Saturday, November 03, 2018

Beckles' Chevron Money is Shockingly Irrelevant

Way at the bottom of my elections predictions post, I revealed that I was supporting Buffy Wicks for my local Assembly race. It was a contest I was undecided on even three weeks ago, but then I found out that Wicks' opponent, Jovanka Beckles, had voted for Jill Stein in 2016 and ... well, that "decided" things real quick for me. It was more than just a "protest vote" (though that'd be bad enough), she was actually pushing the "DemExit" line and urging African-American voters to rethink their "loyalty" to the Democratic Party (which, I can't count the ughs).

That said, despite endorsing Wicks in that post I also predicted a Beckles victory. It seemed like her campaign was showing more energy and hustle than Wicks, and while Berkeley's reputation for wild-eyed radicalism is in this day and age significantly overstated, it's still the case that a Berkeley- and Richmond-centered district is one in which a candidate with Beckles' profile could do well.

Now, Berkeleyside reports that we finally have a poll in the district, and it indeed shows Beckles narrowly ahead. There are reasons to take a grain of salt with it: it's a Beckles internal, it's within the margin of error, and it actually shows Wicks with better favorability ratings. That said, Wicks hasn't released her own numbers, and while Assembly races are rarely polled, it's hard for me to imagine that given Wicks' massive resource edge over Beckles that she hasn't done some internal polling of her own. If she had better numbers, I think we'd see them.

But that's not what this post is about either. The most interesting thing about that Berkeleyside article comes in the middle, when it reveals who funded the poll for Beckles: a group called California African American PAC whose backers include Chevron (as well as many other corporations and like groups). This is a bit embarrassing for Beckles, as much of her line of attack on Wicks has been of the "funded by X which includes Y who supported Z" variety, and so Wicks is unsurprisingly making hay. Beckles has since disavowed the funding (its an independent expenditure, so she can't actually do anything about it); though Wicks pointed out that this was a convenient position for Beckles to take after they've already dumped a bunch of money into doing polling work for the campaign.

All of this, I have to say, is pretty standard-issue political sniping, and normally I'd tune it out. Indeed, for me, this demonstrates just how stupid this whole "funded by" line of attack is. I get why Beckles had to disavow the cash (and I get why Wicks is nonetheless making hay over it), but it also feels profoundly stupid.

Simply put, Jovanka Beckles has made her career on fighting Chevron. Say what you will about her, but I have zero concern that if and when she gets to Sacramento she'll suddenly be in Chevron's pocket because of this expenditure, and it frankly strikes me as flat-bonkers to believe otherwise. Beckles can't control who spends money on her behalf, and neither she nor any other politician is an automaton obligated to dispense favors in exchange for campaign cash (I've often joked that if I were running for office -- which I never want to do -- I'd happily take coal money: it'd be a redistribution of wealth away from destroying the planet and towards things like reproductive justice).

So I'm sure Wicks appreciates the hypocrisy, and I'm sure Beckles is a tinge embarrassed. But really, this happenstance does more than anything to convince me that the "who's funding who" line just isn't germane in a race like this. I have a very particular reason for backing Wicks over Beckles, one that relates to Beckles' own judgment. I don't need to make an off-the-wall inference regarding the agenda of a funder-of-a-funder to get there, and I think that's a frankly silly reason to make a decision in a race like this.

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