Guest View: Tilting elections to local incumbents

Robert Rivas is shown at right on the dais.

When County Supervisor Robert Rivas proposed increased government transparency upon assuming the chairmanship of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors the idea had my full, unqualified, support. However, he has pulled a classic bait and switch.
His first effort has nothing to do with transparency; it is about campaign funding limits clearly aimed at cementing power of incumbents and crippling what he sees as future political opposition. He makes no bones about it.
The county is hardly a hotbed of rivalry. There are three supervisorial seats up in the next election. Margie Barrios is retiring; Anthony Botelho and Jaime De La Cruz, Districts 2 and 5, are both unopposed. Rivas also ran unopposed in his 2014 District 3 re-election. “Unopposed” has fast become the most common competition for a sitting supervisor.
The reason is the overwhelming power of incumbency; they get to do a lot of favors and no one bites the hand that feeds them. How powerful? More than 96 percent of incumbents in the U.S. Congress were re-elected in 2014 in spite of an 11 percent approval rating.
Limiting campaign contributions for local races, including for recall elections, is bound to make it a lot harder, if not impossible, to defeat or recall an incumbent.
Rivas argues that outside special interests can influence our elections and “there are a lot on newcomers here.” That last part is especially disturbing because there are no “newcomers” on the Board of Supervisors, that’s for sure, and Rivas wants to keep it that way.
He blames it on “outside special interests” about which he means oil and tobacco money, but that is just fake smear aimed at Hollister Councilmember Victor Gomez by Robert Rivas’ brother and professional campaign manager brother, Rick.
In the last election, Gomez lost to incumbent Jerry Muenzer by a handful of votes (note that the incumbent won again) in spite of receiving a large contribution from Grow Elect, a Political Action Committee (PAC) dedicated to electing Latino Republicans.
Like all PACs, they received contributions from a wide range of interests including politicians; over three years, less than 3 percent of their funding came from oil interests, according to internet records. The total value to the Gomez campaign of the “oil money” was a whopping $712. Five times that total came from just PG&E, Cal Real Estate, the California Republican Party, the California Chamber of Commerce, and the San Diego Charges football team, but Gomez’ ability to raise money has Robert and Rick worried.
While we are at it, let’s look at Robert Rivas’ fundraising and spending in his last contested election. Robert was happy to take business money when he was campaigning: For example, $6,000 from Leal Vineyards, certainly a special business interest. In the end, Robert Rivas outspent his opponent, Pat Loe, by five to one; $33,650 to $6,844. He showed no mercy at the cash window and now he wants to slam it closed on the fingers of others.
Rick Rivas is trying to use Robert Rivas to make local politics strictly an insider’s game where you need a professional campaign manager to survive; it’s good for his business. Now that Robert Rivas has the overwhelming power of incumbency, he says that money is a problem. No, this bait and switch scam is the real problem.

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