State Sen. Steve Glazer and Assemblymember
Catharine Baker at a town hall Saturday in Orinda.

LEGISLATURE | Democratic State Sen. Steve Glazer says there’s a place and time for campaigns and politics, but Saturday morning was reserved for the constituents that he and Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker jointly represent in their mostly Contra Costa County districts. Out to prove both sides of the political spectrum can work together during this age of partisan rancor, Glazer found the town hall experience surprisingly rewarding. “It’s not so scary. It’s kind of civil,” Glazer told an agreeing audience.

For both freshman legislators, extolling the virtues of bipartisanship in an age of government gridlock has proven to be sound politics. Each struck a chord in the past two years with large numbers of decidedly moderate voters. Baker easily defeated a well-funded Democrat two years ago and Glazer did the same by defeating Susan Bonilla in an expensive special election last May. “You’re seeing change right here,” said Glazer. And neither would have been elected, he said, without their zeal for bipartisanship. “We represent change and we need to keep it going.”

Baker, a Republican, could benefit from the 
appearance of Glazer’s support as she faces
a tough re-election this year against a 
member of Glazer’s Democratic Party.

On various fronts, Glazer is the unlikely poster boy for change. His persona and verbal deliver is dry, almost clinical, and more like a mortician than agent of political reform in uncompromising Sacramento. He believes the key to governance is simple. “Just represent your district. That’s a high bar,” he said sarcastically.

Baker arrives at the near center-right hand of the political spectrum less because of bipartisanship, but political survival. Being a Republican in the East Bay is somewhat akin to not only finding yourself on the Endangered Species List, but also the last of your own kind. Her election represented the return of an East Bay Republican to Sacramento for the first time in six years. “Bipartisanship takes courage,” said Baker. It also forces a legislator to be more creative in finding consensus with Democrats, she said.

However, if last weekend was any indication, Baker appeared less willing to dance with Glazer when it came to publicly acknowledging their similarities. On at least four separate occasions Saturday Glazer verbalized agreement over certain issues, but Baker failed to do the same. At least, in a manner specifically coupling their similar viewpoints. For instance, on barring public transportation employees from striking: “We’re in total agreement,” said Glazer. Baker, who is clearly on the same page, merely stated her ongoing reasons for opposing BART strikes. Earlier, Glazer added, “We don’t always agree, but I’m finding we agree more often.”

Whether this is a marriage of political convenience remains to be seen. Sitting before a fairly large number of voters for a Saturday morning in Orinda, Glazer and Baker sat at a table upright and expressionless, almost like a soon-to-be divorced couple in a lawyer’s office finalizing the splitting of their marital assets. Yet, despite the scene, the notion of a Democrat and Republican holding a joint legislative town hall is noteworthy for the typically one-sided deep blue world of East Bay politics.

While local Democratic politicos seem to have decided against challenging one of their own this election season in Glazer, who despite being a registered Democrat, is loathed by labor unions. Special interests groups and Big Labor have twice spent large amounts of money in an effort to derail his political aspirations. Glazer is running for a full four years in the State Senate after serving out the remaining term of Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. Instead, party leaders, including the outgoing assembly speaker, believe Democrats can take back Baker’s seat. And that’s the problem many rank-and-file Democrats have with Glazer’s aggressive association with Baker.

To them, Glazer’s appearances with Baker—Saturday was the second of six town halls together—may undermine the chances of Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former Pleasanton councilmember who announced her candidacy in the 16th Assembly District in November. In fact, one of Glazer’s first comments Saturday appears destined to be a direct mailer compliments of the Baker for Assembly re-election campaign. “I have a very strong partner in Catharine Baker,” Glazer said. When asked about the inherent conflict occurring during a contentious election year, Glazer said in an interview. “That’s politics. There’s a time and place for that.”

“It’s going to happen at some point, but this is the time for governing. I know that political hub-bub will happen as we get closer to November and I’ve never been one to rush that ahead,” he said.

Back in 2010, Glazer recalls Gavin Newsom was busy organizing over 20 town halls in an early bid for governor later to include Jerry Brown. “The people said, Jerry, ‘Why aren’t you declaring?’” said Glazer. “Our focus was let him do his job. There will be a time for politics.”

In terms of this year’s anticipated election cycle including Baker’s re-election against Cook-Kallio, Glazer said, “I know there’s a political tint that will come… There always will be the observers making the assertion that something is a political choice.”

Glazer, in fact, isn’t the only moderate Democrat in the area who has hobnobbed recently with Baker. Rep. Eric Swalwell, who represents a portion of the same district in Congress, appeared in a town hall last year with Baker and shared a byline for an opinion piece on regional transportation.

The nexus is also the common bond Glazer and Baker struck with the constant drumbeat both pounded in opposition of the BART strikes starting more than two years ago. While the rest of the Bay Area has long moved on from those days of workday transportation uncertainty that paralyzed the region, for Contra Costa County voters the issue is a focal point of scorn toward government inaction and general distaste for labor unions.

Over the weekend, Glazer penned an opinion piece warning of another disruption in train service on the horizon. On Saturday, Baker also remarked of another strike within the next 18 months if both sides do not begin negotiations in earnest. The latter posed by Baker as a looming threat. In this front, Glazer and Baker not only share a common constituency, but also seemingly perpetual wedge issue likely to drive Democrats mad and allow Republicans to ponder a path to respectability in the East Bay.