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The IdleD Rich: From left to right, Emily Reilly, Bill Monning and Barbara Sprenger are the top fundraisers in the race to fill termed-out Assemblyman John Laird's seat but are stuck in neutral until Feb. 5.

The Waiting Game

The Feb. 5 term limits initiative has Santa Cruz and Monterey candidates for Assembly cooling their heels.

By Steve Hahn

With corporate and union contributors holding their wallets closed until February's vote determines the fate of legislative term limits, candidates for the District 27 Assembly seat are working vigorously to collect as much money as possible from individuals. Most of the candidates say they'll drop out after the February elections if Proposition 93 passes, since it would allow incumbent Assemblyman John Laird to serve up to 12 years in the Assembly instead of having to transfer out after six, as is currently required (if Prop. 93 loses, he'll be termed out). The popular Laird won 76 percent of the vote in the 2006 general election; recalling this, all but one of the candidates have promised to drop out if Prop. 93 becomes law.

But if it fails, candidates promise to put their fundraising efforts into overdrive and initiate more aggressive campaigning.

The contenders in this race, which will effectively be decided in the June primary election unless a Republican challenger emerges, include Stephen Barkalow, Douglas Deitch, Bill Monning, Emily Reilly and Barbara Sprenger. Of these, only Deitch has vowed to continue his campaign regardless of events on Feb. 5.

Deitch, a water activist from Aptos whose sole campaign issue is saltwater intrusion into the Pajaro Valley aquifer, has promised to hire John Laird back onto his staff with a hefty raise if he wins, though. He doesn't plan on accepting any monetary contributions for his election bid.

For all the other candidates, however, the effort to raise enough money to hit the ground running if the initiative fails in February has been a serious endeavor.

As Bruce Van Allen, campaign manager for Bill Monning, notes, "We're getting ready to use the money we have raised so far to reach out to more contributors."

Stephen Barkalow, a Monterey-based chiropractor, just entered this race in August. So far he has raised approximately $25,000, mostly from his patients, friends, family and fellow chiropractors.

The three big campaigns are running fairly close in the fundraising race. Sprenger, an engineer and water activist from Felton, has raised a total of $118,366 over the past year, with $50,846 of that between the months of July and December. Former Santa Cruz mayor and current Councilwoman Reilly has raised somewhere between $108,000 and $112,000 over the last year, with $50,000 coming in during the last half of the year. Monterey College of Law professor Bill Monning's campaign has made $97,627 over the entire year, with $75,000 coming in during the last half of the year. A large portion of that came in during December.

This is already serious money, but campaign managers predict a big change if Prop. 93 fails.

Sprenger's campaign manager, Jim Graham, notes, "If Prop. 93 doesn't pass there will definitely be more money coming in."

Most political action committees, unions, interest groups and developers have refrained from spending their money at a time when they would traditionally be giving lavishly to their favorite candidate. After all, there's little point in funding a candidate who may very well quit the race in a month.

This means almost all the money raised so far has come from individual contributions, a majority of which are under $1,000. The maximum contribution allowed for an individual donating to a legislative candidate in California is $3,600.

Sprenger has received donations from 212 separate individuals. The average donation was $271. Reilly received over 500 individual contributions, with the average contribution being $150. Monning's campaign received money from 440 contributors donating an average of $199 each.

With money from interest groups on hold, the three leading candidates have also put in a good deal of their own money. Sprenger invested $61,000 in herself over 2007, with $36,000 of that coming in the last half of the year. Reilly gave herself $4,000 in 2007. Monning similarly loaned his own campaign $10,000, although he hopes to make at least some of that back by the end of the race.

While the serious money contributors may be waiting on the sidelines, it is useful to glance at some of the individuals who have contributed to each campaign so far.

Sprenger served as trustee of the San Lorenzo Valley (SLV) School Board from 1998 to 2006 and has therefore attracted the support of many in the education community. The biggest name to contribute so far is Susan Midori Jones, a negotiator for the California Teachers Association. The specific dollar amount of her donation was unavailable by presstime. Sprenger also received $300 from District 16 Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who leads the California Democratic congressional delegation.

Graham points to the financial and vocal support Sprenger has garnered from two organizations she was heavily involved with as evidence of her political credentials. Four of the five SLV board members she served with and all of the members of Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) steering committee, which she sits on, have supported her campaign thus far.

"It shows she is hands-on when it comes to education and she's very involved in environmental issues," says Graham. "She knows water policy in and out."

Reilly's political career has been forged in the fires of Santa Cruz city politics, and the big names who have donated so far reflect this focus on hometown network building. Peter Beckmann, owner of Beckmann's Bakery and co-founder of Think Local First Santa Cruz, gave $250 to Reilly's campaign. Former Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice gave Reilly a modest contribution of $100. One of the larger contributions came from Nell Newman, owner of Aptos-based Newman's Own organic food products. She gave $3,100 to Reilly's campaign.

Joseph Quigg, CEO of the development firm Easy Access Inc. and the force behind such artistic endeavors as the Hide Gallery and the Attic, shoveled over $2,000 for Reilly's election bid. Reilly also received a check from Betty Yee, a democrat who sits on the state Board of Equalization, although the exact amount of the contribution was not available by presstime.

Reilly's campaign manager Katie Merrill, who helped get Barbara Boxer elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, thinks the donations from Reilly's base shows she has a good political reputation, which she will strengthen when she begins campaigning in South County and Monterey.

"There's a deep and broad base of support in Santa Cruz, where she has been mayor twice and city councilwoman for eight years," says Merrill. "I think it also shows she has the potential to raise a significant amount of money from the rest of the district once we know if term limits passed or not."

In the case of Monning's campaign, most of the big name individual contributors come from the labor movement, reflecting his work as an attorney for the United Farm Workers from 1976 to 78 and as directing attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance Migrant Farmworker Project from 1978 to 1982. While the specific figures were unavailable by presstime, Van Allen reports that Nane Alejandrez of Barrios Unidos, Frank Gallegos of the Teamsters local 890 and Mark Weller of UNITEHERE 483 have all personally given some money to the campaign, and the latter two may give more in their official roles as union stewards.

Some big players from across the negotiating table have also given money to Monning, including Rick Antle of the Salinas Valley lettuce grower Tanimura & Antle. Van Allen says this donation reflects Monning's skills at advocating for farmworkers without alienating big agriculture.

Van Allen points to another instance, one in which sheriff's deputies in Castroville were being accused of racial profiling of Latinos and Monning brokered a solution. Allen cites Monning's subsequent endorsement by Monterey County Sheriff Mike Kanalakis, a Republican, as proof that Monning can effectively bring two sides of an argument to agreement through peaceful means.

"It has been said that politics is an extension of war by other means," notes Van Allen. "I think Monning is the candidate best able to mediate conflicts towards peaceful ends."

Monning is also one of the more experienced campaigners in this race. He placed second out of 26 in a 1993 race for the 17th Congressional District, when then-sitting Congressman Leon Panetta became the White House chief of staff. He lost to Sam Farr, the man currently holding the position. In 1994, Monning tried for the District 27 Assembly seat, winning the primary but narrowly losing the race to Republican Bruce McPherson.

Of course, none of this really matters if Prop. 93 is approved by a majority of voters on Feb. 5. But if not, voters should expect a blitzkrieg of lawn signs, town hall meetings and mailed advertisements between February and June.

"It's going to be a yearlong campaign shoved into four months," says Merrill

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