Cabaldon in strong position to fill Dodd’s District 3 Senate seat

With Democrats dividing the vote three ways, Republican Thom Bogue, a Jonestown Massacre survivor, held the lead as of early Wednesday morning.|

In the hotly contested battle to replace termed-out State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, in District 3, Chris Cabaldon, a progressive from West Sacramento, jumped to an early lead among the candidates with a realistic chance of winning.

As of 3 a.m. Wednesday, Gabaldon had 26.8% of the vote, putting him in second place behind Republican Thom Bogue, a member of the Dixon City Council, who led with 29%.

With a trio of Democrats dividing the vote three ways, Bogue stands a strong chance finishing first or second, and thus advancing to the November runoff, where his odds will be slender given Democrats’ 2-1 edge in voter registration.

In third place, with 20.3% of the vote, was Rozzana Verder-Aliga, the vice mayor of Vallejo who’d been anointed by Dodd, and the state’s Democratic party, to succeed him. Paying little heed to those endorsements were Jackie Elward, the pioneering Rohnert Park City Council member, and Cabaldon, the deeply connected, longtime mayor of West Sacramento.

Elward had 17.1% of the vote as of early Wednesday morning.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Cabaldon allowed that “the initial results are indeed encouraging, and while we are optimistic, we recognize that every vote counts and every voice matters. We are committed to giving our election officials the time they need to ensure every ballot is counted and eagerly await the final tally.”

This sprawling district of just over 1 million people stretches from Rohnert Park across the heart of Wine Country — Sonoma Valley and Napa County — all the way to the Sacramento River. It includes the I-80-corridor cities of Vallejo, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, Davis, and also dips like a comma down to Antioch and Brentwood.

Verder-Aliga moved to America from the Philippines at age 23, then earned masters and doctoral degrees in counseling psychology at the University of San Francisco. In addition to her 27 years working for Vallejo schools and her time on the City Council, she worked as a therapist and counselor.

Her “superpower,” according to her website, “is listening.”

With half the vote counted, it appeared that not enough Democratic voters were hearing Verder-Aliga’s message.

Instead, they favored the more progressive Cabaldon, a professor of public policy at Sacramento State University who decided to run for mayor of West Sacramento in 1998, expecting to “serve two years, fix some things and then move on,” he told an interviewer in 2019.

Instead, he spent the next two decades as mayor and is credited with transforming West Sacramento from a moribund industrial municipality to a magnet for entrepreneurs now recognized as one of America’s most “livable” small cities.

Cabaldon’s formidable resume includes eight years in the state Assembly as chief of staff to the Appropriations Committee chair and staff director for the Committee on Higher Education.

He is a former vice chancellor of the state community college system, and served as president and CEO of an advocacy group aimed at reshaping public education to better serve low-income groups.

The race devolved in recent weeks into an unseemly free-for-all as special interest groups spent millions on negative ads and direct mail attack pieces — many with little factual basis.

One mailer accusing Cabaldon of “stabbing labor in the back” depicted a menacing knife — an attack ad made more grotesque by the fact that Yolo County is in the midst of prosecuting a 21-year-old suspected of stabbing two people to death in Davis, and nearly killing another, in a series of attacks in April and May of 2023.

Another misleading mailer, sent out by groups opposing Elward, accused her of allowing “the largest homeless encampment in the region.” Below, it added that homelessness had “increased 48%” on Elward’s watch.

In fact, Elward was a key player in shifting Rohnert Park’s homeless population to a single, city-sanctioned encampment on Roberts Lake Road, then transferring those people experiencing homelessness to the 60-unit Labath Landing complex.

The mailer was described by Rohnert Park vice mayor Gerard Giudice as “profoundly inaccurate” and “so egregious, it’s hard to comprehend.”

Should Bogue move through to the runoff, his chances will be as remote as his back story is remarkable.

As a teenager he lived in Jonestown, Guyana, the Peoples Temple’s settlement founded by cult leader Jim Jones.

Bogue was shot during the 1978 rescue mission spearheaded by Rep. Leo Ryan, whom he listed, while filling out a Ballotpedia questionnaire, as someone whose example he would like to follow.

Ryan “had no fear in representing his constituency, nor in investigating government actions which negatively impacted citizens,” replied Bogue, who is now serving his third term on the Dixon City Council.

He is passionate about addressing the “onslaught of crimes which has infested our communities,” he shared with Ballotpedia, and reversing “attacks on parental rights,” and addressing homelessness “with more than just talk and token projects.”

He recently lamented that “we are treated as free-range humans living on a tax-farm. We are the first ones taxed and the last ones considered.”

The race also attracted what political consultant Matt Reilly, who worked for Verder-Aliga in the campaign, as a “tidal wave” of special-interest money.

Groups opposing Elward, including one that advocates for gas and oil interests, spent more than $1.3 million against her.

While that money may have helped keep her out of the runoff, said Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan, those deep-pocketed groups were also “working to make an electoral example” of Elward, who pointedly refused to take contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

“What they’re doing is signaling to other competitors and other groups of legislators and their staffs the lengths they’re willing to go.”

The race to replace Dodd “is also about battles going on within the legislature itself,” said McCuan, who described Dodd as “an important player at the center of the caucus, the center of the action.”

Noting that Verder-Aliga carried Dodd’s stamp of approval, McCuan said that “if Rozzana goes down, the revamping of the Senate pro tem political operation will be more extensive” than it otherwise might have been.

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was sworn in as President pro tem of the Senate in early February.

The political operation of the pro tem’s office, said McCuan, is charged with “working with lots of different interest groups and actors within the capitol, to help build a strong political operation on behalf of leadership.”

If Verder-Aliga doesn’t crack the top two, McCuan predicted, McGuire will have a freer hand reshuffling that political operation.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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