If there were ringside judges, Round 1 of the Laura Capps-Das Williams tussle was undoubtedly a draw, as the pair of candidates for 1st District Supervisor participated in a spirited debate at the Music Academy of the West.
On a night where ethics, cannabis and campaign contributions took centerstage, it didn’t go unnoticed by the moderators that it was out of the ordinary for Ms. Capps to be challenging an incumbent in her own party.
“Running for this job isn’t in my political best interest,” Ms. Capps admitted. “To take on the establishment, to run against the party and all the heft that comes with that, I’m doing this because I believe so strongly that we need a change in leadership.
“This is not something that would be in my political best interest, to put my foot out there to do this. But I couldn’t stand watching what’s happening.”
Mr. Williams found himself on the defensive for a good chunk of the night, having to answer to Ms. Capps’ claims that he had influenced cannabis ordinance and regulation while taking money from local cannabis leaders.
Early Monday, Ms. Capps’ campaign sent out a press release claiming that a report will be presented today at the Board of Supervisors meeting that shows that 62% of cannabis operators did not pay taxes in 2019.
The release would go on to claim that Mr. Williams had received $62,000 from the cannabis industry, while also not forcing an audit of cannabis operations.
Mr. Williams came out firing at the outset of the nearly two-hour debate hosted by the Montecito Journal and KCRW, reminding the packed house that he was against Proposition 64, but has been tasked with cleaning up the holes that come along with legalizing the growth and distribution of cannabis.
“We want to permit the best, and shut down the worst, and that is precisely what we are doing,” Mr. Williams said. “We have possessed more marijuana than the CHP has statewide in four years, that’s not going soft.”
When given the floor to discuss how she would have gone about the implementation of Prop 64 differently, Ms. Capps held nothing back.
“There are a lot of things I would have handled differently,” Ms. Capps said. “The first is unfortunately what we just saw, a lack of accountability (with Mr. Williams). This has really been a botched policy. It has been distracting, it has cost the county a ton of money. We have spent more time on cannabis than almost anything else.
“As leaders, we need to take more accountability, to be able to identify, not blame the previous board or the state, but take ownership. The state constitution gave power to the counties to figure this out.”
Per the rules and due to the nature of the personal accusations, Mr. Williams was able to retort.
“I find it really painfully ironic that I, as someone that thought we should not pass Prop 64, that we were not ready for it as a state, would have the job of cleaning up the mess for people,” Mr. Williams said. “Ms. Capps has said that she voted for it. It is my job to enact the will of the voters.”
As for the the 62% that had not paid taxes, Mr. Williams offered that it was in part because the regulation of the industry had led to the closure of dozens of operations, thus not collecting taxes.
“She’s attempting to punish me for the things we did right,” Mr. Williams said. “They were entities that we shut down in the last five quarters, so of course they didn’t pay any taxes, we shut them down.”
While the two traded barbs over numbers, it was Ms. Capps that brought in what some may consider to be a subjective topic — ethics. She has been outspoken about Mr. Williams taking money from the cannabis industry, offering up campaign contribution reform that would limit the amount that an individual or business can give to a candidate.
Her statement was simple Monday night.
“You don’t take money as an elected official when you are entrusted by the people to do what’s right on behalf of all the people,” Ms. Capps said. “We need to have higher standards from our leaders. We need to know when they make a decision, that they are unbiased as possible. Right now, there is a flow of money into our Board of Supervisors, but not just them, but other levels of government. And it’s unregulated, you can give whatever you want here.
“1 out of 4 dollars in Supervisor Williams’ campaign chest was from the cannabis industry, yet we have the most lenient cannabis rules here. You wonder how that happens.”
Mr. Williams was quick to dismiss Ms. Capps’ claims.
“Contrary to what has been said, my biggest contribution, by far, has been from the firefighters. Of the half-million dollars that I’ve had to raise in this campaign, only $2,500 has come from any marijuana farmer,” said Mr. Williams, who added that he is supportive of campaign contribution limits.
The cannabis issue was prevalent the entire night, eventually circling back to the once-promised cannabis tax dollars that were expected to be a boon for the county, only to see less than $7 million collected in each of the first two years, when initial estimates were near $25 million.
Ms. Capps pointed to a lack of oversight and holding cannabis farmers responsible, while Mr. Williams pointed to the last quarter when nearly $3 million in cannabis tax was collected, showcasing hope that 2020 could bring eight figures to the table.
Ultimately, Ms. Capps was concerned by the amount of time and money regulating cannabis was taking for the Board of Supervisors, taking away time from rebuilding the Montecito community and focusing on climate concerns.
“The Board has spent 62 hours on cannabis and 10 hours on the climate,” Ms. Capps said. “Our priorities are off, we need to get them back to what the people deserve.”
With his closing comments, Mr. Williams spoke to the only transaction he is worried about.
“When I was 4 or 5, I already had a strong sense of something deeply wrong about the world,” Mr. Williams said. “I was angry at how far away the world was from the way it should be. That is the only transaction that has happened. Is that I have had a deep, abiding and determined rage against injustice for my whole life.”