The Modesto Bee reported last week that Modesto City Councilman Dave Lopez intends to unseat Stanislaus County Supervisor Dick Monteith next election. Monteith told the Bee that he has no plan to retire. However, the 80+ year old incumbent could decide at a later date to retire rather than seek reelection.
If Monteith announces his retirement early enough, other candidates will probably join the competition. Historically, when an incumbent does not run for reelection, more candidates seek office. However, Supervisor Monteith may want to see Dave Lopez elected as his successor. If this is the case, Monteith will wait as long as possible to announce his retirement.
If Monteith waits to announce his retirement, other potential candidates won’t have time to organize a campaign for his seat. This would enable Lopez to run virtually uncontested or against a weak political organization.
Why Monteith Might Want Lopez To Replace Him
Lopez and Monteith have a similar philosophy about urban sprawl: the more the better. They might not admit this fact, but their deeds reflect it.
Dave Lopez helped stall the residential urban limit line proposal of Denny Jackman during City Council deliberations. In the past, he also voted for a major development infrastructure fee reduction which provided a large subsidy to residential developers.
Recently, Dick Monteith stalled a Stanislaus County general plan update that would have protected farm land. He promoted the Salida Plan, designating thousands of acres of prime farm land for urban growth.
Crossing Party Lines
Although Dave Lopez is thought to be a Democrat, he endorsed Republican Jeff Denham in the last Congressional election. Denham shares few values with mainstream Democrats, so the political loyalties and values of Lopez are unclear to anyone except those closest to him.
Dick Monteith is a loyal Republican. He’s been consistent in philosophy and action. If Lopez has become a Republican, Monteith might want Lopez to inherit his seat. Although the County Board of Supervisors is not a partisan political office, the Board is dominated by Republicans, most of them elected with the help of the Republican Party organization (Jim DeMartini funds his own campaigns).
If Monteith and Lopez both run, each will receive large sums of money to campaign. Most of the money will come from urban development interests who won’t care which candidate wins because both favor urban sprawl.
Impact Of Local Media
The primary local news source for most Modestans, the Modesto Bee, has reduced coverage of local political campaigns in recent years. The number and depth of articles profiling candidates has declined from 10 years ago. This might be attributed to internal budget cuts at the Bee, which has lost staff members. Therefore, money Lopez and Monteith will raise may enable them to drown out the voices of other competitors.
Voters may have to rely on name recognition and campaign propaganda to make their choice. The less media coverage, the more useful political advertising becomes to the candidates. Excellent candidates unwilling to commit future votes to raise campaign contributions may be overlooked by voters. Political advertising enables candidates to hide their true agendas, distort their record of accomplishment, make false claims, and mislead the public. When objective, robust media coverage by professional reporters makes an open and honest election much more likely.
Other candidates could draw votes away from Lopez or Monteith. Balvino Irrizary would get the “none of the above” voters, but receive no developer money in campaign contributions. He might get some help from the Democratic Party, but the local organization is not as active as the Republicans. If Monteith doesn’t run, Irrizary could make a better showing against Lopez and possibly win.
Other potential candidates are unknown at this time. If Monteith retires, the voters can expect to see names of other pro-urban sprawl candidates due to ready access to campaign money.
Dave Lopez’s Service to His District
Some constituents in the Lopez’s district think his performance as a Council member has been unsatisfactory. He does not attend community meetings in his district, such as the Woodland West Neighborhood Association. He has not attended meetings about the 132 freeway, which will affect his district. He does not follow up consistently with district constituents who contact him for assistance.
Lopez may be perceived as lacking accomplishment and accountability within his district. As an example, the streets in his district are swept maybe once a month and are rarely completely free of debris.
Has Lopez introduced any legislation, ideas or accomplished anything significant for his district in the five plus years he has served on the council? It will be interesting to see what he takes credit for when he starts to campaign. In politics, accomplishment should be the litmus test for higher office.
Dick Monteith has a lengthy political career in the State Legislature and has the incumbent’s advantage on the Board of Supervisors. Absent a smear campaign, he knows that he can easily overcome a challenge from Dave Lopez.
Council Member Unpopularity
No Modesto City Council member has won a seat on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in over 30 years. Unless Dick Monteith retires, he will probably win any campaign against any Modesto City Council member now and in the future.
Council members are not very popular with the public. On the Lopez watch, the council cut services, raised fees and increased subsidies for residential developers. As evidence of the bad reputation, Salidans are vehement in their opposition to annexation to Modesto. The recent spike in crime exemplifies the decline in the quality of life in Modesto. Who wants to elect a council member and spread Modesto’s woes county wide?
The Dave Lopez Job Strategy
Dave Lopez is running while holding a term of office that won’t expire before he would take office in a new job. If he resigned from his city office now so that someone who wants to serve can be appointed, he would show that he is serious about campaigning and confident about winning. The prediction here is that he will keep his Council job and do the minimum for his district up to the election. If he loses, as a lame duck nearing the end of his term limit, he will continue to provide minimal representation and service to his constituents until the end of an undistinguished term.