Why Allen lost
Published: Monday, December 10, 2012 at 1:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
Last June, following the primary elections, I was asked to speak before a local group regarding California’s new open primary, where the top two vote-getters in partisan elections made it to the fall run-off elections, regardless of party affiliation.
At that time, I said that it appeared that this significant change could well lead to the pulling of the political discourse more to the center of the spectrum. To support this thesis, I cited the fact that San Rafael city council member Marc Levine, a moderate Democrat, finished second and would be running against heavily favored incumbent Michael Allen.
It is sort of a truism in politics that primaries are often won by the more extreme elements of either major party, while general elections are more often decided by the centrists. In areas such as the North Bay, where Democratic registration far exceeds that of Republicans, the political center really hasn’t had much clout, and the primary winner was almost always triumphant in November.
Well, this fall the political center, moderate Democrats and independents, aligning with Republicans, repudiated one of the most influential Democrats in the State Assembly, Michael Allen. This coalition defeated a Democrat who outspent his opponent, Levine, by a margin of six to one.
So what happened? Why did Levine beat Allen? I think there are several reasons, and only one of them is the open primary — although in the end, it was indeed a major factor, since it is unlikely a Republican could have beaten Allen.
First, Allen, who had previously represented Santa Rosa but lost his district in redistricting, got an apartment in San Rafael in order to run in the Marin portion of the Sonoma district, instantly opening himself to charges of carpetbagging.
Allen was locked in with the area’s unions at a time when voters are furious about large pensions being awarded to government employees.
Allen was vulnerable because of instances of campaign finance violations. And, in Petaluma, he made what many consider to be a major tactical mistake when he directly involved himself in city politics on behalf of the “progressives” at a time when this group’s prospects weren’t all that bright. Allen involved himself in a successful, and widely reported, effort at the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee to block an endorsement of Gabe Kearney for Petaluma City Council.
Large numbers of Kearney supporters, as well as backers of Mike Healy and Kathy Miller, most of them Democrats, took notice. Allen was expected to do much better in Sonoma County than Marin, and he did do slightly better here, but still lost the vote in both counties. At the time this was written, the vote breakdown in Sonoma County was not available, but it is a good guess he fared more poorly in Petaluma than other cities here.
All of these factors contributed to a political crash and burn for Allen, but I think there is one more factor that should be mentioned. Most likely prompted by polls showing Allen was in trouble, his campaign launched a frenetic mail campaign composed primarily of “hit pieces,” most of them bringing into question Levine’s character and his fitness for office.
At least one of these pieces arrived in the mail box daily in the last couple of weeks before the election. Together, they constituted one of the most vicious political assaults I’ve ever witnessed locally. It was political overkill, and I think it turned a lot of voters off. One indicator that this might be true is that Allen led in Sonoma County right after Election Day with 51 percent, but after thousands of last-minute absentee ballots were counted, he lost Sonoma County as well. If anything, the smear campaign didn’t work.
There have to be some important political lessons to be learned here for those who aspire to higher electoral office in the future.
FOOTNOTE: In a previous column discussing the efforts of Mayor Glass, former Mayor Torliatt, and Assemblyman Allen to influence the recommendations of the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee, it could be inferred that the Committee’s endorsement of Jason Davies was a result of those actions. That was not the case. Davies’ endorsement was already established before the exertions of those three.
(Don Bennett, business writer and consultant, has been involved with city planning issues since the 1970s. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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