NO to Big-Oil Gunderson! Vote BLAKESPEAR for south-county Senate!

[State Senate candidate Matt Gunderson between oil spills.]

Let’s talk about the race in State Senate District 38, stretching along the coast from Mission Viejo to La Jolla, pitting 3-term Democratic Encinitas Mayor Kathleen Blakespear (cool name, Blakespear!) against Republican Mission Viejo car dealer Matt Gunderson.

What makes this race interesting to me is: FIRST, did you know Gunderson is the SINGLE BIGGEST RECIPIENT OF BIG OIL MONEY in all 100 Californian state legislative races this year? Seriously. He has gotten a mind-boggling $1.8 MILLION from the fossil fuel industry so far in his race against Blakespear, most of it going into false attack ads against her. $1.8 million – that’s gotta be some kind of record!

Makes SORT of a little sense, you might think, Gunderson being the owner of three car dealerships and all, but really it DOESN’T make sense, for a guy vying to represent a beautiful coastal district, and who loves to take pictures of himself in front of the ocean, scant miles from the sites of devastating recent oil spills!

Mind you, it’s not only Oily Matt who’s getting these record big bucks from California refineries, he’s just their FAVORITE. The SF Chronicle went into much greater detail on this subject than I have time to do in this quick blog-post the day before the election.

And mind you, environmental regulations and the desire to do offshore drilling are not what’s driving this Big Big Oil political spending in California – no, the trigger for that was the Governor’s announcement next month that he plans to call a special session for lawmakers to consider a WINDFALL PROFITS TAX on the companies to be returned as rebates to YOU AND ME. Since then, they have spent over $5.8 million on eight key races necessary to prevent such a tax. That would be worth it to them.

And this all comes down to our SKYROCKETING GASOLINE PRICES – the oil companies blame that on all manner of things, but the biggest unnecessary cause is THEIR PRICE-GOUGINGtheir profits have increased an estimated $730 million in the months since these last few months’ price increases. Or put another way: This year the money California refineries make from each gallon of gasoline you and I buy has soared from 32 cents to as high as a dollar, according to Consumer Reports. Now THAT’S Windfall Profits! So spending $5.8 million on obedient politicians like Matt Gunderson is a sensible investment for them.

Conversely the big oil refineries ALSO hate Catherine Blakespear, and for good reason, but we can get to that later.

Businessman Matt’s Embarrassing Beginnings

Matt Gunderson presents himself as a successful businessman who made his own way, and has never been involved in politics. It’s not true – his first dealership in Mission Viejo was given a HUGE head start with a subsidy from the MV council, pushed on that Council by powerful politicians Dave Cox, Dick Ackerman and Todd Spitzer. (Hey I thought Republicans were supposed to be AGAINST crony capitalism and subsidies!)

Since the 2003 OC Register article documenting all this is no longer online, I will quote it:

Former Assemblyman & State Senator Dave Cox (Gunderson’s Father in Law) Leaned on Mission Viejo City Councilmembers To Approve Revenue Sharing Incentive for Car Dealership. The agreement ultimately allowed Gunderson’s dealership to receive $600,000 in taxpayer money over three years as part of the agreement to share the city’s projected increased sales tax revenue from Audi sales with the dealership. 

The proposal to award Gunderson with taxpayer-funded incentives failed twice before the city council after they faced criticism from Mission Viejo residents. Several council members recounted how State Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, and Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, had called them up to talk about Gunderson’s Audi dealership deal, which they had shot down. 

Despite rejecting the incentives twice, the Mission Viejo city council approved lesser incentives on a 4 to 1 vote following a closed session meeting. The deal ultimately approved by the council provided the dealership with $600,000 over approximately three years from the city’s increased sales tax revenue from Audi sales, while Gunderson had initially requested a share of the city’s sales-tax revenue for nine years or until the dealership recouped $2.1 million.

Vice Mayor Gail Reavis, the sole “nay” vote, expressed concerns about the rushed nature of the vote, which she argued could lead to a lack of proper disclosure on the dealership’s part. The council was reportedly concerned about political influence from Cox and his allies, with the Orange County Register reporting.

Speaking to the Orange County Register after the fact, Mission Viejo Mayor John Paul Ledesma said ”If you have a state senator lobbying you on this issue and he’s never called me before, it certainly weighs on you.” For his part, Cox acknowledged that he had tried to be of assistance to Gunderson and his wife, but maintained that he hadn’t asked his colleagues to influence the vote, saying to the Orange County Register:

”I make no apology for wanting to be of assistance to my son-in-law and daughter. I didn’t ask Sen. Ackerman or Mr. Spitzer to try to influence the vote. What I said was, ‘Take a look at it, see if there’s any assistance that could be lent.’ ”

Source: (Orange County Register, “Council members decry ‘political favor’,” July 11, 2003)

Then Who is Catherine Blakespear,

and why do the Oil Companies Hate Her?

Blakespear’s family has lived in Encinitas for four generations, and she’s been Mayor there for nearly six years. She serves as Chair of SANDAG, SD county’s powerful transportation agency, and on the county’s Airport Authority.

She was given the 2020 Climate Courage Award from the Climate Action Campaign, which noted that “Mayor Blakespear has demonstrated her commitment to bold climate action by tackling some of our region’s largest sources of emissions: transportation, energy, and housing.“

She figures the oil companies are targeting her because she’s been a vocal critic of their contributions to climate change and last year’s OC oil spill. She’s also called for an investigation of their manipulating the market to drive up gas prices.

As the kids say, “Checks out.”

So. I’ve told you all I know. Whom will you choose tomorrow, District 38?

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.