Police Union Monopoly on Electoral Spending Threatens Santa Ana’s Democracy

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In 2016, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association (SAPOA) spent over $400,000 that allowed them to place two of their three favored candidates on the Santa Ana City Council, alongside the mayor. This year, they’re already set to outspend themselves; they ended June with $462,000 in the bank, and inched closer to get a council majority that will do their wishes (1).


Even with just three loyalists in the seven-member council these past two years, the SAPOA exerted an unprecedented level of influence on our city’s politics and priorities.


They won multiple budget-busting raises for police officers while the city faces massive deficits and moves to cut other city services. They killed council discussions on real reforms for police oversight and accountability.


Whereas progressive elected leaders across the country sought to limit collaborations with ICE, police union-backed council members Miguel Pulido, Jose Solorio, and Juan Villegas spent the better part of their first three months in office defending and trying to revive the city’s immigrant detention business. The pro-detention push paralleled the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies so closely that we Santa Ana residents took to calling Solorio “Latino Trump” (2).


Most egregiously, the SAPOA-backed council members fired David Cavazos as City Manager for refusing to fire former Police Chief Carlos Rojas. The union didn’t like their boss because he dared to hold police officers accountable for misconduct, and steer the department away from tough-on-crime policing practices that dated the 1990s and back to the community policing efforts that once won Santa Ana national acclaim—and better crime stats (3).


It’s still not enough for the police union.


This election cycle, they’ll overwhelm Santa Ana’s mailboxes and Facebook profiles with mailers and ads to support Mayor Miguel Pulido, David Peñaloza in Ward 2, Phil Bacerra in Ward 4, and Mirna Velasquez in Ward 6 and attack anyone marginally concerned by the highjacking of our city budgets, police misconduct, and the erosion of accountability and transparency.


If 2016 is any indication of what will come next, then we can expect that no other candidate will be able to compete with the flood of money to reach voters with mailers and ads.


They’ll focus on inflated crime stats because fear mongering is at the center of their strategy. They’ll say you should elect these people because they’ll throw all the money at the police department to deal with very real problems the same way they’ve always dealt with them–by cracking down on young, brown kids instead of extending a helping hand. Then they’ll come back in 2020 shocked that nothing improved and offer us a new group of saviors.


And thanks to Pulido’s sabotaging of ward based elections, no candidate will be able to blunt the cash disparity with a well organized field operation (4). Our at-large election system ensures that money trumps old fashioned door-to-door canvassing, proving true to the old Wu-Tang maxim that cash rules everything around us.


For the future of our city, we must reject the four candidates who would sell our city out to the highest bidder by voting against them this November. If we don’t, it won’t just be the Russians who will get away with buying an election using money and fear.



  1. Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee FPPC Form 460 Filing for the period of  01/01/18 – 06/20/2018
  2. Jose Solorio Branded “Latino Trump,” Effort to Revive SanTana’s ICE Contract Fails
  3. Former Santa Ana Police Chief Sues, Claiming He Was Pushed Out By Mayor and Police Union
  4. Santa Ana Council Again Delays Vote on District Elections
Hairo Cortes

Hairo Cortes

is a founding member and Executive Director of Chispa. His organizing background in immigrant rights has seen him lead local, statewide, and national campaigns against deportations and immigrant detention. You can usually find him singing along to Johnny Cash and playing with his cats, Om'Nom and Chispita.

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