Central Coast state Sen. Sam Blakeslee on Thursday shelved a Paso Robles fundraiser that was scheduled for next week after San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill criticized the event for being emceed by a leader of an organization that Hill calls “hostile, secretive and racist.”
“I decided to postpone this event lest it become a forum for Supervisor Hill’s dispute with Andy Caldwell, which would only serve to divide our community at a time when we need to come together,” wrote Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, in an email.
Caldwell is a leader in the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB), a conservative rancher and business group. He not only denies the organization is racist, he accused Hill of being “petty, small and vindictive” and “lying to damage our reputation.”
The political mini-furor arose Wednesday when Hill, a Democrat, sent an email to Blakeslee asking him to back away from the fundraiser. The Tribune obtained a copy of the email.
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Hill said the participation of COLAB in a Blakeslee fundraiser led him to question whether the senator is really the moderate he portrays himself to be.
“This is a new low, and the saddest sign yet of where things are headed with you,” Hill wrote.
He said Blakeslee would be “pandering to hate-mongers.”
The event in question was a June 24 fundraiser at the Paso Robles Inn.
The fundraiser was to be hosted by well-known county ranchers and farmers, including Kevin Kester of Parkfield, who leads the statewide Cattlemen’s Association, former Cattlewoman of the Year Dee Lacey, and the Farm Bureau Federation.
But the master of ceremonies was to be Caldwell.
“Perhaps you don’t know about the hostile, secretive and frequently racist activities of COLAB,” Hill wrote to Blakeslee. “I wish I could give you the benefit of the doubt on this one, but this is so disappointing and offensive.”
“I only hope you won’t be featuring a blackface entertainer impersonating the president, as Andy Caldwell featured in COLAB’s recent fundraiser in Santa Maria,” Hill wrote.
COLAB representatives said Hill was mischaracterizing the group, them as individuals, and the Obama impersonator, Steve Bridges.
Charlie Kears, the producer for Caldwell’s radio show, said he was at the Bridges event earlier this year, and it was “a very classy show.” Bridges, who has impersonated Obama on the “Jay Leno Show,” also impersonates former President George W. Bush and other political leaders.
Contacted by The Tribune on Wednesday, Hill reiterated his accusation that COLAB is using a “racist lynching type of humor.”
“I thought (Blakeslee) was better than that,” Hill said.
He added that Mike Brown, who speaks routinely before the Board of Supervisors on behalf of COLAB, “misstates facts all the time,” and is “hostile. I don’t see him as a constructive critic.”
Brown, a former chief executive officer for Santa Barbara County, told The Tribune that after he speaks he always asks if supervisors have questions. He added that he talks exclusively about policy issues and steers away from ad hominem attacks.
Brown said Hill’s comments raise the question of whether the Board of Supervisors is going to create a chilling effect aimed at those who disagree with board members.
The day after he sent the email, Hill sought to dial it back, saying he and Blakeslee have had a good working relationship and the email was “not the most helpful approach.”
In a statement before he postponed the event, Blakeslee wrote that Caldwell and Hill “have their philosophical differences, but I consider both friends and will continue working with both sides of the aisle to better our community and state.”
Caldwell told The Tribune that COLAB is “not sponsoring anything. I was simply asked to emcee.”
He added that “we don't endorse candidates as an organization, albeit our individual members can and do.”
“Hill seems to be obsessed with COLAB,” Caldwell wrote. “Doesn’t he need to spend more time running the county into the ground?”