Politics

Bitter Inland Empire Assembly election unseats incumbent

In the state's 47th Assembly District, incumbent Cheryl Brown (top right) fell to Eloise Reyes in the race to represent the Inland Empire in Sacramento.
In the state's 47th Assembly District, incumbent Cheryl Brown (top right) fell to Eloise Reyes in the race to represent the Inland Empire in Sacramento.
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In a bitter race to represent the Inland Empire in Sacramento, incumbent Assemblymember Cheryl Brown fell to challenger Eloise Reyes in this week's election.

Reyes will represent the California State Assembly 47th District covering San Bernardino, Fontana and Colton.

Cheryl Brown's loss came in a highly charged atmosphere, with Reyes and outside groups criticizing Brown for scaling back environmental legislation. A series of negative ads painted Brown, who has published the community newspaper Black Voice News for decades, as "Chevron Cheryl."

Brown had worked to eliminate a provision in legislation to cut gasoline use, and subsequently saw the support of an oil industry group in her re-election campaign — hence the moniker. In her own campaign, Reyes ran to the left of Brown with heavy labor support and brandished her environmental credentials.

It's unusual for a sitting member of the legislature to lose her seat, particularly to a member of her own party. Two Democrats frequently square off in local races in the era of top two primaries, but the most contentious races are often for open seats.

Rob Pyers, who analyzes elections for the California Target Book, pointed to two factors in the upset. "There was a combination of the Trump Effect galvanizing Latino voters that motivated them to rally around Eloise Gomez-Reyes' candidacy," he said.

Pyers also thought the "'Chevron Cheryl' political jiu-jitsu" was effective in making a campaign issue of Brown's backers. Brown was one of few moderate Democrats to lose this year.

The Inland Empire contest saw huge amounts of outside spending, and at one point this year had attracted more outside spending than any other state legislative race.

By Election Day, outside groups had poured $6 million into the district. The biggest spender was a union group called Neighbors United, which spent over $2 million in the district. Neighbors United was behind the "Chevron Cheryl" advertising, and a series of mailers that excerpted a KPCC story. The station sent a cease and desist letter to the group, noting it does not endorse or oppose candidates.

On the other side was the Coalition to Restore California's Middle Class, an oil industry group supporting Brown. Their final tab in the district came to $1.6 million. Several other business groups also spent money to support Brown and attack Reyes.

In fact, a majority of the outside money in the district was spent on Brown's behalf.