, but rather against a tenant by his landlord. The BPD used medical techniques taught to them at ongoing Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative trainings. More funding could be allocated to these if Urban Shield did not absorb $1.5 million of the $5 million annual grant.
Reforming Urban Shield has been an exercise in futility for the community and the city. While the discussion continues, it is time to throw the full weight of our community into this withdrawal, aligning our community preparedness with our needs and values while supporting our officers as they take this brave step away from Urban Shield and what it represents.