Democratic Party leaders throughout the State Assembly 5th District were in a sour mood Wednesday as their party will have no representative on the Nov. 6 ballot for the legislative seat.
Though there had been a handful of special elections for vacant offices in the state since voters approved the Proposition 14 “top two” primary in November 2010, Tuesday’s primary marked the first regular statewide election using the system.
The 5th District Assembly outcome promoting Republicans Rico Oller and Frank Bigelow to the general election, while Democratic Party-endorsed Marc Boyd fell a distant fourth, did not sit well with Democratic bigwigs on the local level.
County Democratic central committees will make no recommendations on the Oller-Bigelow run-off, according to Calaveras County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Sharon Romano and Madera County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Susan Rowe.
“Officially, Democratic (leaders) cannot endorse or support a candidate from another party,” Romano said. “What individuals do, that’s another thing.”
Rowe knows what her choice will be.
“You’ve got a tea partier and an ultra tea partier,” she said. “Personally, I will leave that race blank on my ballot in November. I do not vote for Republicans.”
The local Democratic establishment suffered a similar embarrassment in 2010. In the 19th District congressional race that year, unknown Loraine Goodwin bested favorite Les Marsden in the party primary en route to a resounding defeat by Republican Jeff Denham.
Marsden chalked up the loss largely to Goodwin’s occupation being listed on the ballot as an attorney, which he argued she should not have used because she is not a member of the State Bar.
In the Assembly race, party-endorsed Arnold substitute teacher Marc Boyd was outpolled by Sonora’s Tim Fitzgerald, who was listed on the ballot as an author, economist and educator.
“Some people said my occupation listing as a substitute teacher would be a disadvantage but that’s what I do. I love teaching,” Boyd said. “It was told to me early on those are the three most important words. I’m not saying that’s what voters look at exclusively but it’s very important.”
Tuolumne County Democratic Club Chairman Domenic Torchia did not mince words in his assessment.
“Two years ago, it was a blonde-haired, mini-skirted, gum-chewing black woman that knocked out our party-endorsed candidate for Congress, Les Marsden. Even though it was ruled that she falsified her credentials, and was totally rebuffed by the state Democratic Party, she was allowed to run and knocked Les off the ticket,” Torchia wrote in an e-mail.
He also questioned Fitzgerald’s qualifications and capabilities.
“Mr. Fitzgerald too should also have been disqualified as he failed to properly file the correct papers. Somehow, someone in the county pushed through the paperwork for him or some kind-hearted Republican filed for him.”
Fitzgerald made no friends in the Democratic clubs and county central committees by accusing party operatives of being behind a February burglary at his trailer home, a claim which was not found to have any merit by Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office investigators.
Coverage of that incident and its fallout in The Union Democrat gave Fitzgerald “a lot of free publicity,” Rowe said.
Tuolumne County Auditor-Clerk Debi Russell said despite a number of issues leading up to the filing deadline, Fitzgerald managed to meet the requirements to appear on the ballot.
Rowe said that Fitzgerald’s designation may have been misleading, noting an economics degree from San Jose State University does not necessarily qualify him as an economist.
“Where did he get $10,000?” she asked of his campaign spending. “I don’t know that he’s ever held down a job. ... He did absolutely no campaigning in my county.”
Rowe suggested Fitzgerald may have gotten out the Green Party vote, since he is a former member of the minor party, but with single-digit percentage Green registration numbers, that explanation seems unlikely to account for his 18 percent of the vote.
“He’s an intelligent guy,” Rowe said. “I think he’s on an eccentric track but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know strategy.”
Fitzgerald chalked up outperforming Boyd to greater campaign experience, having made a run for Assembly as a Green from San Jose in 1994 and for San Jose City Council in 1982. He called Boyd “green” by comparison and said Democratic leaders should have taken him more seriously and urged Boyd to bow out.
“I was surprised,” first-time office seeker Boyd said of the vote’s result. “I went to every county and all the county Democratic clubs were appreciative of how hard I worked. … I just wanted to be a voice for the Democratic Party. Two years ago, nobody stepped up.”
Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen won the GOP primary in 2010 and then went unopposed in the general election for the Mother Lode’s Assembly seat.
Calaveras County Supervisor Merita Callaway, a registered Democrat and Boyd supporter, said the Assembly result surprised her and she could not figure out why Boyd did so poorly at the polls.
“He did everything right. He’s really been working hard,” Callaway said.
Boyd estimated he put more than 15,000 miles on his car in the last six months campaigning across the expansive district.
Calaveras County Republican Party Chairwoman Barbara Manning took no issue with the Assembly primary outcome, especially as the county party’s endorsed candidate Rico Oller advanced as the top vote-getter.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I’d just as soon not have a Democrat. It gives us a better chance,” Manning said. “I think (Democrats) just need to realize what the people want and what the people want is not what they’re offering … I think people are wising up. They’ve had enough.”
Torchia disagreed with that line of thought.
“Our lack of money is a huge part of it, but it is only part of it,” he said. “A bigger part is we have to do a better job of networking, telling each other the good guys from the bad guys. Screw ups happen, but twice is too many times.”