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Santa Barbara County Democratic Party Leaders May Alter Endorsement Process Timeline

Possible changes considered after withering criticism of last year’s early endorsements for Santa Barbara mayor, council

Daraka Larimore-Hall, board member of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, says the party must find the “sweet spot” in the timing of candidate endorsements. Several Democratic politicians attended Saturday’s party meeting, including Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, Santa Barbara Mayor-elect Cathy Murillo and Goleta City Councilman Kyle Richards. Click to view larger
Daraka Larimore-Hall, board member of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, says the party must find the “sweet spot” in the timing of candidate endorsements. Several Democratic politicians attended Saturday’s party meeting, including Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, Santa Barbara Mayor-elect Cathy Murillo and Goleta City Councilman Kyle Richards. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County might change its timeline for endorsements after public criticism of its process during last year’s municipal election in Santa Barbara.

“There needs to be a balance,” Daraka Larimore-Hall, Party board member, said at a community meeting Saturday at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.

“We need to find the sweet spot where we are not waiting too long or endorsing too early.”

The party faced a backlash from some Democrats last year after it endorsed City Council District 4 candidate Jim Scafide in March for the November election. Fellow Democrat Kristen Sneddon formally entered the race in July and, without the party’s endorsement, easily won the seat, defeating Scafide and Republican Jay Higgins.

The Democratic Party’s endorsements are typically influential because they bring a network of volunteers who walk precincts, make phone calls and campaign for their candidates.

Sneddon exposed a few holes in the process. Even though she jumped in late, she quickly piled up support from some influential Democrats, raising questions about the fairness of the party’s endorsement process.

Still, her election could be an anomaly. As a political matter, party organizations usually try to endorse early in the campaign cycle to create buzz and fundraising dollars for a single candidate.

From a strategic perspective, the Democrats want to present a unified voice to the voter base. If multiple Democrats are in the race, votes could split, and a Republican could win a seat. It’s a typical party organizational strategy to clear the field and rally behind the party’s chosen candidate — and it usually works.

The Democratic Party also was criticized for endorsing Councilwoman Cathy Murillo for mayor in March, without interviewing Democratic candidates Hal Conklin and Harwood “Bendy” White. Murillo went on to be elected mayor, though, and will be sworn in on Jan. 9.

Larimore-Hall said Murillo was ready and prepared for an interview, while Conklin asked the committee to wait two months for an interview and White didn’t respond.

“If you are running for mayor and you really care, you adjust things to get before the Democratic Party,” said Gail Teton-Landis, the party’s chairwoman.

Candidate Jack Ucciferri, a District 6 council candidate, also criticized the party for endorsing eventual winner Gregg Hart without giving him an opportunity to interview. Party chair Landis said that Ucciferri was given the opportunity to interview but chose not to apply. 

“We are willing to look at the time when we do endorsements,” Teton-Landis said.

She also said the party has redesigned its website to better explain the timeline of its endorsement process.

Larimore-Hall, who serves as vice chairman of the California Democratic Party in addition to his local party duties, said the sweet spot is key, but the party can’t wait until August, the month of the filing deadline for City Council elections, to make its endorsements.

“That’s not politically sound,” he said.

The endorsement process will hit its next cycle in February when the party must decide which Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors candidate to endorse in the Second District. So far, only Susan Epstein, a Democrat, has announced plans to run. Hart is rumored to be considering a run, but has neither confirmed nor denied the speculation.

Current Supervisor Janet Wolf, who has represented the district for 12 years, has decided not to run for re-election in the June primary.

Wolf was present at Saturday’s meeting. She urged the party to embrace candidates who announce after the endorsement process and accept elected officials who endorse candidates who weren’t backed by the official party.

“It is incumbent on us to work together as a family and not deride someone because of their choice,” said Wolf, who endorsed Sneddon in the council race.

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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