Pension activists back Democrat in Yolo County Assembly race

01/03/2014 8:20 PM

01/04/2014 10:26 AM

A former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who has pledged to help elect “a few courageous legislators” has found a candidate in the crowded race to replace a termed-out Yolo County lawmaker.

David Crane, a wealthy investor and registered Democrat who has advocated for overhauling California’s public pension system, has made the maximum contribution to Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, a Republican-turned-Democrat, running for a 4th Assembly District seat now held by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

Dodd faces a four-way Democratic contest that also includes Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, Napa County Planning Commissioner Matt Pope and Davis City Councilman Dan Wolk, the son of state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. The top-two finishers advance to November’s general election in a district that takes in Napa and Lake, and parts of Sonoma, Solano, Colusa and Yolo counties.

Dodd also reported receiving $8,200 maximum checks from Crane’s wife, Carla Crane, as well as from Bay Area investor John H. Scully, five members of the Fisher family, which founded the Gap clothing stores, and from Gregory Penner and Carrie Walton Penner. Gregory Penner is an investor who sits on the board of Wal-Mart, founded by his wife’s family.

Crane and Penner founded Govern for California, a group that emerged in the 2012 election to push a pro-business agenda that includes support for charter schools and an overhaul to reduce debt of the public pension system. Crane and the others now supporting Dodd poured more than $200,000 into the Assembly campaign of charter schools executive Brian Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for the San Fernando Valley’s newly drawn 46th Assembly District.

Crane spokesman Aaron McLear said Crane would have no comment on his contribution to Dodd.

“David is actively evaluating local and legislative candidates for the organization to support,” McLear said.

In a well-circulated email last year, Crane urged recipients to think of Govern for California as a “special interest for the general interest.”

“Because of the structure of the California Legislature, a relatively small bloc of citizen-oriented legislators can have a disproportionate impact on major issues,” Crane, wrote in the email in which he promised to “build a farm team.”

Both Krovoza and Dan Wolk signed onto a Nov. 26 letter to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed opposing his proposed ballot measure that would give public agencies the authority to prospectively roll back pensions for current employees.

In an interview, Dodd said he plans to remain neutral on Reed’s proposal despite being invited by supporters and detractors to join their efforts. “If I am going to be involved in negotiating something, I would prefer to come in without a lot of baggage,” he said.

“We are going to have to find some very creative solutions for the state of California, and that doesn’t mean all of them have to come out of labor,” he added. “That’s all I am going to say about that.”

Dodd said he hoped to one day be considered a “courageous” lawmaker but added the money he’s raised from Crane and other big-name donors from outside the district “is a pittance compared to the amount of money I raised in my district.”

In describing himself as a pro-business Democrat, Dodd said he has made no agreements with anyone on how he would come down on public-employee pensions or any other issues. Dodd said he has received campaign contributions from individuals with myriad concerns during his four terms in county office but that “doesn’t mean all of a sudden I am bought and paid for.”

Dodd, who has backed pension reforms in Napa County, said he switched his party affiliation more than a year ago after it became clear the Democratic Party better reflected his values on marriage equality, immigration reform and how to stem the shrinking of the middle class.

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