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Supervisor’s Fall from Grace Shakes Up the Political Landscape

Supervisor’s Fall from Grace Shakes Up the Political Landscape

Sonoma State University professor Dr. David McCuan discusses the potentially far-reaching political implications of the scandal surrounding Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

The job of County Supervisor is the best gig in California politics. Supervisors have the ability to affect policy in direct ways, can blame Sacramento for what ails a given area, and all the while ponder their next steps free from the open warfare of the State Capitol. Being a Supervisor is both hyper-local and at the nexus of powerful political changes in the state’s future. Apparently, though this freedom is not without peril. Local pols across the state and country – from New York City to San Diego to San Bernardino to Santa Rosa are pursuing the art of self-inflicting political wounds. All politics may be local, but we are also seeing a continuing trend of creepiness where the intoxicating cocktail of politics, power, sex, and scandal are all mixed into one dustup after another. And this mix seems to proliferate beyond the Beltway from City Hall to the Wine Country and suburbs.

The trend is evident with the recent rise (and fall?) of one prominent politician from Sonoma County, 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo. Recently accused of burglary and what may still be other sordid crimes after a late-night run in with the law, Carrillo was just re-elected with almost 60% of the vote in June 2012 avoiding a November run-off. His political opponents were knocked off their heels by his solid victory. The circumstances behind his arrest on July 13th remain unclear and until Carrillo’s preliminary hearing on August 30th, the extent of his legal troubles affecting innocence or guilt remain unclear. But the political problems are huge and the fallout from his seeming fall from grace is larger still. As we’ve seen with other politicos, it is the public perception problem that far outweighs the legal problems resulting from appearing outside a woman’s home in the middle of the night wearing little more than socks and underwear.

Carrillo, young, ambitious, well-known in Democratic and Latino political circles within California as well as across the country, was widely seen as a rising star beyond just his home base of the North Bay. His political future may have gone through Sacramento at one point or another but clearly he was headed other places – Washington, D.C. being the most likely landing spot – all that is seemingly over now.

While it is necessary to recognize that the disease that is alcoholism may have fueled this episode, there’s a larger condition where politicians up and down the ballot will now have to consider what their political future holds. Carrillo’s arrest – indeed his political and legal fortunes – will affect the plans of many a politician running for other seats – up AND down the ballot. There are related angles as we have seen with State Senator Noreen Evans (D-02) who just indicated this week that she will not run for re-election in 2014 despite having another term to serve if re-elected. Others such as fellow Supervisors Mike McGuire (4th District) and Shirlee Zane (3rd District) and local politicians from the Golden Gate all the way to the Oregon border are mulling their next steps. Dentist Jim Wood of Healdsburg is running for the Assembly District 02 seat and his need to raise a boatload of money just got a lot lighter with Carrillo’s implosion. Marc Levine, who last year pulled off one of the biggest upsets in defeating then Assemblyman Michael Allen for the AD10 seat, briefly mulled over running for the Evans State Senate seat. The fallout from this episode even extends to the actions of possible candidates and their cash in the race to succeed Mariko Yamada (AD04).

What is also interesting about the political drama taking place in Sonoma County is that politicians, in the era of term limits, now run both up the ballot (the traditional avenue) but also “down” the ballot, bringing their experience from Sacramento with them to local politics. Being a Supervisor is a great gig in this state – the best job in politics at so many levels. And yet, the theater behind this episode is part tragedy, part comedy, and is affecting far more than the victims here. The political has surpassed the legal and for those seeking to recall Carrillo before his day in court, the politics of recalls can get messy, and out of hand, not to mention their preferred candidates may not even be in the running via appointment due to resignation or successful election. Nonetheless, the mess that is Carrillo here in Sonoma County is affecting the best laid plans of many a politico wherever vines and redwoods meet.

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