Desperate move? Mayoral Incumbent Cathy Murillo Falsely Links Opponent Randy Rowse to Trump

By Nick Masuda   |   October 31, 2021
A mailer paid for by Cathy Murillo's campaign for mayor attacks Randy Rowse just days before the mayoral election

Santa Barbara’s incumbent mayor Cathy Murillo has gone on the attack just four days ahead of the 2021 mayoral election, with a mailer paid for by her campaign tying non-partisan candidate Randy Rowse to “Trump Loyalists and Republican Donors” — something Rowse told the Montecito Journal on Saturday that he outright rejects.

The ad says “Rowse says he is a ‘non-partisan,’ but the facts tell a different story. Rowse has accepted over $20,000 from donors who financed Trump and the Recall against Governor Gavin Newsom. His ties to Trump Republicans are too dangerous and wrong for Santa Barbara.”

Rowse has received more than 620 donations from a variety of outlets, including those on both sides of the political aisle.

The ad also lists several prominent and controversial Republican figures such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Matt Gaetz as people who have received donations from the same parties that Rowse has — although the ad does visually suggest that Rowse had received donations from Cruz and Gaetz, as well as from Larry Elder and organizations such as the Great America Committee and Make America Great Again.

None of which is true. Rowse also says he did not vote for former President Donald Trump, nor does he believe in the politics that came with the presidency.

“It’s just silly and (Cathy) knows better. She could not look me in the eye and say any of this,” said Rowse, who served on the Santa Barbara City Council alongside Murillo.

“She knows me. I know her, too. And that’s why I’m a little disappointed. It’d be like saying I voted for Trump, and he knows Kevin McCarthy, so Randy and Kevin McCarthy are working together. Really? Can you logically tie me to any of that stuff? I have no idea who on my donor list may or may not have voted for Donald Trump. I never had that discussion with any of them. I didn’t vote for Trump. I never was a Trumper. That’s been pretty well established.”

Rowse originally thought the mailer was paid for by the Democratic Central Committee (DCC), which has been outspoken about its fear that the mayor’s office could go to a non-traditional Democratic candidate for the first time in 30 years — a notion confirmed by DCC chairperson Darcel Elliott on Saturday.

“I thought for sure this thing was from the DCC, but then I saw it was paid by Cathy’s campaign,” Rowse said. “I leave it to the DCC to do something like that. I didn’t think she would do that. I didn’t think any of this stuff was conceived by her because I didn’t think that was possible. But if it says it is paid for by your campaign, then you have to have signed off — you can’t say I didn’t know that.

“I just thought it was kind of a Hail Mary.”

Murillo defended her tactics when reached via email on Saturday, pointing to the need for voters to understand where Rowse’s campaign fundraising is coming from. While indicating that her campaign acted alone, she did point to being supported “by the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood, and the Sierra Club because of my commitment to working families, affordable housing, women’s rights, climate resiliency, and our shared Democratic values.”

She says that she doesn’t share the same values as Rowse.

“The fact that donors to Trump and right-wing GOP politicians are contributing to his campaign says a lot about his political philosophy and beliefs and begs the question what values influence his decision making,” Murillo said.

To date, Rowse had outpaced the five other candidates in fundraising at $305,000, meaning the $20,000 referenced in Murillo’s mailer represents 6.5% of his overall total.

Pat McElroy, a staunch Rowse supporter and long-time leader of the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, says he understands politicking, but that the mailer simply went too far, particularly knowing both candidates through his long run with the city of Santa Barbara.

“It seems to go to awful lengths to paint Randy as something that he’s really not,” McElroy said. “It’s just so desperate and sleazy. And it’s, it’s the definition of losing grip. It’s what we are all getting tired of in politics.”

While the DCC says the mailer was not sent at its direction, Darcel Elliott says the organization agrees with its contents.

It echoes what Elliott sent out in an email on October 25, where she said: “Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon and Meagan Harmon are champions of Democratic values with the experience to continue fighting for what we care about. They are being challenged by special interests and Trump Republican donors, who have waged a campaign of misinformation to unseat them, because they have stood up for Democratic values.”

Elliott reiterated to the Journal that the Democratic Party is concerned that Murillo could lose to Rowse.

“We’re more worried about Randy, than (losing to) the other Democrats. We haven’t had a conservative mayor for over 30 years, so it wouldn’t be pretty. I think voters would not be happy if that’s who we had as our mayor,” Elliott said.

But why voters would not be happy with the winner of a fair and certified election was not made clear. Elliott claims she did an analysis of Rowse’s donor base in order to have a greater understanding of what Rowse stands for — theoretically, a deeper dive than what she could find on 

“Randy is not running on values. He’s just running on vague platitudes about being a non-partisan and having lived in Santa Barbara for a long time. He was on the council for nine years, and he’s not running on his record as a council member. I get all his mailers at my house. And it’s like, if you’re a voter, you’re just like what does this person stand for? And in the lack of anything concrete coming from him, you must look at who are his donors that are funding him.

“He has conservative values, but you can’t win as mayor of Santa Barbara with conservative values.”

While Elliott bristled at the idea that the last-minute mailer was a “desperate act,” it was Murillo’s most personal attack to date, although it wasn’t the first time that Murillo put Rowse in her crosshairs.

An earlier mailer provided a side-by-side comparison, where it indicated that he was not only “funded by Trump and GOP donors,” but also was “big oil’s candidate,” “the choice of landlords and big developers,” and said that Rowse “opposes police reform.”

For Rowse, he has chosen to stay focused on “the issues” and the “need for new leadership,” but has refused to make it personal when it comes to Murillo.

“Sure, Cathy and I didn’t agree on stuff (when on council). But that was all in policy stuff or whatnot,” Rowse said. “(My campaign) has stayed away from any kind of personal issues. But you look at this current council, and they do have a lot of personal issues with each other. I don’t necessarily blame Cathy for that, but this is what the city is seeing. They’re getting into each other personally.

“I don’t know what the hell happened.”

Murillo’s support to retain her seat as mayor by the current city council has been mixed, with vocal support from Meagan Harmon, who is in the middle of a tight race to retain her District 6 role.

While not addressing the mailer specifically, Harmon did indicate that she chooses to focus on staying positive in her campaigning.

“I’m proud of the positive campaign we’ve run on the issues that matter to the people who live in my district,” Harmon told the Montecito Journal. “I believe a positive campaign based on what we can accomplish together inspires more people to vote and that’s what I remain focused on.”

Kristen Sneddon, who is running against conservative candidate Barrett Reed for city council’s District 4 seat, said that the mailer was a ” mischaracterization” of Rowse.

“In any campaign, it’s really important that candidates speak about their own accomplishments and stay focused on what they’re going to do for the city,” Sneddon said. “We have to be careful of mischaracterizations of people and stay focused on the issues.”

For Rowse, the process has shown why being non-partisan is paramount.

“This is precisely what my campaign is all about,” Rowse said. “It’s about the city, it’s not about the party.”


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