Modesto City Councilman Dave Lopez has made all the right moves, beginning with his revelation of last year’s SCAP scandal to the Modesto Bee.
It doesn’t much matter that a Grand Jury ruled Lopez should have brought the SCAP affair to the Mayor and City Council instead of the Bee. In going to the Bee first, Lopez positioned himself as a crusader for the public interest and endeared himself to Bee management—always a smart move for an ambitious politician.
Next, Lopez endorsed Jeff Denham in the Tenth Congressional District race against Jose Hernandez. Though a nominal Democrat, Lopez realized that anyone in this region with political aspirations had better burnish his right-wing credentials. In endorsing Denham, Lopez signaled he was willing to cast aside any Democratic allegiances he may have had in exchange for the opportunity to woo the right and tap its wealthy donors.
Denham is also a Bee favorite, and the Bee will now extoll Lopez as “reasonable” and “willing to compromise.” Translated, these are code for “agrees with us.”
It wasn’t long after Lopez endorsed Denham that the Bee started touting him as a candidate for supervisor. And shortly thereafter, Lopez made sure all the right people knew exactly where he was on the big local issue of growth and farmland preservation.
When Denny Jackman presented his Residential Urban Limits plan before the Modesto City Council on May 20, Lopez hectored him repeatedly, going so far as to say the 66.93% approval of Measure E (Stamp Out Sprawl) was due to “voter fatigue” rather than a sign that the region’s citizens want to control sprawl and preserve prime farmland.
While Lopez’s statement doesn’t survive the laugh test, it does place him squarely in the developers’ camp, and makes any attempt to distinguish between his and Monteith’s positions a moot point. Lopez can now count on identity politics, his (pseudo) Democratic affiliation, and the generosity of the Bee to portray himself as bringing change and moderation to the Board of Supervisors, who are uniformly white, male, and conservative.
At first glance, Monteith would appear to be in trouble. He’s eighty-one years old and no one can remember him ever accomplishing anything. But it’s his ability to keep a low profile that has served him so well in a now decades-long career as a professional politician.
While campaigning, Monteith almost never takes a clear stand on anything. Instead, he mouths the usual platitudes about the importance of farmland and jobs, and often says he’ll study the issues as they come up. Only insiders know he’s a rubber stamp for developers and not exactly eager to study anything but the wishes of money and power.
And Monteith is savvy enough to know that a third and even fourth candidate in the Supervisor’s race could easily derail Lopez. Many thought Monteith was past his pull date when he survived a strong challenge from City Councilperson Janice Keating in 2006. But, showing remarkable gall, Monteith actually used developer support for Keating’s campaign against her. He’ll be looking for others to jump in this race to siphon votes from Lopez (can you say “Balvino Irrizary”?).
Nonetheless, any way you look at it, Monteith versus Lopez is a developers’ dream come true. Anyone tempted to run will be up against big money and the Modesto Bee. The smart money will be on both horses in this race, and when you bet on all the candidates, it’s very hard to lose. Just politics as usual in Stanislaus County.