Marcos Bretón

The doctor vs. the lawman: Is this Sacramento’s shadiest election?

Scott Jones, Ami Bera
Scott Jones, Ami Bera

What a choice for the voters of Sacramento’s 7th Congressional District.

On one side you have incumbent Ami Bera, a Democrat, whose 83-year-old father was sentenced last week to a year and a day in prison for election fraud. Then you have his opponent, Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican whose law enforcement buddies could cost the county millions of dollars in legal fees and payouts.

If it’s true that we are judged by the company we keep, then what are voters to say about Bera and Jones? Yikes? OMG? Is there a Green Party candidate in the house?

Democracy is beautiful in theory but can be ugly in practice, and this contest is a case in point. It challenges the-lesser-of-two-evils axiom because Bera-Jones is a race to the bottom that’s running neck and neck.

But before we go any further, let me make something plain: I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I don’t live in the 7th District, which runs east of city limits in Sacramento County and stretches from just south of Roseville to Galt. I’ve never met Bera – a medical doctor and former county health official – nor have I ever spoken with him. To my eye, he has been unimpressive in televised debates with prior GOP opponents Dan Lungren and Doug Ose. If I had lived in the district in 2014, I probably would have voted for Ose, who has since trashed his credibility by becoming a local shill for Donald Trump and his presidential campaign of intolerance.

As for Jones, his candidacy has opened a can of worms that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors would do well to confront and clean up.

Recently, Jones has been acting like the rookie politician he is by deflecting justifiable criticism of his department and labeling it as political. Asked recently on NewsRadio KFBK about “headlines” involving him, Jones channeled his inner Trump, a candidate he previously endorsed. “If (my opponents) are looking for a street fight, I’ve been in street fights,” he said. “It’s helpful for me to see what lows they will go to. … Certainly, The Bee is being used for political gains.”

Beyond employing Trump’s playbook of diversion, the larger point is that Jones’ posturing conflates political spin with legitimate concerns about the Sheriff’s Department.

In late May, a Sacramento County jury ruled against Jones’ department in a work-retaliation lawsuit. County taxpayers are on the hook for a $3.6 million judgment awarded to four female deputies who sued the department. Jones isn’t a named defendant in the case. He wasn’t the sheriff when the substantive issues involved in the case took place. But a jury rejected his testimony and that of other department leaders who attempted to paint the deputies as disgruntled employees.

The jury believed the female deputies. That’s an indictment of the culture within the department.

So when Jones insinuates that scrutiny springing from the judgment is a result of media bias for Bera, the only reasonable response is this: Show some accountability. You’re the sheriff. You’re supposed to be responsive to the public. If you don’t take a hard look at your department, you’re shirking your primary mission.

It would be nice if someone besides me were saying loudly and publicly that Jones is putting his political aspirations in front of the responsibilities of his current office. Maybe that would be a concern to someone in the county? Maybe? Maybe?

But last week, the county announced that it is appealing the $3.6 million judgment. The case already has cost the county $1.15 million in legal fees. Officials say it’s their fiduciary responsibility to try to bring that $3.6 million figure down. Fine, but people should remember the dollar amount at stake right now. Because if the final amount goes up and not down, then every county supervisor on the dais should be held accountable.

The crux of the case is tawdry and immature. It involves now-Undersheriff Erik Maness and a relationship he had with a young deputy named Kristyn Beezley. The jury found that Maness played favorites with Beezley and retaliated against three of the female deputies after they complained about preferential treatment.

If somebody – Jones, former Sheriff John McGinness , anybody – would have pulled Maness aside and told him to knock it off, we might not be here right now. This 7-year-old case should have been resolved long ago, which also proves how misguided Jones’ comments have been.

Now for Bera. His ailing father, Babulal Bera, is going to prison for election fraud. Barring bad behavior while incarcerated, he will be out in 10 months. The only reason the sentence is so light is because he is elderly and sick. If he were younger and healthier, he’d be going away for a longer term.

Officials have said that Babulal Bera orchestrated at least 130 fraudulent campaign contributions totaling more than $260,000 for his son Ami Bera’s 2010 and 2012 campaigns, according to The Bee’s Denny Walsh.

“(Babulal) Bera solicited people to give the maximum allowable to the campaigns and then reimbursed the straw donors, thus violating the legal limit an individual may donate directly to a campaign in a single election cycle and a ban on contributions under a name other than the actual donor,” Walsh wrote in his article about Thursday’s sentencing.

Has anyone found proof that Ami Bera knew his dad was breaking the law while trying to raise money for his son’s campaigns? No. Do I have any proof? No.

But do I believe that the son didn’t know what the father was doing? I don’t. Again, I have no proof. I have an ordinary sense of belief that is only willing to stretch so far.

Moreover, I don’t see how a candidate could stay in a race if his or her father were going to prison for illegally trying to help the campaign. If I were Bera, I would have resigned by now.

But he won’t because the congressional seat is hotly contested. Both parties want it badly. And these will be the two candidates on the ballot in November: The guy who “didn’t know” his dad was laundering money for his campaign against the guy who refuses to take responsibility for a toxic culture within his department.

What a choice.

 

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, wants law enforcement and gun owners to come to the table to discuss actions government can take to make communities safer.

  

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones met with The Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau to discuss his views on abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, and immigration, among other issues.

 

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