AD 16 PREVIEW: The Passive-Aggressive Assembly Race

Assemblymember Catharine Baker and former Pleasanton Councilmember Cheryl Cook-Kallio in the race to represent parts of Contra Costa County and the Tri Valley in the Assembly’s 16th District.

MEET THE CANDIDATES Assemblymember CATHARINE BAKER just sort of fell from the sky two years ago and gave the region’s Republican Party a reason to thank their lucky stars. The freshman GOP lawmaker also settled in quite quickly in Sacramento. Baker, A former Pleasanton attorney, Baker was given a modicum of leeway in voting outside of the GOP’s box on a few high-profile issues such as the childhood vaccination controversy last year. Baker voted in favor of Senate Bill 277 while other Republicans voted no. Baker was the only Republican to vote for Senate Bill 32, the comprehensive climate-change legislation strongly favored by Gov. Jerry Brown. A recent Sacramento Bee study found Baker’s voting record showed she was the Republican most likely to vote with Democrats in the Assembly. “I’ll listen to any good idea regardless of the partisan label it came from and think outside the traditional box that is coming out of Sacramento,” said Baker. She also reflects the GOP’s ideology for lower taxes, less regulation. CHERYL COOK-KALLIO is a former member of the Pleasanton City Council and a retired high school civic teacher. She ran for mayor in 2014 and fell short. But despite Baker’s first-term record, the 16th Assembly District’s composition of moderates voters and a smaller than normal registration advantage for Democrats makes this seat a perennial battleground. Assembly Democrats also realized the path toward a two-thirds majority in the Assembly runs through the Contra Costa County and Tri Valley seat. Enter Cook-Kallio who supports the party’s desire to push a menu of progressive reforms to education, climate-change, and gun control, among other issues. Gov. Brown even took the step of endorsing Cook-Kallio.

WHAT THE BEEF? This should be known as the Passive-Aggressive Assembly Race. Make no mistake, this race has been vicious, albeit, it seems, with both trading barbs with a friendly smile. “I think we’ve been underserved in the 16th Assembly District,” said Cook-Kallio, who often peppers her stump speeches with references to her support from Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). That’s because Cook-Kallio has used Baker’s votes against preventative care for women as a hammer since back in the June primary. And despite Baker’s record of voting in favor of gun control legislation, Cook-Kallio has focused on her opponent’s votes to weaken or block those bills from coming to a vote. At one forum, Cook-Kallio said, “I think we’re all smart enough to look at comprehensive gun violence prevention.” Meanwhile, it’s no doubt, teachers’ unions are opposed to Baker. For a second straight campaign, she has highlighted the need, she says, for eliminating teachers tenure and seniority. Consequently, teachers’ unions have spent a treasure chest to defeat Baker just as they unsuccessfully attempted in 2014. Baker’s onslaught against labor has continued this Fall with her opposition to public transit union strikes. In many ways, it’s the issue that got Baker elected in the first place. “I do not think BART workers should have the ability to strike and keep the entire Bay Area immobile,” Baker said bluntly. She also differs with Cook-Kallio in opposing any changes to Proposition 13. But among many differences between the candidates, the defining question in this race is a push by both to portray the other as sheep in wolf’s clothing. Baker’s repeated pledge to foster bipartisanship in Sacramento is met with Cook-Kallio’s response that Baker’s moderate record is a facade hiding a rigid conservative ideology. Baker says voters don’t know who Cook-Kallio really is. “I don’t fill out the secret vote promises from the special interests in Sacramento. My opponent does and refuses to show them to voters like you and me,” Baker said at one forum. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by both campaign, IEs and others on mailers that drive home this essential theme against each campaign.

THE NUMBERS
2016 JUNE PRIMARY…………………….VOTES….PCT
*Catharine Baker (R)………………….70136   53.5%
Cheryl Cook-Kallio (D)………………..60947   46.5%

2014 GENERAL ELECTION…………………VOTES….PCT
Catharine Baker (R)………………….,68598   51.5%
Tim Sbranti (D)………………………64484   48.5%

MONEYBALL
             -JUL-SEPT24-           -2016-
AD16          IN      OUT         IN     OUT       CASH
BAKER    806,832  583,311 1,659,393 1042,337 $1,209,263
C-KALLIO 856,944  626,240 1,435,181 1026,305 $  435,834

OUTLOOK Baker represents different things to different segments of the electorate. As the only Republican in the East Bay’s legislative caucus, Baker is the lone bright light in an otherwise dismal political landscape for conservatives. Conversely, for Democrats, she is Public Enemy #1. The California Democratic Party has spent more than $1.2 million to support Cook-Kallio. That’s just the party alone with IEs spending nearly the same amount–petroleum special interests for Baker, teachers’ unions for Cook-Kallio. The normally cash-strapped California GOP has even spent $800,000 on Baker’s behalf. That shows just much this seat is in play. A win for Cook-Kallio takes Assembly Democrats even closer to their desired two-thirds majority and almost unfettered control of the agenda in Sacramento. In addition to Cook-Kallio’s strong financial and institutional support, the November electorate, likely boosted by record numbers of newly-registered Democrats, presumably ready to vote for Clinton, is a big wildcard in this toss-up race. (Baker does not support Donald Trump, by the way.) But Baker has her own inherent strength, moderate voters in the district who have shown to be easily stoked by anti-BART (anti-union) rhetoric. The playbook as created by Baker and state Sen. Steve Glazer has repeatedly shown voters in this district can be energized by this issue. Throw in Glazer’s slight wrinkle of charging the labor-backed candidate with hiding their answers to confidential union questionnaires and you have a template for victory that Baker is wholeheartedly employing this Fall.

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