Elk Grove's 21st Birthday - Some Political Fun Facts Part II 2012 - 2021

Yesterday Elk Grove celebrated its 21st city, and now that the city has grown through the growing pains of childhood and its teen years, it is a full-fledged adult. Even though the city is legal, we have a few more years until it is entirely free from Mom and Dad, and that will be when we finish our revenue neutrality agreement with the county.

During our teen years, Elk Grove became a bit more sophisticated but still had political problems as it went through its teenage years. In 2012, there was a significant shift in political dealings in the city.

Directly Elected Mayor

The Elk Grove voter approved-initiative in 2010 to directly elect a mayor starting in 2012 marked a shift in the political landscape. The first mayoral election drew six candidates, included two city council members, Gary Davis and Sophia Scherman.

For Davis, the election was a safe bet as he was halfway through his second four-year term. Scherman, as you will recall from yesterday's post, had her district drawn out of existence, so this was her chance to remain on the council or be left out.

Davis easily won the election, which triggered a cascade of events. Given he was moving from a council member to mayor, Davis had to vacate his seat, which created a vacancy which the city council would be best be filled by appointment. 

The appointment was at an impasse after Davis and Councilmember Jim Cooper sought to appoint then Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Nancy Chaires. They were blocked by Councilmembers Steve Detrick and Pat Hume. 

Even though Cooper resolved to hold a special election after they deadlocked on every possible appointee, Davis was afraid the high cost of the special election would politically be damaging, and Hume exploited his fear.

Hume suggested former Elk Grove Unified School District Superinetnetnat Bob Trigg as a placeholder for the seat. Even though Cooper objected, Davis blinked and agreed to the Trigg appointment.

True to his word, Trigg did not seek the seat in 2014. 

Another election cycle, another appointment

Less than two years after Trigg's appointment, there was yet another city council vacancy. This time it was for the city council seat vacated by Cooper upon his election to the California Assembly.

Even before Cooper won his seat, word was out that Darren Suen had been wired for an appointment. Sure enough, even though the city council had a dog and pony show allowing others to apply for the seat, Suen was appointed without the controversy. 

Before his appointment, Suen had twice opened committees to run for city council. Call it good luck or, more likely, being the beneficiary of political payoffs, for Suen, why run for office when it can be delived like a pizza at your front door. 

Davis drops out, the third appointment to the city council 

After being unopposed in 2014 after his first two-year term, Davis looked to be a sure thing for reelection in 2016. As late as July 2016, Davis had only one announced opponent, then Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease. 

While Spease had some name recognition, Davis was nonetheless the front runner. Then in early July, Davis dropped a bombshell and announced, for still murky reasons, he would not seek a third term.

With filing deadlines drawing close, several candidates jumped into the race, including Elk Grove Councilmember Steve Ly, who was elected to a four-year term in 2014 to the seat formerly occupied by Davis.    

With the support of Davis, an impressive fund-raising machine, and the distribution of small gifts ala Pat Hume's 2006 legendary potholder distribution, Ly easily won his seat. Just as in the previous two elections cycles, a vacancy was created when Ly, who was the first directly elected mayor in the country of Hmong, vacated his seat halfway through his first term.  

Stepping into the void was Stephanie Nguyen, who was appointed to the vacancy. Although well-known in Sacramento circles for her work as the executive director for Asian Resources Inc.,  and her unsuccessful run for the Sacramento County Office of Education board in 2016, Nguyen was unknown to most Elk Grove residents.  

With Nguyen's early 2017 appointment, Elk Grove had placed three councilmembers in less than four years. 

The change to by-district voting, representation

Even though the idea of by-district voting and representation had floated around Elk Grove for years, the Elk Grove City Council steadfastly was in opposition. For their parochial reasons, the city council members opposed changing from the from-district system fearing it would make elections more competitive and accessible.

Even though they dug in their heels on the issue, led primarily by Suen who feared he could be run from office (see video), they finally relented. However, the only reason they relented was from the legitimate threat of a civil rights lawsuit. 

For all bluster about the evils of by-district voting, the change did not affect Suen as he was easily elected in his first by-district election in 2020. 

Failure to launch

Noted syndicated political columnist and former PBS News Hour commentator made an astute observation about the ambitions of elected officials. Paraphrasing Sheilds, he said that every morning there are 100 U.S. Senators who look themselves in the mirror convinced they could be the next President of the United States.

The same can been said of most elected officials, including Elk Grove City Council members. While the scale is not a grandiose as U.S. Senators, undoubtedly, they look at themselves and say, "why not me?"

So how is the record of council members seeking higher office? So far, it's a mixed bag.

The biggest success story of moving up the political food chain is Cooper. After serving 14 years on the city council, he was elected to the California Assembly in 2014.

But even Cooper's ascension has not been linear. Cooper unsuccessfully ran for Sacramento County Sheriff in 2010, and is considering another run for the position in 2022, but is reportedly even reconsidering that candidacy. 

After being involuntarily eliminated from the city council, Sophia Scherman failed in her primary run for the Republican nomination in the 2012 California Assembly in the days before the top-two finisher system. Scherman has since won a seat on the Florin Resources Conservation District, which governs Elk Grove Water District, but this is a step back in political stature. 

Suen, who has long had political ambitions, unsuccessfully challenged Steve Ly for mayor in 2018. Now, as Cooper contemplates another run for sheriff, Suen and Nguyen are exploring running for his seat should he leave the Assembly. 

One of the more interesting cases in failure to launch is Davis. People may not recall, but in 2010 Davis entered the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Rep. Dan Lungren.

Not long after Davis entered, he withdrew when Dr. Ami Bera, who had far better financing, announced his candidacy. Bera lost to Lungren in 2010 but defeated him by a narrow margin in 2012 in a more favorably drawn congressional district. 

After leaving office in 2016, Davis tried maintaining his visibility by appearing in TV commercials. After pulling his support for Ly's reelection in 2018 for Suen, Davis contemplated running for mayor in 2020.

More recently, Davis announced his candidacy for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. But even that has proven to be problematic.

Although he has not made any formal announcements, Davis has seemingly abandoned his candidacy. Not coincidentally, the abandonment came after Hume announced he would run for the District 5 seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.  

Of course, there are other elected officials, notably Ly, who had political ambitions but suffered defeats. All of these defeated politicians can get back in the game ala Richard Nixon, but the odds are long, as demonstrated by Davis' experiences. 

We'll close this by noting this for our elected officials currently serving  - Once you are out of office for more than a couple of years, to the all-important donor class, you are just another schmuck on the street.  

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Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2021. All right reserved.


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