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Spring 2014 Political Update
Just as business continues to accelerate at the Capitol, the races for California legislative and statewide office are heating up this spring as we approach the June 3rd primary election. Assemblyman Mike Morrell’s recent victory in the special to fill Bill Emmerson’s Senate seat was the final remnant of last year’s political reshuffling. Now the focus in Sacramento is on the June primary and, subsequently, the general election, which is expected to see a very low turnout.
Although 2014 is a gubernatorial election year, the statewide races, including the Governor’s race, are unlikely to produce any upsets. Jerry Brown will easily win reelection and most statewide offices will likely remain blue. The only statewide office that could see a Republican victory is the race for Controller, which is pitting two Democrats - Assembly Speaker John Perez and Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee - against Republican and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. A recent poll shows Swearengin on top, but Perez has a wide lead in fundraising. The battleground this year is the Legislature, with several swing seats in play whose outcomes could threaten the Democrats’ supermajorities in the Senate and/or the Assembly.
Due to the suspensions of three Democrat Senators – Rod Wright, Leland Yee and Ron Calderon – there is no longer a supermajority in the Senate and there won’t be for the rest of this session. At best for the Democrats, this loss is temporary, as Wright and Calderon represent safe Democrat districts (Yee’s seat will go to Republicans in November due to redistricting). The loss of the supermajority does have immediate ramifications because two-thirds vote bills must have some Republican support through the end of the 2014 legislative session.
There are two key seats up for grabs this November that could potentially decide the fate of the Senate Democrats’ supermajority in 2015 – Republican Andy Vidak’s race to defend his Central Valley seat, and the race to succeed termed out Democrat Senator Lou Correa. Both races will be highly contested, expensive Democrat vs. Republican fights. Vidak, whose victory was a pick-up for Republicans in a contested special election last July, faces a battle against challenger Luis Chavez, a Fresno Unified School District Trustee. In Orange County, the race to succeed Correa will be a contest between former Democrat Assemblyman Jose Solorio and either Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen or former Orange County Board of Education member Long Pham (whichever Republican survives the June primary). If Vidak is victorious and Solorio is defeated, Democrats’ supermajority in the Senate will be eliminated.
The Democrats’ supermajority in the Assembly is also at risk. Republicans will work hard to regain two seats that they lost to Democrats Steve Fox and Sharon Quirk-Silva in 2012. Republican Palmdale City Councilman Tom Lackey is running against Steve Fox, who won a surprising Democrat victory in 2012. Voter registration in Fox’s district favors a Republican, so Lackey definitely has a shot at regaining this seat. In the Quirk-Silva race, businesswoman Young Kim is the Republican challenger. Large amounts of money are being spent on both sides in these battleground races.
The third key race in the Assembly is the fight to succeed Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, who is giving up his seat to run for Congress. Gorell’s departure will make maintaining this toss-up district difficult for Republicans. Finally, with Mike Morrell’s departure to the Senate, the race to succeed him in the lower house will likely be very close. Three Democrats – Art Bustamonte, Katy Henry and Melissa O’Donnell, and one Republican – Marc Steinorth – are running and will be on the June Primary ballot. With California’s open, “top two” primary system, the November election will come down to Steinorth and one of the Democrats. Although Steinorth has raised the most money so far, voter registration in the district is roughly even. This seat is definitely in play and both parties will spend money here to win in November.
There are several additional legislative races that will not affect the supermajorities but are still noteworthy, including the contest to succeed Southern California Senator Ted Lieu, who is running for the House of Representatives to replace retiring Congressman Henry Waxman. The field of Democrats fighting for Lieu’s seat is crowded and includes activist Sandra Fluke, Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth, former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, Santa Monica/Malibu School Board Member Ben Allen, and surgeon Vito Imbasciani, to name a few.
On the leadership front, Assembly Majority Floor Leader Toni Atkins (D – San Diego) will become Speaker on May 12th, over a month before the Legislature’s constitutional deadline to pass the budget. Kevin De Leon (D - Los Angeles) is expected to replace termed out Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, but that transition is not likely to take place until sometime after the Legislature adjourns.
We will keep you updated on the political environment in California as these races continue to take shape leading up to and after the June 3rd primary election.