Terminology, timing roil Senate race

Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo has served three terms, including nearly eight months as Republican leader.

But that’s not the job description the Republican would like voters in the 15th District state Senate special election to see. Blakeslee has requested that “Independent Business Owner” be used as his three-word ballot designation.

Blakeslee’s campaign said it planned to highlight his legislative record on the campaign trail and was hoping to show voters a different side via the ballot designation.

That side would be his role as president of the San Luis Obispo financial planning firm, Blakeslee and Blakeslee. According to the statement of economic interest he filed this year, Blakeslee and his wife Kara, a broker, both reported more than $100,000 in income from the firm.

“The vast majority of voters in the district obviously already know he’s a legislator; they don’t necessarily know he’s a business owner,” said Blakeslee campaign consultant Jim Nygren. “It just puts a different aspect of his life in front of voters.”

Submitting a ballot designation that highlights “diversity and breadth of experience in their occupation,” as one consultant put it, is not an unusual move for state legislators running for office. The three-word job descriptions are supposed to reflect the candidate’s “principal” occupation — a job that takes “substantial involvement of time and effort” or a vocation they are currently licensed to practice.

The ballot designation submitted by Blakeslee’s main rival, former Democratic Assemblyman John Laird, has also raised questions. Laird calls himself an “educator,” a perennial favorite among Democrats running for elected office. To justify that job, he cites his recent hire as a lecturer in UC Santa Cruz’s Department of Environmental Studies.

A Republican voter in the district challenged the ballot designation in Sacramento County Superior Court, citing that Laird’s own statement of economic interest lists his occupations as consultant for the Tides Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The suit was thrown out because the complainants did not successfully serve Laird with the lawsuit before last week’s hearing date.

Laird’s campaign team said he submitted “educator” because his main occupational focus was teaching an upper-division course called “Environmental Studies/State Policy” during the last academic year and pointed out that, as compensation from a public agency, his $7,503 teaching salary wouldn’t be subject to disclosure.

Laird said in an e-mailed statement that the suit was a “page straight out of Sacramento Alice in Wonderland” and called out Blakeslee for shying away from his Sacramento duties.

“This latest chapter is pretty ironic since my opponent has chosen ‘Independent Business Owner’ as his ballot designation, despite the fact that at this moment he is a state legislator who led his party during the long budget standoff last summer,” Laird said in the e-mail.