Local Politics

Monday, Oct 22 2012 06:11 PM

Ashburn attacked for tax vote, DUI

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Sharp claws are coming out as the race for 1st District supervisor shifts into its final two weeks.

Candidates Mick Gleason and Roy Ashburn promised not to resort to personal attacks on each other's character during the campaign.

But Gleason's supporters, including Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, and former state Sen. George Runner, now a member of the Board of Equalization, have attacked Ashburn's record and person in recent days.

And Ashburn is calling it dirty play by Gleason's campaign manager, Mark Abernathy.

"Those who want to forget his drunken driving arrest at 2 a.m. in a taxpayer-paid vehicle are welcome to forget, but I remember that also," Grove's wrote in a statement printed by the Ridgecrest Daily Independent. "That's why I've endorsed Mick Gleason."

Gleason said he wouldn't have gone there.

"I personally don't feel it's fair for me to bring that up," he said. "I've never had a DUI. But the last thing I want to do is say Mick Gleason is as pure as the driven snow."

He said he didn't talk to Grove about her statement.

Grove said she didn't talk to Gleason before she gave a statement to media outlets who wanted her to respond to former Congressman Bill Thomas' recent endorsement of Ashburn.

To her, Ashburn's decision to drink and drive in his state-funded vehicle in March 2010 is relevant to the discussion of Ashburn's qualifications. (Ashburn pleaded no contest to misdemeanor drunken driving).

Ashburn has acknowledged the incident and asked for forgiveness.

Grove said his support of a state budget that increased taxes in 2009 is certainly an important point -- a betrayal of his constituents.

After he termed out of the state Senate two years ago, Ashburn was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, where earns a six-figure salary, Grove points out.

The job, she believes, was payback for his budget vote.

The issue of Ashburn's voting record, Gleason said, is fair game.

"In 2009 he increased our taxes. It was the largest tax increase in the history of California," Gleason said.

Ashburn doesn't deny the vote. He stands by it, saying it was the right decision in a unique crisis.

But, he said, the Gleason campaign is failing to put the budget vote in perspective.

At the time, the state was in fiscal crisis and by voting for $11 billion in taxes that expired after 18 months, Ashburn said, the Democrats agreed to make $16 billion in permanent and ongoing cuts to state bureaucracy.

Without the budget deal, the state would have been unable to get financing in a money market savaged by the housing market crash, he said.

"I did what was necessary in a time of severe crisis. It was not something I wanted to do," Ashburn said. "Everyone knew it had to pass. There were people who didn't have the courage to make that vote."

Gleason said the issue is simple.

"He raised taxes," Gleason said.

He said personal attacks on Ashburn are not something he will do.

But Gleason did post a link on his campaign Facebook page to the online version of a letter to the editor printed by The Californian from Russell Smith.

The letter goes after Ashburn on two points Gleason said he wouldn't raise personally -- his "lifestyle" and his DUI arrest.

Ashburn revealed he was gay after the arrest in Sacramento.

"... now that he's come forward about his new lifestyle, apparently his politics have changed," wrote Smith. "I don't care what he does in his personal life (except when he's driving drunk in a vehicle we paid for), but I am concerned about trusting the convictions of a man whose only loyalty is to his own career."

On Sunday, Gleason heaped praise on the letter via his Facebook page.

"...There is a clear distinction between myself in terms of conservatism, leadership, honesty and integrity, and Mr. Russell makes that point clear in his Letter to the Editor. Thank you kind sir for your words and support. God Bless!"

Gleason said he doesn't know Smith and linked to his letter because it mentioned a number of different problems with Ashburn that show Gleason's the better candidate.

Ashburn thinks Gleason went too far with the Facebook post.

"I say that's now part of his official campaign," Ashburn said. "He needs to take ownership of everything that is done in his campaign."

Ashburn, for his part, has been predicting that things would get personal, saying Gleason isn't in control of what his campaign consultant, Abernathy, has done on his behalf.

In their early October meeting with The Californian's editorial board, the two men promised to keep the campaign clean.

"I have great respect for Mick Gleason and his service to our country and as an individual, as best I know him. And so I'm running only to present my record and my service to the people," Ashburn said.

Gleason said he would not go personal but that Ashburn's voting record in office was fair game.

But even in that meeting, the first hints of conflict came out.

Ashburn said Abernathy would launch personal attacks and accused Gleason of admitting that he isn't "fully in control of his campaign," referencing statements by Gleason that he didn't anticipate the $31,418 debt he built up to Abernathy in the last two weeks of the primary campaign.

"I happen to think this will get very personal," Ashburn said.

"There's a personal attack right there," Gleason fired back.

"No it's not. It's a statement of fact," Ashburn said.

"I am in control of my campaign," Gleason responded.

On Monday, both men stood by their approach to the issues of the race and its tone.

"I will not go negative. I'm running a positive campaign based on my record. I'm extremely pleased about the people who have stepped forward to endorse me," Ashburn said.

"I think it's been a fair campaign. I think our criticisms are legitimate," Gleason said.

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