When our founding fathers wrote Article 1, section 2, clause 2 of the United States Constitution, they had no idea that a state as geographically expansive as California might one day exist. If they had, they’d likely have added a requirement that House candidates not just live in the state they’re running to serve, but also in the district within that state that they seek to represent.
But clause 2 reads simply, “No person shall be a representative who shall not have attained to the age of 25 years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.”
Leaving aside a discussion of the word “he” in that clause, including a district residency requirement for a state’s representatives would have eliminated a whole lot of political grief for 21st century residents of CA25. It might even help Democrats – who now outnumber Republicans by a steadily increasing margin – flip the district blue for good.
For more than 20 years, local Democratic activists have expanded party registration and built support for our candidates. Our efforts were rewarded with Katie Hill’s election to Congress in 2018 as the first Democrat ever to represent this purple, suburban-to-rural House district straddling the L.A.-Ventura County border.
So why do Democrats still have a hard time winning in CA-25?
Carpetbagging. That’s why. (I use “carpetbagger” in its contemporary context: a political candidate who seeks election in an area where they have no local connections.)
An opportunist’s paradise
Outsiders run here because it’s a competitive district. They run here because they can. They see CA-25 as a venue for building their political profile. And when they lose, they leave…not caring that they’ve left a weakened Democratic candidate in their wake.
In every recent campaign cycle, CA-25 Dems have endured a veritable parade of interloping political opportunists.
In 2016, L.A. Westside Democrat Bryan Caforio, who at least had the courtesy to move to Santa Clarita before declaring, won the primary but lost to Republican first-termer Steve Knight in the general election.
In 2018, Caforio competed in the primary with Democratic locals Hill and Jess Phoenix. Hill won the primary and then rode the 2018 women’s wave to a November win over Knight.
After Hill stepped down just nine months into her tenure, Democrat Christy Smith, then serving in California’s 38th State Assembly District (which overlaps with about 60% of CA-25), won a plurality in the special election primary but lost the low turnout special election in May to Republican aerospace executive and former fighter pilot Mike Garcia.
She and Garcia also placed one-two respectively in May in California’s jungle primary contest for the new 2021-22 congressional term.
Smith fended off several Democratic carpetbaggers in that primary, including progressive online provocateur Cenk Uygur, and northeast L.A. resident Christopher Smith, who stayed in the race only until it was too late to pull his likely-to-confuse-voters name from the ballot. Uygur sold his home in Orange County and moved to the South Bay (several House districts away from CA-25) that year, while asserting he was the best choice to represent the people of the still distant 25th. Smith prevailed, but the primary battle left sore feelings among some Dems, who then sat out the special election.
Then, Smith’s COVID-observant 2020 general election campaign ran into Garcia’s mask-less, in person, large-crowd, right-wing crusade. His supporters set up illegal ballot collection boxes at area churches. And he and the GOP lied, blatantly and unrelentingly, about Smith’s legislative history and her position on multiple issues.
Ignoring health guidelines and disregarding the truth paid off for Garcia – but just barely. He won the November general election by a mere 333 votes, in a district that gave Joe Biden a 10.2% margin of victory.
Here we go again
As CA-25 Democrats prepare to challenge Garcia again in 2022, Smith is competing against one other in-district Democratic official, Ruth Luevanos, the only Democrat on the Simi Valley City Council. Political experts consider the two women the most likely contenders to face Garcia in November 2022.
There’s one other not-a-carpetbagger candidate: Dara Stransky, a three-year Lancaster resident with no history of political involvement or public service. Her online campaign announcement asked people to follow her “for more ways to be awesome and make random political moves!” She identifies as an “avocado eating millennial/ruiner of the doorbell industry…I practice imaginary arguments in the shower, my cat eats crayons.”
And then there are two carpetbaggers: Rhoda Nazanin, a San Fernando Valley Democrat who lives outside the district and told a local Democratic activist that she has no intention of moving into CA25 if elected; and La Jolla Navy intelligence veteran and former diplomat John Quaye Quartey.
Quartey is seen as this election cycle’s drop-in-and-damage-the-Dems candidate.
He made no effort to meet with CA-25 Democratic leaders or clubs, Indivisible groups or other public issue organizations before announcing his run. His campaign seems well endowed, but his funding sources are a mystery.
His online presence is filled with supportive messages from people across the country and around the world, but virtually none from CA-25 locals. The names of several who eagerly boost him on Twitter are familiar to Smith supporters, who challenged their pro-Uygur, anti-Smith tweets last year.
Quartey’s business, which he launched in 2018, is based in La Jolla, although he told The SCV Proclaimer that he has since set up a Valencia branch of his “entrepreneurial investment firm formed to acquire and lead a single privately-held enterprise” …whatever that means.
His La Jolla home is currently under contract, but there’s no record of him having bought a home in CA-25. He told The Proclaimer that he’s already moved to Santa Clarita, but then told a Democratic activist from the Simi Valley corner of the district that his family hasn’t moved yet because their new home is being painted. He voted in La Jolla last November and is still registered there.
Quartey also told The Proclaimer that, while he commends his Democratic opponents for their public service, he thinks they “don’t have the depth” he does.
That not-so-subtle dismissal of an all-woman roster of competitors won’t go over well in a district where women volunteers turned out the vote in Katie Hill’s successful 2018 campaign. Female voters might have found some justification for Quartey’s assessment if he’d meant it only for Stransky or Nazanin, but Stransky hadn’t even declared when he made the remark, and Nazanin may be a political naïf but is professionally accomplished.
And, as Michael Kulka, a Santa Clarita Valley Democratic activist, member of the State Central Committee and alternate to the L.A. County Democratic Party Central Committee, observed, “Christy is the leading candidate. She was a policy analyst in the U.S. Department of Education, a member of President Clinton’s Family Involvement in Education Initiative and the Asia Pacific Economic Forum’s education subgroup. She founded an education technology non-profit in Santa Clarita, served for nine years on the Newhall School Board, and authored or co-authored 17 bills during her term in the California Assembly. She serves the district – not just her party.”
“The other likely candidate,” Kulka said, “is Luevanos, a career educator, long-time public issues advocate, and the first Democrat to win a seat on the Simi Valley City Council.”
“‘Depth’ isn’t just about being in the military,” he declared. “The work of a U.S. House member is about more than military funding or foreign affairs. Voters want to know what our representative can do to help us deal with the problems we face in our everyday lives. Quartey has said nothing about any of that. That’s pretty shallow if you ask me.”
Jodie Cooper, a Simi Valley resident, executive vice president of the Simi Valley Democratic Club, and 2021-22 AD-38 delegate who Quartey contacted recently by phone, found his answers to her questions unconvincing.
“I asked him why he chose Santa Clarita. He said it’s because his biracial children can have an ‘easy’ life and a ‘sense of community’ there.” Whether Santa Clarita would be more welcoming to Black residents than La Jolla, Cooper added, is an open question in her mind.
She then asked Quartey what Dem clubs he’d reached out to. “None. I’m still down here in La Jolla.”
“I said ‘Bullshit! We’re all still meeting on Zoom, so there’s no reason you couldn’t connect. Do you know ANY grassroots people here? Do you think we’ll support you when you don’t know us? Did you Google my name? You should have. The first thing you’d see is me being quoted in an L.A. Times article where I talk about carpetbaggers coming into [CA-25].”
His response? Silence, Cooper replied.
No matter the foolhardiness, no matter the futility – carpetbaggers are poised once again to chip away at the likely Democratic candidate’s margin of victory in CA-25. Once again, political opportunists seem unconcerned about damaging her reputation. And once again, local Democratic activists predict the same outcome.
As 2021-22 AD-38 delegate and Indivisible CA-25 Simi Valley-Porter Ranch leader Leanna Brand told Quartey when he called her, “We go through this every two years. You’re just the next guy. How soon are you going to move out of Santa Clarita after you lose?”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author do NOT reflect those of The Proclaimer or Radio Free Santa Clarita, its board and supporters.