OC Superior Court Judge Craig Griffin has ordered 2nd Supervisor District hopeful Vince Sarmiento to delete from his candidate statement a passage boasting of his endorsement by the Democratic Party of Orange Count. The judge ruled it violates long-standing state law against candidate statements including the candidate’s partisan affiliation or activity.
Sarmiento is the mayor of Santa Ana and considered the front-runner for the newly-drawn supervisor seat, which encompasses Santa Ana, most of Orange, Anaheim and Garden Grove. The challenge was brought by a Santa Ana resident, Ivana Unger.
In the closing paragraph of his candidate statement, voters are asked to “Please join the Democratic Party of Orange County, the Orange County Labor Federation, United States Senator Alex Padilla, and elected officials, organizations, and residents in supporting Mayor Sarmiento’s campaign for a brighter and more prosperous future for all in Orange County.”
Sarmiento battled hard to secure the DPOC endorsement. He sent each DPOC Central Committee member, Sarmiento declared, “I have unapologetically fought to advance, and ACHIEVE, the goals and priorities of the Democratic Party of OC.”
California Elections Code § 13307(a)(1) states “Each candidate for nonpartisan elective office in any local agency, including any city, county, city and county, or district, may prepare a candidate’s statement on an appropriate form provided by the elections official. . . . The statement shall not include the party affiliation of the candidate, nor membership or activity in partisan political organizations.”
Sarmiento’s attorney, Glenn Calsada, argued Sarmiento’s statement didn’t exactly say he was a Democrat, and citing a 1972 court case, Zapata v. Davidson, in support that claim.
Judge Griffin pointed out the Zapata case was vacated by the California Supreme Court two years later, is no longer good law, and that Calsada should not have cited it.
In his annual financial disclosure, Sarmiento states he is paid between $10,000 and $100,000 a year as an employee of Calsada’s law firm. These cases are usually litigated by attorneys experienced with election law, while Calsada specializes in bankruptcy cases and cannabis businesses. Calsada also represented former Santa Ana Councilman Roman Reyna in his criminal election fraud prosecution.
He went on to say that while “the challenged phrase does not expressly state Real Party is a registered Democrat. But it is virtually inconceivable that the Democratic Party of Orange County would endorse a Republican, or anyone else who is not a Democrat. Certainly, that is how voters will see it.”
“The manifest purpose of § 13307 is to keep nonpartisan contests truly nonpartisan,” wrote the judge in ordering the DPOC endorsement to be stricken. “The inclusion of a partisan political party endorsement in a candidate statement is simply an end-run around § 13307, and defeats its purpose.”
The voter guide, containing candidate statements, is the one piece of election mail every voter will receive. While it is difficult assess the precise political impact of court decision, political observers believe it likely Sarmiento – who has run for office many times – was aware state law prohibited mentioning his Democratic Party endorsement but decided to roll the dice since voter registration in the 2nd District is 48% Democrat versus 22.4% Republican (23.8% of voters are No Party Preference).