District 1 Councilmember Denise Barnes campaigned in 2016 as an opponent of government intervention in the marketplace. Two years later, the first-term Republican has veered sharply to the Left – most recently in joining democratic socialist Councilman Jose F. Moreno in supporting price controls on rental properties in Anaheim.
Barnes Embraces Rent Control
Rent control is a top political priority for progressive Democrats in California. This year, Barnes has provided the critical votes necessary for Moreno to agendize sequential attempts to impose rent control on mobile home parks and apartments.
In May, Barnes played a leading role in the “community forum” organized by UNITE-HERE Local 11, OCCORD and SEIU. The forum was, in reality, a campaign rally kicking off the progressive-Democrat coalition’s effort to capture control of the Anaheim City Council in 2020. Barnes told the crowd of left-wing activists how proud she was to stand with them, pledged to fight with them for rent control and applauded when OC Democratic Party Chair Ada Briceno vowed to “win 2020 and take back the city council!”
Jose F. Moreno used the occasion of a steep rent hike at the 19-unit Casa Grande Apartment’s as a pretext for a city-wide rent control ordinance. Moreno ignored the reality that the Casa Grande owners – a group of immigrants ranging in age from 75 to early 90s who depend upon their rental income from the apartment for their livelihoods – had charged significantly below market rents for years. The likely passage of rent control legislation prompted them to raise rents before such legislation locked them into below market rates forever. Furthermore, nearly every tenant had already signed new leases.
Nonetheless, Barnes joined left-wing unions and activists in supporting Moreno’s measure – going so far as to accuse the Casa Grande’s elderly owners of “irresponsible behavior.” The rent control ordinance failed on a 5-2 vote, with Barnes and Moreno being its only “yes” votes.
Plays The Race Card, Goes To Bernie’s “Living Wage” Rally
Earlier in the year, Barnes resorted to a classic left-wing tactic – accusing political opponents of being racist.
After joining with Moreno on the losing end of several votes during the April 16 council meeting, Barnes accused the council majority of being racist because she and Moreno are Hispanic.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m getting the distinct impression that every time Jose and I vote, that this is getting quite…quite racist,” Barnes charged.
Barnes’ charge was so disruptive that Sidhu recessed the council meeting.
Moreno called Barnes’ courageous for making her accusation, arguing the feelings behind it mattered more than the truth of the accusation. Moreno piled on by implying Sidhu was a racist for not agreeing to the recess until after Brandman (who is Anglo) also requested one.
Barnes later blamed her outburst on “frustration.”
Last year, when democratic socialist Bernie Sanders came to Anaheim to campaign for a union-sponsored “living wage” initiative, Barnes joined the throng of left-wing activists cheering on the candidate responsible for mainstreaming socialism.
Barnes Veering Left As Re-Election Approaches
Barnes sharp left turn is ironic given the circumstances of her election.
Barnes was an unknown recruited by then-Mayor Tom Tait for his 2016 effort to capture a city council majority. She narrowly edged out Republican Steve Chavez Lodge with the help of more than $70,000 in independent expenditures by savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, Jr.
Ahmanson’s political bugaboos are what he sees as unjustified government interference in the market, particularly policies like redevelopment and tax rebates to incentivize hotel development. For example, Ahmanson has made it his mission to torpedo any attempt by former Sen. Bob Huff to seek another office. In 2016, Ahmanson spent more than $35,000 hitting Huff in his run the LA County Board of Supervisors – causing Huff to narrowly miss the November run-off.
When Huff ran for Congress in 2018, Ahmanson spent more than $40,000 attacking him in the primary, sinking Huff like a stone.
Ahmanson’s track record raises the question of whether he’ll support Barnes re-election. Granted, Ahmanson isn’t averse to supporting progressive politicians who diverge from his ideology: in 2016, he paid to place Moreno and Arturo Ferreras on all of conservative consultant Jim Lacy’s Landslide Communications slate mailers. Still, rent control is not only a serious abridgment of property rights, but a government price control strategy that undermines the goal of producing more affordable housing.
As it turns out, Ahmanson spent $70,000 to elect a rent control advocate to the city council of Orange County’s largest city. Does he want to do that again?
Barnes’ leftward lurch also jeopardizes her chances at an OC Republican Party endorsement. The OC GOP didn’t endorse in District 1 in 2016 since there were several Republican candidates. Even though she’s now an incumbent Republican, Barnes support for rent control and open support for the progressive-Democrat campaign to take control of the Anaheim City Council should give the OC GOP Central Committee pause.
Perhaps Barnes is making a different calculation. Partisan registration in District 1 is 46.9% Democrat, 25.4% No Party Preference and 23.2% Republican. She may have concluded her best shot at re-election is as part of the Jose Moreno/UNITE-HERE Local 11/Democratic Party ticket.