Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams holds a news conference.
Surrounded by supporters, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams holds a news conference Thursday to counter claims by his challenger, Laura Capps, that he has ties to Big Oil. (Courtesy photo)

The Democrat-on-Democrat battle for the First District seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors exploded again on Thursday when incumbent Das Williams held a press conference to defend his record — and his supporters took political shots at his opponent, Laura Capps.

“I think it is a very bizarre thing to be attacked for having bipartisan support in a time when that’s more critical than ever,” Williams said. “This is Santa Barbara, not Washington, D.C. We value working across the aisle. We value civility, and we value delivering results for our community.”

The Capps campaign has accused Williams of working with Big Oil interests because he is supported by people who are pro-oil on the South Coast.

Capps’ senior strategist, Lindsay Bubar, said that Williams is supported by Joe Armendariz, director of energy and special projects for the “pro-drilling” Santa Barbara County Technology & Industry Association, and Cory Bantilan, chief of staff to Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. Bantilan is also one of the organizers of the political action committee Central Coast Residents Supporting Das Williams for Supervisor, which has attacked Capps in mailers.

At Thursday’s press conference at Lookout Park in Summerland, Williams acknowledged that he has Republican supporters.

“I have always considered it a badge of honor to have some folks who used to be my adversaries turn into allies,” Williams said. “I always think that should be treated more as a sign of character than a badge of shame.”

The Williams vs. Capps contest has escalated into one of the most acrimonious political campaigns in decades. Williams is trying to get re-elected for a second term on the board amid a strong challenge from Capps, who kicked off her campaign blasting Williams for accepting donations from cannabis growers in Carpinteria. The battle between the Democrats has ripped apart alliances and loyalties, with speculation that it could take years before all of the spilled bad blood — no matter the outcome — is cleaned up.

Williams is endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, but Capps is also a Democrat, and the daughter of Lois Capps, who served more than a decade in the U.S. Congress, and who is revered among many longtime locals. The party has chastised Capps for running when her and Williams agree on a majority of the issues. The party has had to share resources between the First District and Third District supervisor races. The Third District is a swing district, where Joan Hartmann faces a challenge from Bruce Porter. It is unusual for a Democrat to challenge a standing Democrat for political office in Santa Barbara County. 

Katie Davis, chair of the Santa Barbara Sierra Club, defended Williams. 

“I have never thought I would see the day when Das Williams would be attacked for being in the pocket of Big Oil,” Davis said. “It’s her right to run, and there are legitimate issues to debate, but oil is not one of them. It is a lie. It is simply a lie to say Das is not on our side when it comes to oil and that he can be bought by the oil industry, which is what her campaign is saying.”

Davis said Capps’ candidacy could potentially hurt Hartmann. 

“It was a little bit of a surprise to a lot of us fighting this oil takeover that Laura Capps chose to run against environmental standard-bearer Das Williams,” Davis said. “It detracts from resources to the Third District, which is a key swing district. By choosing to run and distract from that swing race, Laura Capps increased the risk of that oil takeover.”

Davis called Williams “the most eloquent climate advocate on the South Coast. He could not be more qualified, and we need that experience more than ever.”

Gail Teton-Landis, chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, said she was trying to remain quiet about the First District supervisor’s race because she knew that when the race was over she would need to unify the party and “heal some wounds.” But she is no longer silent. 

“When Das, a committed environmentalist, is accused of taking oil money, I feel compelled to speak,” Teton-Landis said, adding that the accusations “border on ridiculous.”

“On the environment, Das has been committed and constant,” Teton-Landis said. “To say otherwise is laughable. We need to focus on actual records, not accusations. I would hope that any candidate for public office would run on his or her record and policy proposals, not on misinformation.”

Bubar, Capps’ strategist, said there are several proposed drilling projects before the county in the coming weeks, including at Cat Canyon and the Plains Pipeline. 

“The Plains All American Oil Spill spewed 142,800 gallons of crude oil onto our home environment, one of the most biologically diverse coastlines in the U.S.,” Bubar said in a statement. “We deserve to know why those behind Plains All American are the poster boys for the ads for Das Williams. Something doesn’t seem right here — and our community deserves answers.”

Bubar asked in her statement: “Will Das be clear about where he stands on these upcoming oil projects, including Cat Canyon and the Plains Pipeline?”

Williams, a longtime environmentalist who drives an electric car, said he is disgusted by the tone of the Capps campaign. 

“This community had civility,” Williams said. “It had an ability to stick to the issues, and we should do our best to return to that.”

Williams was surrounded by dozens of supporters at the press conference. For the first time in the campaign, he acknowledged some mistakes.

“I, like every other human being on the planet, I am always working on improving, growing and trying to become better,” Williams said. “Of course, I have made mistakes in my service, and I have learned from those mistakes and apply them to future decisions. I am deeply committed to this community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.