2015 State Senate Elections Triggered by Vacancies

The Nov. 4 vote didn’t end this election cycle, but sparked a new round. Three sitting state senators won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives: Sens. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek; Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley; and Mimi Walters, R-Irvine.

They will resign their positions in the state Legislature sometime before Jan. 5 to take their places in Congress.

Within 14 calendar days of each resignation, Gov. Jerry Brown must, in accordance with the California Elections Code, call a special election between 126 and 140 days later. If no candidate claims 50 percent of the vote plus one in the first round, a run-off election will be held between the top two candidates. Two years ago, when state Sens. Juan Vargas and Gloria Negrete McLeod resigned to take their seats in Congress, on Jan. 7 the governor called for March 12 special elections.

A fourth state Senate seat is already open from a vacancy created by the conviction and resignation of state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood. That special election in the 35th Senate District is scheduled for next Tuesday, Dec. 9, with a potential run-off on Feb. 10.

Special elections routinely cost county elections offices nearly a half-million dollars each. In 2013, the special election for Senate District 32 cost Los Angeles County $483,240, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Here at CalWatchdog.com, we’ve assembled your go-to guide for the 2015 special elections.

State Senate 7: Mark DeSaulnier heads to Congress

With DeSaulnier heading to Washington, his open seat speeds up the timeline for what would have been a 2016 showdown, because he was term-limited, between a former and current member of the Assembly, both Democrats.

For six years, Joan Buchanan represented the 16th Assembly District, portions of which overlap with the open seat. She’ll face stiff competition from Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of Concord, the largest city in the district.

Bonilla has a long history in the district. Prior to joining the Legislature, she served as a Contra Costa County supervisor as well as Concord mayor and council member.

Local attorney Mark Meuser, the Republican candidate who lost to DeSaulnier by 23 points in 2012, has also jumped into the race, according to the Antioch Herald.

Another candidate that could benefit from a Buchanan vs. Bonilla slug-fest is moderate Democrat Steve Glazer. An adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, Glazer was Public Enemy No. 1 of the state’s powerful labor unions in the June 2014 primary for the 16th Assembly District. He finished in third place, with just 22 percent. In a close election on Nov. 4, Republican Catharine Baker beat Democrat Tim Sbrianti.

State Senate District 7 voter registration numbers:

  • Democrat: 43.6 percent;
  • Republcian: 28.7 percent;
  • Decline to State: 22.0 percent.

State Senate 21: Replacing Steve Knight

Knight’s win in the 25th Congressional District will trigger a special election in Los Angeles County. But the strongest candidate to replace Knight has already decided not to enter the race. KHTS reported last month that Assemlyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, already has ruled out a run for the seat.

“I love the district that I represent and I expect to be named vice chair of a very important committee that I want to be a part of” in the Assembly, Wilk said. “And I believe that we can find a very electable Republican that can do a great job. We’ve got a lot of momentum and we want to keep it going.”

There’s buzz that former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is mulling a bid for the seat, according to the Desert Dispatch. In the June primary election, the Republican lost a bid for governor.

However, Donnelly doesn’t live in the district, which could be a big problem with voters. The district sent Knight to Congress over better-funded opponent Tony Strickland, a former Republican state Senator, who did not live in the 25th Congressional District.

Victorville businessman Sal Chavez has already launched his campaign for Knight’s seat. So has Hesperia City Councilman Eric Schmidt. Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford has formed an exploratory committee, but isn’t formally committed to the race. Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris is similarly toying with the idea of running for the seat. All are Republicans.

Democrats now hold an edge in voter registration, which could help a lone Democrat reach a run-off. Star Moffatt, the 2012 Democratic nominee who lost to Knight by 15 points, has also announced for the seat.

State Senate District 21 voter registration numbers:

  • Democrat: 38.3 percent;
  • Republican: 35.7 percent;
  • Decline to State: 20.2 percent.

State Senate 35: Special to fill Rod Wright’s seat

Wright’s resignation kicks off the state Senate Special election season on Dec. 8. Former Assemblyman Isadore Hall is expected to cruise to victory after forcing his toughest competition, Assemblyman Steven Bradford, out of the race. Both are Democrats.

Hall has come under fire from his opponents for frequent junkets and lavish campaign spending, which included a trip with lobbyists to the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

Hall’s opponents are businessman James Spencer, a Republican; and two Democrats, retired teacher Louis L. Dominguez and Harbor Planning Commissioner Hector Serrano. “We are a working-class community, and we don’t live that type of life of luxury, taking trips all over,” Serrano told the Los Angeles Times.

State Senate District 35 voter registration numbers:

  • Democrat: 61.0 percent;
  • Republcian: 14.2 percent;
  • Decline to State: 20.4 percent.

State Senate 37: Succeeding Mimi Walters

Walters, who cruised into a safe Orange County congressional seat, will see at least two Republicans duke it out for the remainder of her term in Sacramento. As reported by CalWatchdog.com, outgoing Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach has announced his candidacy for the 37th state Senate District. He’ll face current Assemblyman Don Wagner. If Wagner were to prevail, it would result in yet another special election to fill the remainder of his term in the Assembly.

Another big-name Orange County politico, GOP party chairman Scott Baugh, briefly flirted with a run for the seat. He is a former Assembly Republican leader. However, he now says he doesn’t intend to run.

A potential Moorlach vs. Wagner match-up could turn into a nasty intra-party feud. Wagner has recently run into trouble with conservative Tea Party activists.

“Wagner was one of two local Assemblymen out of a total of 15 Legislators statewide who were signatories to a letter encouraging Congress to pass an amnesty bill,” wrote Kelly Hubbard, a Tea Party activist in Orange County. “The letter has never received too much media attention, but has no doubt been a very hot topic with local activists and with many members of the Tea Party grassroots in Orange County!”

State Senate District 37 voter registration numbers:

  • Democrat: 28.7 percent;
  • Republcian: 42.6 percent;
  • Decline to State: 23.9 percent.

(H/T to AroundtheCapitol.com for providing voter registration data.)

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

CA GOP Eyes Special State Senate Election

Aside from preventing Democrats from again nabbing two-thirds supermajorities in the California Legislature, the Nov. 4 national GOP electoral wave did little to change the political dynamic here. With two years to go before the 2016 elections, Golden State Republicans have gained an opportunity — though not a lot of time — to focus on the keys to a stronger performance.

Between now and then, the California GOP may be able to use focus groups and internal polls to test certain themes, issues and talking points. Nevertheless, elections have a special value in helping parties refine their message and build momentum.

And until 2016, the most important election in the state for Republicans may well be the special election to replace Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, in the state Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown will set a date for the election soon after DeSaulnier officially resigns from his current office.

Musical chairs

On Election Day, Nov. 4, DeSaulnier prevailed in his effort to replace retiring Rep. George Miller in the 11th Congressional District. After his victory, DeSaulnier took pains to point out that “civic illiteracy and complacency” had nonetheless gotten him down — in other words, low turnout.

Although depressed voting numbers didn’t hurt DeSaulnier, he understood as well as any California Democrat that Republicans in the state often benefit from the phenomenon. Sure enough, in the race to replace him, Republicans may be competitive for that reason as well as others.

That’s why Mark Meuser — a Republican attorney from Walnut Creek and no stranger to DeSaulnier — has jumped into the race, announcing recently he hopes to prevail in the special election for the soon-to-be-vacant 7th state Senate District seat, which encompasses most of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

As the Antioch Herald reported, Meuser’s campaign will likely focus around economic themes — not just jobs in the abstract, but the dynamism of small business and innovation. “The spirit of entrepreneurs in California is as strong today as it was during the gold rush,” Meuser announced on his campaign site. “It needs an advocate in Sacramento, and Meuser wants to be that advocate. Ensuring that our communities stay strong — and grow stronger — requires a long-term vision for future generations, and Meuser has that vision.”

Meuser is best known as the Republican who ran for that same seat in 2012, losing to DeSaulnier. Then, Meuser won 38.5 percent of the vote, with DeSaulnier getting 61.5 percent. This time around, expectations have changed — in part because more than one Democrat also is angling for the seat, and there will be no incumbent.

Healthy competition

As the Contra Costa Times reported, two well known and influential Bay Area Democrats are expected to throw their hats in the ring: re-elected Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and term-limited Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo. With the state Capitol teeming with Democrats drawn from the well-to-do power corridor between Sacramento and San Francisco, there are more ambitious politicians than there are elective offices for them to fill.

Bonilla and Buchanan are both credible candidates sure to appeal to voting Democrats. It is less clear, however, whether either has the ability to turn out Democrats in large enough numbers to deal another loss to Meuser — particularly if they have to campaign against one another, and not just Meuser. According to California law, if no candidate gets 50 percent-plus-one of the vote, a runoff election then is held.

As the Antioch Herald also reported, both Democrats will be influenced in their decision-making by California’s particular rules restricting length of terms in office. Whether serving in the Assembly or state Senate, legislators are capped at a total of 12 years in both houses, according to Proposition 28, which voters approved in 2012. But it only applies to those elected to office after its passage.

Yet “because Bonilla was elected before June 5, 2012, she is restricted by the previous term limits, approved in 1990, which limited legislators to three terms in the State Assembly and two terms in the State Senate. Since the election will be past the half-way point in DeSaulnier’s term, if elected, she will serve less than two years, allowing her two more full terms for a total of close to 10 years. The same would apply to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan.”

Looking forward

The 7th is not the only state Senate District soon to be up for grabs as a result of a special election. Similar circumstances have also created upcoming vacancies in the 21st District and the 37th District, where Republican state Sens. Steve Knight and Mimi Walters, respectively, were elected to the U.S. Congress. No date for an election has been set. But these are seats in heavily Republican districts, so the makeup of the Senate won’t change.

And on Dec. 9, an election will be held to replace Democratic state Sen. Rod Wright in Senate District 35. He resigned after being convicted in a corruption scandal. If necessary, a Feb. 10, 2015 runoff will be held. According to Ballotpedia, “Louis L. Dominguez (D), Isadore Hall, III (D), Hector Serrano (D) and James Spencer (R) will face off.” As Wright got 76.5 percent of the vote to 23.5 percent for Republican Charlotte A. Svolos in the 2012 election, one of the Democrats is almost assured of victory, meaning this race also won’t change the party makeup of the Senate.

Given the familiar faces and competing ambitions at work in the presumptive 7th District race, however, Republicans may likely be tempted to use Meuser’s and the other two campaigns to road-test strategies that could pay dividends in 2016. If races can be targeted where Democrats compete, turnout is low, and seasoned Republican candidates can deliver a well-tailored message, the California GOP could see a better return on its investments. However, with 2016 being a presidential election year, turnout likely will be high, which would benefit Democrats.

Ultimately, the success of such an approach could hinge on whether the Nov. 4 elections did not quite capture the full extent of voter frustration with Democrats; and on how President Obama’s recent amnesty plays out among all groups of voters.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com