State Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, is among legislators who have described themselves as small business owners on ballots. 2009/File Photo



Published: 25 March 2012 08:26 PM

SACRAMENTO — Inland Southern California lawmakers Mike Morrell, Jeff Miller, Bob Dutton and Kevin Jeffries spend a large chunk of their week in Sacramento, voting on bills and sitting through committee hearings as state legislators making base annual salaries of $95,291.

All of them want voters this year to view them as something different: businessmen.

Around the state, election officials have been busy reviewing candidates’ proposed ballot designations before this week’s announcement of qualified candidates for the June 5 primary election. The regulations require that the descriptions, generally limited to three words, reflect “the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations” of the candidate.

The brief descriptions are the last bit of candidate information voters see in the polling booth, alongside often unfamiliar names, so candidates try to put their best foot forward. Experts say the three words carry outsized importance.

For example, when former Yucca Valley Mayor Paul Cook listed himself as “retired Marine colonel,” a rival in a five-way 2006 Republican primary ballot for the 65th Assembly District sued, claiming that Cook should be described as a college professor.

“When we won the court case, I knew we were going to win the race,” said political consultant Tab Berg, who worked for Cook.

The descriptions regularly prompt legal challenges. Last week, Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster went to court after county election officials accepted Jeffries’ designation as “small business owner.”

Jeffries’ latest financial disclosure shows that he reported at least $120,000 in income from business interests. But Buster’s campaign said Jeffries, who is termed out of the Assembly and running for supervisor, should be described as an assemblyman.

In San Bernardino County, Supervisor Neil Derry’s proposed ballot designation as a “supervisor/businessman” has been challenged by his opponent, tribal chairman James Ramos. A San Bernardino supporter of Ramos has filed a complaint seeking to stop Derry’s use of the description; Ramos is funding the legal challenge.

Andre Livesque, a Ramos campaign spokesman, said the use of the title is “deceptive” because Derry’s main occupation and source of income is as a county supervisor. Ramos, who is a member of the San Bernardino Valley College board of trustees, lists himself as “businessman/college board member” and in his campaign has touted his business background as an owner of two restaurants.

Derry said that he owns rental property and has a business license with the city of San Bernardino. He, in turn, questioned why Ramos does not list his position as chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians as his occupation, stating that it is Ramos’ main source of income.


Underscoring this year’s campaigns are polls showing that voters have a particularly low opinion of their elected leaders.

Ballot descriptions sought by candidates, especially Republicans, sometimes downplay or leave unmentioned connections to the Legislature or Congress.

“In the past, you always wanted to put down ‘assemblyman,’ ‘senator,’ ‘incumbent,’” said Robert M. Stern, a former elections counsel in the secretary of state’s office, “Not these days.”

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