Monday, October 26, 2009

He Walks Softly and Carries A Big Wallet

Alright, I'll admit it. It's hard to find anybody who has anything bad to say about Texan Randall Van Wolfswinkel, who's been a longhorn of plenty when it comes to pouring money into our local Santa Barbara election. But, considering how hard it is to find anyone who's actually met the man, it's really no surprise.

One person who has met him in person is former mayor Sheila Lodge. After I wrote about the inner working's of Preserve Our Santa Barbara, the political action committee that Van Wolfswinkel started, Lodge wrote to me.

I know that in this cynical world it's hard to believe that someone could spend this kind of money without expecting something back. In Randall Van Wolfswinkel's case he is genuinely passionate about preserving what is left of Santa Barbara's small town character. Period.

Gee, about 50 years ago there was a middle-aged guy down in Orange County who was passionate about recreating the Main Street he remembered as a young boy growing up in the Mid-West. Next thing you know, up pops Disneyland, and that orange grove was never the same.

Anyway, Lodge concluded by asking me to give her a call. I did. Over the phone she told me that she had met Van Wolfswinkel when he invited her to lunch last spring. He had been angered by the city council's denial of the Price project appeal and wanted to find candidates he could support.

Towards the end of their 90 minute meeting Van Wolfswinkel pledged $50,000 to support Lodge in the event she decided to run for council herself. Ultimately, she decided not to. She had no idea he was going to set up a PAC that would spend 10 times the amount he had offered to donate to her.

Other than that, she didn't have much to add to what she had written in her e-mail to me.

I pointed out that her assessment of the man was all well and good but with so many people wondering about what his intentions are regarding Santa Barbara, Van Wolfswinkel really ought to follow the advice that Priscilla passed to John through Miles Standish, which was to, "speak for yourself."

I pointed out that I would be more than willing to talk to Van Wolfswinkel in the event he was willing to give an interview and I assured her I would fairly represent what he had to say.

Lodge, told me she would attempt to pass that message along to him.

I'm still waiting for my phone to ring.

Not that I feel good about him to begin with, but I would feel a little better about Van Wolfswinkel if he wasn't bankrolling all of the negative campaigning that Preserve Our Santa Barbara has been engaging in.

One of the recent POS ads that has been playing in heavy rotation is one that includes the claim that, "the city council can't balance the budget."

Better tell that to Dale Francisco, the mayoral candidate that Van Wolfswinkel is backing. I was in the audience one week ago at a mayoral forum when Francisco, in response to a question about the budget, stated, "We have a balanced budget. By law, it must be balanced."

Now, there may be room to argue about how it came to be balanced, but to say that the budget isn't balanced, as Preserve Our Santa Barbara is doing in that ad, is a flat-out lie.

And, if the Texan Van Wolfswinkel is so in tune with the mood of this community, why hasn't he figured out that negative campaigning doesn't work around here?

Negative campaigns may fly in Waco, Amarillo or Austin, but they don't go very far in Santa Barbara. At least that's what County Supervisor Salud Carbajal thinks.

I ran into him at a charity event on Saturday and asked him if he thought negative campaigns work. Here's what he said:
Santa Barbara has less tolerance for negative campaigning than other jurisdictions and other areas. I really do think that Santa Barbarans are more savvy, and astute and civically engaged that when they see negative publicity they literally see it for the negativity that it is and they really get turned off by it.

I think we have a history that corroborates that value in our community. I think that this race is gonna again corroborate that Santa Barbarans do not like and (don't) appreciate negative campaigning.

A look at recent elections would seem to confirm what Carbajal is saying. A year ago in the race for State Senate, Tony Strickland (and the News-Press) tried to paint Hannah Beth-Jackson as "Taxin' Jackson." Although that tactic may have worked in other parts of the district which included Ventura County and some areas of L.A. County, it didn't work in Santa Barbara County where Jackson defeated Strickland nor the City of Santa Barbara where Jackson got over 70 percent of the vote.

Back in 2004, when Jackson's assembly seat opened up as a result of her being termed-out, Pedro Nava ran what many thought was a negative campaign against his Republican opponent, Bob Pohl. Pohl was a moderate with a big heart. Of course Nava's attacks on Pohl painted quite a different picture and appalled many Democrats who knew Pohl.

You'd think a seat that had previously been held by Democrats like Jackson, and before her, Jack O'Connell, would be won handily by Nava. But he barely squeaked out a victory. In a race where over 100,000 votes were cast, Nava won by a mere 2,094 in that part of the district that encompassed Santa Barbara.

Of course, back in the fall of 2004, Van Wolfswinkel might very well have been tailgating outside Texas Stadium before a Cowboys game rather than paying any mind to what was going on here in little old Santa Barbara, so how would he know?
© 2009 by Craig Smith and