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Jason Dominguez Eager to Serve as Middle Man on Santa Barbara Council

Candidate who pursued support from all corners of new district vows to be an independent voice from the center

Santa Barbara City Councilman-elect Jason Dominguez, center, on Election Night. He’ll take his seat on the council next week and says his immediate focus will be on next year’s budget, labor negotiations and El Niño preparations. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara City Councilman-elect Jason Dominguez, center, on Election Night. He’ll take his seat on the council next week and says his immediate focus will be on next year’s budget, labor negotiations and El Niño preparations. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

Timing is everything in politics. For Jason Dominguez, perfect timing earned him a seat on the Santa Barbara City Council.

In the city’s first district elections in more than four decades, the 47-year-old attorney zipped out of nowhere to win the Eastside district.

He was neither the favorite nor the also-ran, but, much like his politics, the guy in the middle, who ran a whip-smart race and watched gleefully as it all came together on Election Day.

Dominguez’s victory is markedly more notable in that the lifelong Democrat was rejected by the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, which backed another novice candidate, Andria Martinez Cohen.

Rather than complain about the rejection, he turned resourceful.

“I went after everyone’s support,” he told Noozhawk.

Dominguez, the sole new member of the council, will be sworn in on Jan. 12 with Cathy Murillo and Randy Rowse, both of whom were re-elected in November.

He is also the second Latino on the council, alongside Murillo. The City of Santa Barbara last year agreed in a court settlement to switch to district elections, responding to a lawsuit that alleged the city’s at-large election system had resulted in an underrepresentation of Latinos on the City Council.

Many backers of the district elections lawsuit had endorsed one of the plaintiffs in the race, Jacqueline Inda, while the Democratic Party establishment — from Murillo to county Supervisor Salud Carbajal — had backed Cohen.

Dominguez’s odd-man out status ended up working out. Instead of the outcast, he became the independent.

“People didn’t have a vote of confidence in the other candidates,” he said.

Dominguez went around the community touting his credentials, distinguishing himself as the candidate with the most impressive résumé.

His career background is as eclectic as was his campaign; he is the former executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, a director at the California Rural Legal Assistance and legal officer for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal.

Dominguez once worked as an attorney in the County Counsel’s office, and as deputy city attorney and deputy district attorney for the City of Los Angeles.

In March 2015, he started his own nonprofit organization called the Justice Center of Santa Barbara, through which he provided elder law and immigration services to his clients. He put the organization on hold when he decided to run for the City Council.

Dominguez openly admits he doesn’t stay too long at any one place.

He says he loves to travel and is driven by a desire to help people. He once worked in the Netherlands as an attorney fighting “environmental crimes.”

Dominguez’s mother was an elementary school teacher and his father was an accountant and served in the Korean War. His grandfather worked in a steel mill, and he learned union values from him — “a day’s work,” he said. 

When Dominguez failed to earn the Democratic Party’s support, he sought backing elsewhere but knew that direct contact with voters would help him the most.

He was not new to politics. He had volunteered on behalf of candidates and had lost a previous campaign for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

This time he courted Milpas Street businesses and some conservatives. He knocked on thousands of doors and encouraged many college students who lived in the district to register to vote.

“The most efficient gains to be made are through youth,” Dominguez said. 

When he decided to run he asked himself: “Is there a need to run? Is their a leadership vacuum?” Yes there was, he concluded.

Dominguez said his focus in 2016 will be the 2016-2017 budget, labor negotiations and preparation for potential El Niño-related flooding. He wants to focus on area youth and on issues that affect all Santa Barbarans.

He promises that he won’t be a partisan councilman. When dealing with party leaders, he said he will ask them what they want to achieve in Santa Barbara and “to the extent I agree with them I will help them.”

Dominguez says he wants to meet people in the middle.

“I want to emphasize that issues are not always us versus them,” he said.

He said he will respect the voters with each vote he casts.

“I want to do as much research as possible,” he said, “and keep ideology out of it.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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