San Francisco Chronicle
February 8, 2015
By Carla Marinucci
Months after being flogged by union attack ads last year during his unsuccessful Assembly race, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer has issued a politically risky call to arms, urging California Democrats to stop “demonizing” moderates and fiscal conservatives in their own party.
“There is an attitude by party interests that if you’re a Democrat from the Bay Area, you must be a “supersized liberal,” or else you’re a traitor to the cause,” said Glazer, who delivered a blistering assessment of his party at a recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies panel.
The longtime adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, now a candidate in next month’s special election for the East Bay District Seven state Senate seat, came out swinging last week at a packed candidates forum in Lafayette.
Aiming for the spot vacated by Mark DeSaulnier, who replaced retired Rep. George Miller, Glazer portrayed himself a “pragmatic,” pro-business, antitax candidate, arguing “the Democratic Party needs to regain the mantle as the fiscally responsible party.”
Even before he finished that appearance, the Contra Costa Young Democrats club tweeted that Glazer is an “alleged Democrat,” indicating it won’t be an easy contest for the candidate who argues his party has veered too far to the left.
But while risky, Glazer’s move to go after his party might be a game-changer in a district where almost 30 percent are registered Republicans.
His surprise decision to enter the race threatens to upend the primary between two established progressive candidates, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan. and underscores the unpredictability of California’s top-two primary system, in which the top two vote-getters move on to the general election.
In the all-Democratic race, Bonilla has racked up major endorsements, including DeSaulnier, former Rep. Ellen Tauscher — and her party. But Buchanan, recently termed out of the Assembly, has also a loyal following as a six-term legislator.
Glazer’s campaign got a boost last Monday when the only Republican in the race, Michaela Hertle, dropped out and endorsed him. Hertle cited Glazer’s support for a ban on BART strikes, which earned him the wrath of several Bay Area unions during the Assembly race in November won by Republican attorney Catharine Baker.
Political analysts say Glazer, a California State University trustee, may now have a real shot at shaking up the race.
“He’s got two liberal Democrats against him, and I think his opportunity now is very good to get the GOP vote — which should be enough to make the runoff,” said former GOP strategist Tony Quinn, a co-editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes California races.
The primary is on March 17, and if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the general election is set for May 19.
Alienating some Dems
Steve Maviglio, a veteran Democratic consultant, calls Glazer a longshot at best in what is expected to be a low-turnout special election. Up against Buchanan, “a credible, moderate Democrat,” and Bonilla, a popular progressive, and with a Republican’s name remaining on the ballot — it’s too late to remove it — “he has to peel off enough ultraconservative Democrats” to at least come in second, he notes.
But Glazer has alienated many Democrats with criticisms that are simply unfounded, Maviglio said.
“Almost having a supermajority in both houses, and every constitutional officer in the state, isn’t a bad place to be” for Democrats, Maviglio said. And for six years in Sacramento, “the Democrats have been balancing the budget, and helping the business community” grow jobs and the economy.
Still, Democratic consultant Garry South said centrists like Glazer have faced the wrath of party officials and consultants for “daring” to help other Democratic challengers in primary elections.
“In this top-two environment, we Democrats have to be careful that we don’t let these Democrat-on-Democrat races turn into fratricidal battles that do damage to, or split, the Democratic coalition,” he said. In the current climate, Democrats “are not going to have two-thirds majorities in both chambers with all those legislators acting like they’re Nancy Pelosi,” he said in reference to the liberal California U.S. representative.
“You’re going to have places that elect more-moderate Democrats, and if the party can’t deal with that, we have problems,” he insists.
Challenging status quo
Democrat Ro Khanna, the former Obama trade representative who unsuccessfully challenged seven-term progressive Rep. Mike Honda in a high-profile race for a Silicon Valley seat in November, agrees that the party needs to broaden its reach and appeal — or face problems as more voters choose to be independent.
“In my case, I came out for ... a lot of positions that labor union people told me, privately, were very bold,” he said. But Khanna, who came in just four points behind Honda, faced an onslaught of attacks, including from a Democratic super political action committee that questioned his Democratic loyalty.
“The problem is institutional stagnancy,” Khanna said. “There’s a sense that when we back the person we know, it’s almost like an old boys’ club, in not allowing fresh new voices to be heard.’’
“It’s more about the institutions of power rallying around their own interests,” he said, “and the top-two system is designed to break through that — eventually.”