DAVIS — Republican-turned-Democrat Bill Dodd says he’s neither an opportunist nor a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The 4th District Assembly candidate prefers to call himself pro-business, “fiscally responsible” and moderate to liberal on social issues.
He also can be called this: front-runner.
That’s true in early polls, at least, and in fundraising, where he’s amassed $675,000 in contributions.
A 14-year Napa County supervisor, Dodd will face four Yolo County candidates in the June 3 open primary.
They are Democrats Joe Krovoza and Dan Wolk, Davis’ mayor and mayor pro tem, respectively; and Republicans Charlie Schaupp, an Esparto farmer and retired Marine, and Dustin Call, a legislative aide and University of California, Davis student.
Dodd, 58, swapped parties in fall 2012. The same year, he backed Republican John Munn against winning Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.
That was just horse-trading, Dodd says: He agreed to endorse Munn if the Napa GOP stayed neutral on a sales tax measure – one worth $650 million for roads – that needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It did.
Dodd notes that he’s endorsed his share of Democrats over the years – including Dan Wolk’s mother, State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and, many times, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
Thompson’s name sits atop a long list of wine country elected officials who’ve endorsed Dodd, who could be the first Napa County resident in the Assembly since 1980.
A supervisor’s closeup look at social services helped reshape Dodd’s political views, he says.
He supports abortion rights, gay marriage and immigration reform. He’s also worried about the shrinking middle class – “I don’t see Charlie (Schaupp) or people in their party being that concerned about that,” Dodd says.
He still finds common ground with Republicans on government efficiency and overregulation.
“We’ve got to a get a budget that has structural balance, so that every time Wall Street sneezes we’re not cutting back on education,” he says. “On the other hand, during the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the Legislature passed so many bills that negatively impacted small business. That’s a problem.”
Napa’s GOP has endorsed Schaupp. Says county chairman Kevin Hangman, “Bill’s a nice guy, and we still consider him our friend. I think he would be a better fit in the Democrat party. He’s a bigger-government kind of guy: the answer is more spending and higher taxes.”
Dodd’s new affiliation little surprised two Democratic supervisors, Brad Wagenknecht, who, like Dodd, represents the city of Napa, and Keith Caldwell of American Canyon. Both have endorsed their colleague.
Wagenknecht once harbored a grudge against Dodd, who defeated one of Wagenknecht’s friends to win office, but he says Dodd won him over with dedication.
“One of the reasons I think he’d be good in Sacramento is he likes to get to the bottom line and make things happen. He’s the one that will call and call and call people he’s working with,” said Wagenknecht, who calls Dodd “an irresistible force.”
It was Wagenknecht who introduced the newly minted Democrat at a party meeting.
“People like to think their politicians stick their flag in the ground and say, I’m never going to change,” Wagenknecht says. “He’s always been pretty socially liberal, but I think he’s evolved in that way quite a bit over the years.
“He’s often more pro-business than I am, looking a little more liberally at where development can happen and how it can happen. He’s from the pro-development wing of the Democrats. Oftentimes, it’s a viewpoint espoused by our unions. It’s a pro-jobs outlook.”
Primary opponents Dan Wolk and Krovoza sound a much more suspicious note.
Ask about their differences with Dodd, and they point to lifelong party allegiance – “I’ve been a Democrat since before birth,” Wolk says.
Says Krovoza, “(Dodd) says marriage equality was the pivotal issue for him, and I’m glad he’s on the right side of that civil rights issue, yet that doesn’t explain why it took four years after Prop. 8 for him to switch from lifelong Republican to Democrat – just months before announcing his candidacy for Assembly.”
Last fall, both Wolk and Krovoza signed a letter from mayors to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed opposing his proposed ballot measure, which would have given pubic agencies the power to negotiate changes to current employees’ retirement plans. Dodd took no position. The measure failed to make the ballot.
Some well-heeled pension reform advocates have given checks to Dodd’s campaign, but he says it wouldn’t affect how he would vote. Napa’s bargaining units have agreed to a two-tier retirement system.
“The reality is I’ve had 17 labor negotiations with three different bargaining units in the past 14 years and not one of those has ended up in impasse,” Dodd says.
“The idea that I’m going to be anti-labor is not well-founded, at all, but I’m not going to be in there representing any individual group. I’ve signed no pledges, not to labor, not to business, not to the environmental groups – nobody.”
Krovoza questions Dodd’s record on land use, including support for a failed golf course and luxury home proposal in Pope Valley “that had environmentalists upside-down and backwards.”
“I would vote for that again,” Dodd says. “It really cracks me up that that’s brought up. It would have created about 60 or 70 jobs, in an area of the county that needed them, and would have brought water to about 100 low-income customers.”
Supervisor Caldwell at first supported Napa Planning Commissioner Matt Pope for Assembly, but says he urged Pope to drop out once he’d fallen behind in the money race – a significant disadvantage in a district sprawling over all or parts of six counties.
Caldwell says he then endorsed Dodd because he seemed most realistic of the remaining candidates about state spending. County-level experience, including overseeing social services, also counted for more that city council experience with Caldwell, a longtime city fire chief.
He also was no fan of Dodd’s to start – Caldwell won his seat despite Dodd backing his opponent – but the two have teamed on several matters.
They won support from Berryessa Estate and Berryessa Highlands, two small communities that faced fines and building restrictions for running afoul of the wastewater discharge laws.
Their residents voted to pay more in water rates or property taxes. The supervisors are wrangling state and federal money to pay for infrastructure improvements that will bring the communities into compliance for the first time in 20 years.
Caldwell also worked alongside Dodd on a $15 million project that’s using a recycled water pipeline to recharge aquifers east of the city of Napa. Property owners and state and federal money are paying for it.
“He has a really good knack for what is realistic, about whether he can market (an idea) and get people to agree, and what’s not realistic, in which case he can adjust himself, and adjust others, as different issues pop up,” Caldwell says.
Dodd says the Legislature is “high-fiving” too soon about California’s economic health.
“While the coastal regions have had their unemployment rates drop precipitously, in the interior counties, from Riverside to Modoc County, the unemployment rate is from 16 and 26 percent,” he says.
“Until those problems are taken care of, I would say that the need and the push for job creation can’t be over.”
Dodd says that he lacks a silver-bullet solution. He would seek to further incentivize green jobs. He supports retraining programs, like a joint one started by Napa and Lake counties, while acknowledging “it’s not been a panacea.”
On education, he says that lawmakers should focus less on detail, more on increasing the overall funding for each level of the public system. They must be “very, very careful about how we plan for the future” with the state teachers’ pension fund $71 billion in the red and Proposition 30 set to expire in 2018, he says.
He’s encouraged by the Local Control Funding Formula, preferring that “innovation and policy come from the local level.”
“That’s who I would be going to to help me define a more robust education policy than ‘I’m for universal preschool.’ Well, who wouldn’t be?” he says.
“What we really need to be focussed on is, how are we going to prioritize the budget levels we have right now in order to accomplish these things we all want? Universal preschool is about a $3.5 billion item.”
Dodd opposes both Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnel plan and Sen. Wolk’s alternative bond measure. He says that the $1 billion she includes for storage isn’t sufficient. He also wants more spent on desalinization projects.
He opposes another big-ticket item: high-speed rail. He’d be behind it if it was built along Interstate 5, on the state right of way.
Dodd counts himself a believer in mass transit after 14 years on the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Housing, too, has an important role to play in cutting emissions, he says. In a try at reducing commuter traffic flowing into the county, Napa passed an ordinance that helps people who work within a 9-mile corridor put down payments on houses.
Environmentalists supportive of Krovoza are critical of Dodd for co-authoring, with Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, a 2010 newspaper op-ed that called the California Air Resource Board’s target of a 15 percent reduction in emissions by 2035 “a recipe for disaster.”
The Bay Area “would have to have to implement massive tax hikes and fees as a disincentive to drive, including tripling the price of gas between now and 2025,” to meet the target, the supervisors wrote.
Dodd says he also was worried that the target opened local governments up to lawsuits if they failed to reach it.
Dodd’s commitment to property rights also has changed, becoming more ”balanced with the public need.”
He angered winery owners by voting for a setback ordinance to protect waterways. He did again, he says, when he voted to impose size limits on what he calls “steroid mansions” on the valley hillsides.
More often, colleagues say, Dodd shows a knack for building consensus.
He helped pave the way for mixed-use development that will feature up to 945 homes, 20 percent classified as affordable. They will be built alongside a Costco, senior-care facility, hotel and retail stores on the 154-acre brownfield site of the former Napa Pipe factory, alongside the Napa River.
At one time, the Napa City Council and every other supervisor but Dodd opposed the project.
Now, nine of 10 council and board members are aboard.
In a deal partly brokered by Dodd, the city will take on 80 percent of the county’s regional housing allocations, in exchange for money to build affordable housing and 55 percent of the property tax revenues.
Says Dodd, “While most of the people in Napa don’t want growth, I’ve been the one constant on our board that’s said, ‘Look at it, we have 29,000 commuters coming into Napa every single day to go to work. That’s not good for our air quality. That’s not good for people’s lives, spending more and more time in cars. We need to be doing something about our housing stock.’
“Is it all workforce housing? No. But you’re never going to get 100 percent workforce housing in any kind of project.”
Reach Cory Golden at email@example.com or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cory_golden.