Thursday, October 15, 1998
In a race that should be a cut-and-dry case of election day landslide, Republican challenger Phil Chavez of Pebble Beach is nevertheless rallying to unseat Democratic 27th District Assemblymember Fred Keeley, who is running for his second two-year term. Libertarian candidate Dirk Deardorff is also challenging Keeley.
Keeley, who boasts a string of legislative successes particularly on ecological issues, is a Democratic environmentalist in a largely Democratic environmentalist district, consisting roughly of coastal Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and political observers are predicting an easy victory for the incumbent.
"I''m very pleased to have kept the promises that I made in my 1996 campaign," says Keeley. "I''ve been able to advance public policy in three areas: the preservation and enhancement of our environment, improving the quality of education, and ensuring social justice."
Political insiders say that Keeley is generally perceived in Sacramento as a hard working, roll-up-your-sleeves type of legislator who, as a freshman legislator, managed to author 10 successful bills and achieve leadership positions as the Assembly Democratic Whip and chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus. And rumor has it that he is next in line for the Assembly Speaker''s job.
But Chavez, a moderate conservative who made his political debut two years ago in a run for Congress, believes that he can give Keeley a run for his money. (And, it''s a lot of money. As of the end of last month, Keeley''s campaign has spent $278,502, outspending Chavez 10-1. Keeley, a vocal proponent of campaign finance reform, says most of that money is going to fund the campaigns of other Democrats who are facing tougher races.)
Facing an uphill battle, Chavez is waging an all-out mud-slinging war, punctuated by a series of pointed political cartoon ads running in a local weekly newspaper. One ad, for instance, depicts teenagers with skulls for heads lamenting about Keeley''s perceived do-nothing attitude toward drug abuse.
Chavez is openly critical of his opponent''s performance, accusing Keeley of romancing his liberal constituents with sexy environmental legislation while ignoring a burgeoning crime problem that he says is affecting the district.
"Keeley''s a hypocrite. He''s such a hypocrite he gives hypocrisy a bad name," says Chavez, who adds of his opponent: "He cares more about a tree than he does our children."
"I think that [statement] displays an appalling lack of understanding of my record and the achievements I have made," Keeley contends. He cites the Child Safety Gun Storage Act of 1997, and the California Gang, Crime, and Violence Prevention Partnership Program, which he authored, as examples of his commitment to fighting crime.
But according to Monterey County Sheriff-elect Gordon Sonn, who is supporting Chavez, what local law enforcement really needs is simply more officers on the street. "Phil Chavez is a staunch supporter of law enforcement," says Sonn. "He knows how I feel about having more officers on the street, more deputies and better equipment."
An increasing influx of illegal drugs, particularly methamphetamines, or crank, which is rumored to be manufactured in "meth labs" in the Cachagua area, Sonn says, has created more work than the current number of peace officers can handle.
"It scares me to death what [Keeley''s] doing," says Chavez. "He has demonstrated a complete lack of leadership on this issue."
Nonetheless, Keeley is endorsed by an impressive entourage of law enforcement advocates: the California Highway Patrol, the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, the California Peace Officers'' Union, Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriffs, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and Crime Victims United.
Republicans also charge Keeley with hurting local business. "Keeley is not helping the farming community, he''s not helping the tourist industry, he''s over-regulated the fishing industry," says Brett Landon, chair of the Monterey County Republican Party. "If you''re trying to make a living and raise a family, Keeley is not representing you."
Nevertheless, Keeley''s intense commitment to environmentalism and education, and his progressive approach to the issues seem, at lease superficially, to perfectly suit him for the 27th District.
"I think the work that I''ve done and the values that I have are consistent with the values that the majority of the district believes in," says Keeley, "and I hope to be returned to office on November 3."
Although an unlikely winner in this race, Deardorff says his candidacy, fueled by a need for his party to maintain a presence in local elections, is working in tandem with the national Libertarian Party that hopes to have a "Perot-level" presidential candidate by the 2000 election year.
But, he dismisses himself as a token candidate, saying that "anyone who is on the ballot is a serious candidate."
Deardorff brings to the table a package of unique ideas that breathe fresh air into the race, such as complete separation of education and government, and unsubsidized, market-based allocation of water to farmers.
As for Chavez, if things don''t go his way on election day, voters can count on hearing from him again. "Phil Chavez...is a rising star in our party," says Landon. "He''s intelligent, he has a strong business background, he''s very passionate, and brings good diversity to the party. We love to have him in the Republican Caucus."
And, the fact that Chavez is a Hispanic is an added bonus for Republicans. "As time goes on, the Republicans are going to win the Hispanic vote," says Landon. "Ours is a long-term goal, and we''re very comfortable and happy to have Chavez in our party." cw