Education reform-backed candidates sweep California primary elections
Sarah Favot | June 8, 2016
Education reformers spent big ahead of California’s primary, and preliminary results Wednesday show the millions paid off with all of the candidates they supported advancing to November’s general election.
Carlos Marquez, California Charter Schools Association Advocates’ director of political affairs, said he was excited by the primary results.
“There were a lot of races that we invested in, we wanted to make sure we invested in quality candidates,” Marquez said. “We feel really affirmed in the decisions.”
LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer railed Wednesday against the tactics used by the CCSA Advocates in the hotly contested 43rd Assembly District race and compared its spending in that race, at least $1.2 million, to special interest spending from oil and tobacco industries, which lobby for deregulation.
“This is no longer about choice. This is no longer about kids. It’s certainly not about civil rights,” he said. “It’s about deregulation. It’s about privatization.”
An independent expenditure committee called Parent Teacher Alliance sponsored by CCSA Advocates, the political arm of the CCSA, spent $910,791 on mailers supporting Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman and $304,355 to oppose Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, as of Friday, state campaign finance records show.
Friedman won the primary race, earning 31.9 percent of the vote total, capturing 24,372 votes, according to preliminary election results. Kassakhian finished in second place with 24.3 percent, receiving 18,618 votes. The two Democrats topped the eight-candidate ticket to replace outgoing Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, who could not seek re-election due to term limits. They will likely compete in the Nov. 8 general election. The election results will not be finalized until mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. Voter turnout in the district was about 29 percent.
Zimmer denounced the negative mailers sent by CCSA Advocates that flooded voters’ mailboxes in the district that includes Glendale, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge and parts of Los Angeles.
“It is base thuggery, no more or no less,” Zimmer said.
He called Kassakhian, whom he endorsed, the target of the mailers, an “innocent bystander” and said Kassakhian’s only crime was having a mother who was a public school teacher and support from teachers’ unions.
“I aspire to be half as decent a guy as Ardy Kassakhian is,” Zimmer said. “To take him out the way they did, to use the hate in those mailers, it’s a new standard of low. It has no rules, no boundaries, no ethics, no morals.”
The spending by charter school supporters in this race could be a preview of what will happen in March, when three seats on the LA Unified school board will be contested. Zimmer is up for re-election in what is sure to be a highly contested race. A challenger has already announced in the race. In 2013, Zimmer’s last re-election bid, millions were poured into the three races by outside groups. He captured 52 percent of the votes to defeat his opponent, Kate Anderson, who was backed by CCSA.
Marquez said his group supported candidates in Tuesday’s primaries who had a record of problem solving and independence from the status quo.
In response to Zimmer’s comments, Marquez said: “We obviously respectfully disagree with President Zimmer on his rhetoric and his characterization of our campaign.”
He said the organization’s mission is to “advance the public good” and give every student in every ZIP code an opportunity to have a quality education.
Zimmer accused the CCSA of trying to control lucrative procurement contracts. Charter schools are not subject to the same standards for selecting vendors as public school districts.
“The reality is that his statements are not rooted in evidence or fact, they are rooted in emotion, ideology and rhetoric,” Marquez said, noting that the majority of charter schools are run by non-profits.
Zimmer said charter schools are not an issue in the Assembly district, which is known for its strong public schools.
“This is a whole new thing to create an issue in an Assembly district where it’s not an issue and to do it in this way,” Zimmer said. “This is new. This is different. This is a message.”
Zimmer, who has the support of the teachers union UTLA, said he considers himself a “reasonable moderate” when it comes to charter schools. He has been supportive and critical of aspects of the charter school movement.
“The good folks who joined the charter movement because of a strong conviction about the rights of children should actually withdraw their membership from the CCSA because it is no longer an organization that has any tangential relationship to what I know to be the core of the charter movement,” Zimmer said.
Congratulations to my endorsed candidate to replace me, @laurafriedman43, who crushed the field to finish first last night against all odds.
— Mike Gatto (@mikegatto) June 8, 2016
With regard to the level of spending by CCSA Advocates in the race, Marquez said special interest groups had supported Kassakhian early on in the campaign. Campaign records show spending by the California Association of Realtors supporting Kassakhian in April.
Marquez said the mailers were used to draw a contrast between candidates and to shine a light on Kassakhian’s record as city clerk.
“We are very sensitive and very thoughtful about how we put out content that might actually be perceived as negative or impugning of the candidate at hand,” he said. “And so the idea we approach this work with willful disregard for the reality that there is a person on the other side of that mailer” is inaccurate.
In an interview Wednesday, Friedman said she felt “really good about the results.”
“I think it shows the work that we’ve done and that our message and my accomplishments have resonated with the voters,” she said.
Friedman, who was the subject of a negative mailer sent by the California Teachers Association, said she supports teachers and their right to unionize. She described herself as independent and open to creative solutions and outside the box thinking.
“I wouldn’t follow anybody’s agenda beyond what I think is best for kids,” she said.
“I think educators need to come together … to end the war that’s been going on.”
Friedman said that while the independent expenditure committee, which by law is not allowed to coordinate with the candidate, sent negative mailers, she kept her campaign positive.
“A lot of those messages were not things that we would have said, they’re not things that we did say,” she said.
Friedman was endorsed by Gatto, who tweeted: “Congratulations to my endorsed candidate to replace me, @laurafriedman43, who crushed the field to finish first last night against all odds.”
State campaign finance records show that about one-third of a record $27.9 million spent as of Friday by independent expenditure committees in legislative races statewide came from three groups supporting education reform, according to Rob Pyers of California Target Book, which provides a non-partisan analysis of state and congressional races.
In addition to CCSA Advocates, EdVoice, a non-profit organization that supports education reform but not solely charter schools, spent millions of dollars supporting candidates, mainly in Northern California races.
“We look for candidates that are willing to come to the capital of California and admit that the reality is not good enough,” said Bill Lucia, president and CEO of EdVoice.
He said there were a lot of open seats in this primary election cycle, which created an opportunity for new candidates “to come to Sacramento to fight for kids,” but also that it takes more financial resources to communicate to voters about who the new candidates are.
Here’s how other candidates who were financially supported by independent expenditure committees that support education reform fared Tuesday, according to preliminary election results:
In the 39th Assembly District contest in the San Fernando Valley, Democrat Raul Bocanegra took in 45.7 percent of the votes leading incumbent state Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, who had 26.9 percent of the votes. CCSA Advocates spent about $83,000 supporting Bocanegra, who lost the seat to Lopez two years ago. Lopez was endorsed by the CTA.
In the west San Fernando Valley’s 45th Assembly District, state Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Encino, received 49.2 percent of the votes, while Republican candidate Jerry Kowal edged out Democrat Doug Kriegel by about 3 percentage points, receiving 27 percent. CCSA Advocates spent about $89,000 to support Dababneh, who was also endorsed by the CTA.
In the open 38th Assembly District race, which includes Santa Clarita, EdVoice-backed candidate Dante Acosta, a Republican, finished second with 35.9 percent of the votes. EdVoice spent $5,000 supporting Acosta. Democrat Christy Smith finished in first place with 44.8 percent of the votes.
In the 47th Assembly seat, state Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto, held a 44.8 percent lead over Eloise Reyes, a fellow Democrat, who earned 34 percent of the votes. CCSA Advocates spent $166,812 supporting Brown and $13,440 opposing Reyes.
In the 31st Assembly District contest, state Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, held a 55.4 percent lead in his re-election bid over Republican Clint Olivier, who garnered 38.5 percent of the vote. CCSA Advocates spent about $93,000 supporting Arambula, who was also endorsed by the CTA.
In an open seat representing the 30th Assembly District, Democrat Anna Caballero had 45.7 percent of the vote followed by Karina Cervantez Alejo with 25.1 percent. Alejo, a fellow Democrat, is trying to succeed her husband, outgoing incumbent state Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas. CCSA Advocates had spent $745,699 to support Caballero and spent about $20,000 to oppose Alejo.
In San Jose’s 27th Assembly District, an open seat, Democrat Madison Nguyen topped the crowded ticket with 35.3 percent of the votes. She was followed by Ash Kalra, a fellow Democrat, who edged out Republican Van Le by about 3 percentage points. CCSA Advocates spent $1.2 million supporting Nguyen, the most of any single candidate, and about $35,000 to oppose Kalra, who was endorsed by the CTA.
Results in a tight race for the open 4th Assembly District seat, which includes Napa and Davis, showed EdVoice-backed candidate Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat, in second place behind Charlie Schaupp, a Republican. Schaupp had 29.1 percent of the votes, while Aguiar-Curry had 28.2 percent. EdVoice spent about $685,000 supporting Aguiar-Curry. CTA endorsed Democrat Dan Wolk, who finished in a close third place. EdVoice spent $103,607 to oppose Wolk.
Results in a close contest in the 24th Assembly District, which covers Palo Alto, showed Democrat Marc Berman with 28.2 percent of the votes followed by fellow Democrat Vicki Veenker with 21.8 percent of the votes. EdVoice spent about $648,000 supporting Berman. CTA endorsed Veenker.
Just 358 votes separated the top two finishers, both Democrats, in the 14th Assembly District race, which covers the East San Francisco Bay area. CTA-backed Mae Torlakson edged out Tim Grayson, who was backed by EdVoice, which spent $822,495 supporting Grayson and $266,730 opposing Torlakson. CTA spent $114,225 in TV ads and polling to support Torlakson.
In the open race for a seat representing the 3rd Senate District, which includes Napa, state Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who was backed by EdVoice, finished first with 37.1 percent of the votes, followed by Mariko Yamada, who took 29.1 percent of the votes. EdVoice spent $1.4 million to support Dodd.
*Updated to add:
Disclosure: LA School Report is the West Coast bureau of The74Million.org, which is funded in part by foundations whose board members have also contributed to the CCSA Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee and EdVoice.