Betty Yee declares victory in controller race

Betty Yee declares victory in controller race

Betty YeeIt isn’t over till it’s over, as Yoga Berra famously said. A recount still is possible. But Betty Yee has declared victory in her race for state controller over Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

Entering the California Democratic Party’s spring convention, Board of Equalization member Yee’s campaign faced a juggernaut.

With more money, power and influence over convention delegates, Perez, then the Speaker of the Assembly, seemed the inevitable Democratic nominee for state controller.

“With an army of paid interns, volunteers and campaign aides — and endorsements by most of his Democratic colleagues in the Assembly — John Perez made a major push for the party’s endorsement this year,” wrote Damien Luzzo, a convention delegate and member of the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee.

Perez had a substantial advantage in delegate appointments, in part because members of the Assembly are entitled to make five appointments to the state party convention. All but six of his Democratic colleagues in the Assembly backed Perez’s campaign. Under party rules, all endorsement votes are public in order to make delegates more accountable to their appointing official or committee. That meant that, for Yee to block an endorsement, she needed state convention delegates to risk their own appointments.

Shrewdly, Yee’s campaign turned it into an advantage. While not specifically naming Perez, Yee told delegates that hardball tactics, political intimidation and a 3-to-1 financial advantage for one candidate were how Republicans won.

It also helped that Yee, who has earned a reputation as a mild-mannered numbers-cruncher on the state’s tax board, gave the best speech of her career.

“Democrats, we are just as guilty of getting sucked into the influence of money and power about which we criticize Republicans,” Yee said shortly after successfully blocking the party from endorsing in the race. “It is time we have politics shaped by our values, rather than our values shaped by politics. If not, I believe Democrats will continue to lose ground with respect to the electorate.”

The thinly-veiled criticism of Perez exposed the fault lines within the state’s supermajority party and made Perez vs. Yee about more than two candidates.


With all the provisional and late absentee votes tabulated, Yee has taken second place in the race for state controller, besting her fellow Democrat by just 484 votes. Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, already easily secured the other spot in the run-off with more than a million votes in the June 3 primary.

The difference between second and third place, just one hundredth of one percent, is so close that a recount still remains a possibility. But now the tables have turned: Perez must face the Democratic Party’s power brokers, who no doubt would prefer to avoid a costly and divisive recount.

The controller’s race, the closest candidate race and second closest statewide election in California’s history, has remained too close to call in the month since Election Day. The day after the election, Yee lingered in fourth place behind Perez and unknown Republican David Evans.

Evans, who was largely ignored by the mainstream media and did not spend enough money to file a campaign finance report, was just 2,436 votes behind Perez, the top fundraiser in the race. As county registrars of voters worked their way through more than a million late absentee and provisional ballots, Evans temporarily claimed second place, even as Yee narrowed her gap with Perez.

In the ensuing weeks, Yee and Perez swapped insignificant leads in a race that would come down to the last votes in the last county. Yee held an 861-vote lead — before Lake County’s final 6,000 ballots were counted on Monday.

“I want to thank the voters of California for their trust and support,” Yee said in a written statement declaring victory with no votes left to count. “I look forward to bringing my extensive finance experience into the office of controller.”

Yee claims victory, but Perez hasn’t conceded

While Yee has declared victory, Perez’s campaign, as of Tuesday morning, was unwilling to concede defeat.

“There are still votes to be counted,” Pérez’s political consultant, Doug Herman, told KQED’s John Myers by email. “We look forward to the final vote count.”

Officially, Lake County held the only outstanding ballots in the race. However, Perez’s campaign may have been alluding to a possible recount that could target disqualified ballots.

“One of the goals of any recount would be to get more of your supporter ballots counted,” said Paul Mitchell, vice-president of Political Data, Inc., a company that specializes in election data. “So, this could mean going into counties where there is a large potential for ballots that were disqualified because of signature problems, and digging through those to find any that can be challenged.”

He added, “This can be particularly fruitful among older voters and foreign language voters who have specific issues with signature verification.”

Expensive recount “crap shoot”, the first outlet to raise the possiblity of a recount in the race, has spoken to election experts who say that a recount is essentially a “crap shoot.” Within five days of the Secretary of State’s official results, any voter can request a full or partial recount. California’s recount rules, which require the requester to pay, grant tremendous leeway for a recount to be started and then immediately stopped.

“It’s completely unfair unless they do a re-canvass of the whole state,” Jimmy Camp, a Republican political consultant and expert on ballot counting, told last week.

Consequently, if Perez requests a recount in one of his counties, it could trigger Yee to request a recount in one of her strongholds, as a defensive maneuver.

Financial and political cost of a recount

A bitter recount would further exacerbate the divide between the two Democratic camps and allow Swearengin to gain ground. The direct financial cost could also prove to be a major hurdle. Last month, in the 31st Congressional District, third place GOP candidate Lesli Gooch, who was just 209 votes behind Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, requested a recount. Gooch picked up a single vote in a recount that cost her campaign $6,330. If applied to the state controller’s race, it would cost Perez $3.06 million potentially to gain the 484 votes that he is currently down.

As of the last campaign finance report, Perez had $1.8 million in cash on hand.

“Relying on grassroots and personal integrity, Yee, once again, showed that grassroots activism and her genuine personality can easily trump the onslaught of big money,” Democratic convention delegate Luzzo wrote back in March.

But if Perez mounts a serious recount effort, Yee will need to overcome “the onslaught of big money” one more time.

California State Controller: Election Results as of July 1, 2014

Candidate Votes Percent
Tammy D. Blair 200,531 4.964%
John A. Pérez 877,707 21.729%
Betty T. Yee 878,191 21.741%
David Evans 850,104 21.046%
Ashley Swearengin 1,001,469 24.793%
Laura Wells 231,351 5.727%

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