The Anaheim City Council elections are over, and as noted earlier, candidates supporting of economic growth and law enforcement swept the races in council districts 1, 4 and 5:
Jose Diaz defeated Councilwoman Denise Barnes in District 1 by 42% to 37%; Avelino Valencia dispatched his opponents with 50% of the vote; Councilman Steve Faessel won re-election with 52% of the vote.
Progressive Left politicians and activists who backed the vanquished candidates are – predictably – blaming it entirely on being “outspent” by “special interests.” At the November 10 city council meeting, Barnes and Councilman Jose F. Moreno wrung their hands about the impossibility of overcoming the campaign spending disparity – as if money is everything in politics.
Let’s unpack that narrative. Is it justified? Or is it just excuse-making.
Of course funding makes a difference in whether a candidate wins or loses. But it isn’t everything.
On the national level, the Democrats outspent the Republicans by orders of magnitude in the contests for the White House and control of Congress. Despite lopsided spending advantages, not only did Joe Biden only narrowly defeat Donald Trump, but Democrats failed to capture the U.S. Senate and nearly lost their House majority.
Councilman Moreno’s attempt to explain the Left’s shellacking in the council races rings hollow given how frequently he touts his 2016 and 2018 council victories in the face of similar campaign funding gap between himself and opponents.
A better explanation is A) Anaheim’s progressive Left factions fielded second and third tier candidates while failing to unite behind them and meaningfully support them; B) Anaheim voters are more concerned with prosaic matters like crime, COVID and improving their neighborhoods. They want a more robust police presence and oppose defunding them; C) the progressive candidates ran terrible campaigns that were more about their pet political grievances than about genuine voter concerns.
District 1: Late Start for Barnes Against Solid Diaz Campaign
Take District 1, for example. Barnes squandered the advantages of incumbency by putting off campaigning until late summer. She didn’t form a re-election committee until this August – losing out on months in which she could have been building a campaign war chest.
Barnes switched parties from Republican to Democrat shortly before announcing her re-election effort, making her seem more opportunistic and less the citizen-politician. And then couldn’t convert that into a OC Democratic Party endorsement – despite: Late Start being the only Democrat in the race.
Campaign funders who had furnished much of her campaign warchest in 2016 took a powder in 2020. For example, in 2016, then-Mayor Tom Tait gave her the maximum $1,900 contribution – matched by his wife, his parents and some associates. This year, that dwindled to a lone donation of $1,500 from the former mayor. Howard Ahmanson, who funded a significant independent expenditure effort on her behalf foru years ago was AWOL this cycle.
Barnes raised a little more than $23,000 – including $7,000 in personal loans to her campaign – compared to the almost $30,000 she raised four years ago.
Barnes struggled as a councilmember and appeared to many to be in over her head. She seemed more interested in fighting the council majority and functioning as Moreno’s wing woman than in prioritizing the needs of her district.
Even with a cavernous funding advantage, its tough for a bad candidate to beat a good one. Jose Diaz has a compelling personal story. He proved himself a good candidate and who ran a solid campaign that convinced a large plurality of District 1 voters that he’d provide better representation than Barnes.
District 4: Valencia Vanquishes Sub-Par Candidates Of A Divided Progressive-Left
In District 4, Avelino Valencia executed a strong campaign. He built a remarkably broad base of support, built an ample campaign war chest and waged a positive campaign. He’s an attractive candidate and succeeded in communicating with voters.
Anaheim’s progressive Left cadres were their own worst enemies. They divided themselves between Anaheim Union High School District Trustee Annemarie Randle-Trejo and council gadfly Jeannine Robbins – both of whom proved poor candidates.
Randle-Trejo had the advantage of a good ballot title, and she had already been on the ballot several times. On the other hand, she proved herself a miserable fundraiser, and the converse of being a long-time AUSHD school board member was having to own district scandals in the form of negative mailers from independent expenditure committees.
Councilman Moreno, the ostensible jefe of Anaheim progressives, was either unwilling or unable to get Robbins to bow out in favor of Randle-Trejo (or vice versa), and to my knowledge never explicitly endorsed either of them.
District 5: Ken Batiste Proves To Be A Terrible Candidate
Councilman Steve Faessel is well-known, active in the district, could run on a track record of accomplishments and had put together a sizable warchest for voter communication. Beating Faessel would require discipline, focus and issue messaging that resonated with voters.
Many political observers expected Anaheim Elementary School District Trustee Ryan Ruelas, a Moreno protege, to run against Faessel. Ruelas would have brought a good ballot title, government union support, and a ready-made cadre of precinct walkers from the AnaheimBROS student club. He’d been re-elected to the AESD in 2018 – and so wouldn’t have to give up that seat to run.
While Ruelas did plenty of complaining about Faessel on social media, he didn’t translate that into an election challenge.
So, Anaheim’s activist Left coalesced council gadfly Kenneth Batiste.
Batiste, however, ran a awful and chaotic campaign. He raised enough money to pay for at least one campaign mailer, but instead of husbanding his funds he diffused them to little effect – such as $500 to blogger Vern Nelson for “polling and research” or $1,000 to Huntington Beach activist Victor Valladares for campaign consulting (to unknown effect).
Batiste railed about inside-gadfly obsessions like the baleful influence of SOAR – as if Anaheim voters have any idea what SOAR is.
Young Savrina Quezada ran a naive and unsophisticated campaign in the face of visceral hostility from Anaheim’s progressive elect – and still garnered twice of many votes as Batiste.
What About Districts?
During the 2012-2014 campaign to implement council districts, one of the selling points by advocates like Moreno was they would level the playing field by blunting the impact of money. The idea being that by carving the city into six, smaller electorates, a grass-roots candidate could reach more voters with shoe leather and limited resources – thus offsetting big spending opponents.
There’s some truth to that: Moreno narrowly defeated Councilman Jordan Brandman in 2016 despite being considerably outspent. Moreno raised enough money to fund sufficient voter communication. He had a large number of volunteers, substantial organized support from UNITE-HERE Local 11. He was also very focused and worked very hard.
Moreno’s success in 2016 underscores the weaknesses of the candidates who supported this go round. Barnes started late, squandered her advantages and faced a credible opponent who tapped into significant constituent dissatisfaction with the status quo in West Anaheim. Robbins was a glorified gadfly, and Randle-Trejo proved herself unable to make the leap from running for school board on the backs of the teachers union to seeking the votes of a more attentive city council electorate. Batiste ran an amateur campaign with the guidance of other amateurs.
The spending advantages of their opponents (and their opponents’ allies) magnified the margins of victory, but at the end of their day, the porr showing of the “Anaheim for the People” candidates has just as much – if not more – to do with their own foibles and disorganization.