A note to the freshman class

Now that all the fun stuff is over – the swearing-in ceremonies, the receptions, the meet-and-greets, exploring the Capitol – the hard work begins.

Hard, indeed.

First the policy, then the politics.

The Class of 2010 has at once a new governor and an old governor – a canny, mercurial, unpredictable pro who has lived, breathed and studied politics for most of his adult life. Before the election, he reached out to legislative leaders of both parties; after the election, he painted the state’s budget misery in the starkest terms possible. The budget is at the top of his to-do list.

So that’s the first, and biggest, problem: resolving the budget mess. Democrats rule both houses but lack the necessary two-thirds majorities to raise taxes. That means the heavy lifting won’t be in approving a spending plan, it will be in getting the money to fuel it – or in cutting it to make the dollars stretch further.

If the preliminary signals are any indication, the lawmakers’ favorite programs – among many others – are going to feel the budget knife. The next six months are not going to be happy, as lawmakers grapple with a parade of locals demanding protection.

Now, the politics.

The class of 2010 is unique in many ways. It is the first Legislature whose members will have their political districts drawn by a voter-approved, independent commission – not a court-ordered panel, mind you, but one demanded by voters. Not only the legislative districts, but the Board of Equalization and the Congressional districts, too. That means the districts that lawmakers ran this year to get elected won’t be the same as in 2012, when they are up for reelection. That means pleasing constituents – the cardinal activity of any lawmaker – may be difficult at best. A lawmaker’s position that leaves his current-day constituents pleased may not play so well two years down the line.

Secondly, the primary election rules have changed, and the expectation is that gradually, over time, the Legislature will reflect a more moderate, pragmatic  crop of members steeped less in ideology than in the need to negotiate policy. The move to the moderate center may be an outgrowth of redistricting reforms, too – at least the backers hope so.

Third, a move is afoot to modify term limits, to allow up to 12 years in the Capitol, which can be spent in either house. It may or may not happen, and it may be written in such a way that it doesn’t apply to the Class of 2010. But whatever the future holds, the confluence of redistricting, election and political reform may make your job easier.

Or not.

It’s not as bad as  those telegrams that got sent out during war time – “Congratulations! You’ve been drafted!” – but it’s close.

Anyway, here’s our list of the new players. We only included those who are first-time state lawmakers, and left out those who are switching houses.

But for all, we offer this advice: Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

–John Howard


Anthony Cannella (R-SD12)
Anthony Cannella is a Republican, and that in itself is a surprise to those who know the family name. His father, Sal Cannella, a prominent labor leader, served in the Assembly in two districts – the 26th and 27th – and ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. But his son had better luck in the upper house: Anthony defeated Democrat Anna Caballero to win the 12th Senate District seat that had been held by Republican Jeff Denham, who went to Congress. Anthony, a civil engineer by training who attended UC Davis, served two terms as mayor of Ceres, and served in city council and planning commission positions, as well as a stint on the Stanislaus Council of Governments. He and his wife, Julie, have four children.

Michael Rubio (D-SD16)
If a 20-point margin on Election Day counts as a landslide, then Michael Rubio’s victory qualifies: Rubio, a former Kern County supervisor, easily dispatched GOP contender Tim Theisen to replace termed-out Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat and a political presence in the area for years. Rubio, Florez’s former staff aide, made it to the Board of Supervisors in 2004 by defeating Pete Parra – another well-known political force in Kern County politics – and Rubio appears to have a solid lock on Democrats, an important point in an area where the primaries traditionally have been bruising. He’s also seen as a quick study – when he was elected supervisor, he was the youngest in the state – with solid political skills and a grasp of intricate policy matters. Those skills may prove crucial as the state grapples an enormous, complex budget shortage. Rubio lives in East Bakersfield with his wife Dora, their daughter Iliana and their chocolate lab, Levi.


K.H. Achadjian (R-AD33)
K.H. Achadjian – everybody calls him “Katcho” – served three terms on the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors and was a member of the California Coastal Commission at the time of his election. Achadjian, a native of Lebanon who emigrated to the U.S. and settled in the San Luis Obispo area in 1971, is a popular local figure. He represented local governments on the Coastal Commission until he stepped down when he was sworn in at the Assembly –  state law forbids holding both positions at the same time  Lots of musical chairs here: His predecessor is Sam Blakeslee, who went to the Senate to replace Abel Maldonado, who became lieutenant governor and who lost reelection. Locals on both sides of the aisle say Katcho has first-rate political skills and can negotiate a deal, which should help him in the Capitol. He graduated from Cal Poly, and he and his wife, Araxie, have two children, son Hratch and daughter Nyri.

Luis Alejo (D-AD28)
Luis Alejo got Anna Caballero’s old seat, the sprawling 28th District which is nearly two-thirds Latino and less than a third white, a largely agricultural area covering more than half of Monterey County and all of San Benito County. Over the years, the voter registration has gotten increasingly Democratic, although decline-to-state voters, as elsewhere in the state, now comprise nearly one in five of every vote. Alejo has solid local-government credentials. He served as mayor of Watsonville, was a member of the Watsonville Planning Commission and served on the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission. He was born and raised in Watsonville, and his family came to the area in the 1950s to work in the fields. Alejo looks like a rising star: He has dual bachelor degrees in political science and Chicano studies from UC Berkeley, a Master’s in education from Harvard, and a law degree from UC Davis.

Michael Allen (D-AD 7)
Allen was district director for state Sen. Patricia Wiggins before he received 95 percent of the state Democratic Party backing to fill the Assembly district that stretches across California’s premier wine-making regions, including the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Taking over for Senate-bound Democrat Noreen Evans, Allen won the district handily, with 56 percent of the vote next to Republican rival Doris Gentry, who came in with 39 percent.  Allen is promoting himself as a green jobs and conservation advocate. He worked as an attorney for the Sierra Club before he was the Executive Director for the local workers’ union, SEIU 707 in Santa Rosa, where he was born, raised, and now has five children. Allen also knows how to keep a secret: He worked for Wiggins, who suffered escalating health issues over time as she kept her seat.   

Toni Atkins (D-AD76)
ke so many other members of the Legislature, Toni Atkins was a staff member to a politician – in her case, to former San Diego City Council member Christine Kehoe, who is now in the state Senate. Atkins herself served eight years on the city council until she was termed out. Atkins, who is gay and lives with her spouse Jennifer, represents a diverse district that stretches from Point Loma to Pacific Beach on the coast, Old Town, the northern suburb of Tierrasanta, downtown San Diego, Mission Hills and South Park; Linda Vista and Normal Heights. That’s quite a mix. Atkins, a  veteran of the San Diego City Council, easily won the seat, which was open because Lori Saldana was termed out. In 2005, Atkins served as acting mayor after the previous mayor, Dick Murphy, resigned.

Susan Bonilla (D-AD 11)
As former Assemblyman Tom Torlakson – he also served in the Senate – took the lead for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, schoolteacher Susan Bonilla beat out Republican Julie Craven in the race to fill Torlakson’s spot. The district covers most of North Contra Costa County, including Mountain View, hometown of Google. A former Concord City mayor, Contra Costa County supervisor and high school English teacher, Bonilla comes with a valuable California Teachers Association endorsement and two years of experience fighting for a two-year budget cycle. Will she and newbie Kristin Olsen cross partisan boundaries to bring a two-year budget to state government? We can only wait and see. Bonilla lives in Concord with her husband, John. They have four daughters and two grandchildren.  

Betsy Butler (D-AD 53)
In California, 2010 was a big Democratic year. Betsy Butler offers a good blueprint on how that was done in a district that has been reliably liberal but also includes suburban, more conservative sections. Butler lost badly to 27-year-old Tea Partier Nathan Mintz in the South Bay suburbs. But she focused on walloping him in the urban Los Angeles part of the district, where she outpolled him nearly three-to-one. Butler, 47, has been coming up in politics her entire professional life, interning for U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy, and later working in the Clinton administration on international trade.

Nora Campos (D-AD 23)
With her good looks and relative youth, Campos may spark comparison with former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra. But as political animals, the two are quite different. Campos doesn’t share in Parra’s moderate to conservative tendencies. Campos grew up in the farm workers’ movement, marching alongside Cesar Chavez. Since being elected to the San Jose City Council in 2001, her efforts have focused on building low-income housing, expanding public services and working on behalf of low-income youth. She is also known as a skilled behind-the-scenes political fighter who was often a thorn in the side of San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, and who was generally reviled by the conservative business community. She’s married and has a son.

Roger Dickinson (D-AD9)

Roger Dickinson may be an unfamiliar name statewide, but in the Sacramento area he’s a well-known political figure with strong connections to organized labor, Latinos and environmental groups. When he was elected to the Assembly after serving four terms on the Board of Supervisors, he proved the old adage that the third time’s the charm. He had run for the Assembly twice before, unsuccessfully, but this time around he won, in part by lining up impressive support from local officials and tapping the campaign expertise of veteran consultant Richie Ross.  His undergraduate years were spent at UC Berkeley, where he played basketball, and his law degree is from UCLA. For nearly two decades he was in private practice in Sacramento, and before that he worked for the state Consumer Affairs Department. He lives in Sacramento with his wife Marj, an assistant vice chancellor at UC Davis.

Tim Donnelly (R-AD 59)
They don’t call him a Minuteman for nothing. Minutes after the new legislature convened last week, Donnelly submitted legislation to bring Arizona’s immigration law to California. The move prompted some to warn that there are a significant and growing number of Latino voters in and around Donnelly’s San Bernardino/Twin Peaks district, and that redistricting before the 2012 election could put a lot more of them in his district. But it seems unlikely that he cares. Donnelly started the largest Minuteman chapter in California in 2005 and made the news patrolling the Mexican border. He has images of colonial militia and the constitution on his website, and wants to repeal the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., even if their parents are not citizens. Donnelly and his Filipino wife, Rowena, have three sons.

Rich Gordon (D-21AD)

Lawmakers with a strong grounding in local government seem to do well in Sacramento, so the prospects are bright indeed for Rich Gordon, who spent 13 years on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, and before that was elected to two terms on the County Board of Education. Gordon’s top priorities are education, children’s health care and environmental protections. So right from the start he’ll confront major challenges in budget-strapped Sacramento, where there will be pressure to cut from – you guessed it – education, health care and environmental programs, among many others. The tightrope that Gordon and other Democrats will be walking is how to protect their core programs.

Jeff Gorell (R-AD 37)
Third generation war veteran Jeff Gorrell boasts the resume of a small business owner, university adjunct professor, prosecutor, naval intelligence officer, and backing from former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s aide. Gorell replaces Republican Audra Strickland in Assembly District 37, to include Ventura and surrounding areas. After a history degree from the UC Davis, Gorell studied law at the University of Pacific McGeorge Law School and earned an international law certificate from the University of Salzberg, Austria. The co-owner of Paladin Principle LLC, a public affairs firm, is now one of three republican representatives in L.A. County. Fellow legislator Connie Conway was a major donor in his campaign for Assembly, along with such donors as McDonalds, Jack in the Box, and the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Gorell and his wife, Laura, live in Ventura and have an eight-year-old daughter, Ashley, and a one-year-old son, Jack.

Shannon Grove (R-AD 32)
Grove built her credentials on being heavily involved in civic organizations in Bakersfield for years, working mainly with faith-based and business groups, and on being CEO of a staffing agency. She’s also raised five children and stepchildren. One of Grove’s biggest stated priorities in Sacramento will be to reform workers’ compensation law. But Grove was also dogged by ongoing questions about whether or not she actually lives in the district. The Bakersfield Californian wrote openly that the home inside the district where she claimed to live was actually the residence of her adult stepson, and that she and her husband kept little more than a few t-shirts, underclothes and socks in what was supposedly their bedroom. She’ll hardly be alone in the legislature in terms of these kinds of questions.

Linda Halderman (R-AD 29)
Linda Halderman is a doctor — a surgeon, in fact. But don’t confuse her with all those physicians you’ve seen out campaigning for single-payer health care in recent years — or with Richard Pan, for that matter. She worked for Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, as a senior policy advisor until he termed out this year. She’s a conservative mainly focused on taxes and economic issues. One s
ignature issue she may work on could be health care; on her campaign website, she said “Government has no business making life-and-death medical decisions for my family or yours.” But Halderman also has a track record of giving her time to the needy, and for foregoing many of the financial rewards available to a trained surgeon. Fluent in Spanish, she’s spent much of her career working with low-income people in Fresno, until she said Medi-Cal reimbursement rates drove her out of business. She also spent three months in American Samoa last year after the devastating earthquake there.

Roger Hernandez (D-AD 57)
Roger Hernandez took 65 percent of the vote for the 57th Assembly District, which includes La Puente, Azusa, and unincorporated areas of L.A. County. He is the son of immigrants and was the first in his family to attend college, where he studied political science at the UC Riverside and went on to receive a master’s in public administration. Hernandez comes to Sacramento as the former mayor of West Covina and Rowland Unified School Board member. Roger Hernandez replaces Ed Hernandez, who is headed for the State Senate.  

Ben Hueso (D-AD 79)
Former San Diego city councilman and California Coastal Commission member Ben Hueso served in a variety of public sector positions before taking over the 79th Assembly District for Democrat Mary Salas. This area is always good for a political fight – and a good excuse for political reporters to pretend they’re working while enjoying the Gaslight. Hueso, the founder of the Central Commercial District Revitalization Corporation, defeated Republican candidate Derrick Roach by 18,804 – no landslide or mandate, but a solid win. He said his goals in Sacramento will be to focus on job creation and environmental protection. Born and raised in San Diego, Hueso studied community and economic development at San Diego State University. Hueso and his wife, Laura, have four sons: Ben, Evan, Ian, and Barien.

Brian W. Jones (R-77AD)
Brian Jones spent two terms on the Santee City Council before winning election to the state Assembly – a victory he attributes in part to his unsuccessful congressional campaign two years ago against Duncan D. Hunter. For those who don’t know San Diego County, Santee is west of Lakeside and north of El Cajon. It is a conservative, tight-fisted, anti-tax region, and lawmakers from there reflect that – Joel Anderson (who Jones replaces) and Dennis Hollingsworth immediately come to mind. The toughest challenges facing Jones in Sacramento will be similar to those in Santee – taxes, spending, growth and government services. Jones’ local government experience will be invaluable, and his political skills will be put to the test as a new governor takes charge and Democrats are celebrating the departure of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He and his wife Heather have three children.

Ricardo Lara (D- AD 50)
Formerly the communications director for Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, Chief of Staff for majority leader Marco Antonio Firebaugh, and Los Angeles planning commission member, Ricardo Lara, 36, hardly qualifies as a political newbie. The Latino liberal’s campaign homepage dawns a pop-art shadow portrait of Lara transposed opposite from an outline of President Obama and clad in an Obama campaign t-shirt. The words “The American Dream,” frame the picture. But Lara has a lot of work to do in his jurisdiction, which includes scandal-plagued Bell and surrounding cities, before his constituents can achieve their dreams. After a series of state audits confirmed massive fraud throughout Bell’s city hall, the working class area was left paralyzed as leaders resigned. Lara encountered his own dose of controversy for serving on the Los Angeles Planning Commission even though he was not a city resident and again for describing himself as a consumer advocate on his ballot designation. Businessman Joe Ruiz sued Lara under allegations that he had not attended a consumer advocacy meeting in at least a year.

Allan Mansoor (R-AD 68)
Ethnic politics in California don’t get any more complex than what former Costa Mesa mayor Allan Mansoor had to survive to retain what has generally been considered a safe Republican seat. The AD 68 had been occupied by Van Tran, the only non-white Republican in the legislature last term. When Mansoor defeated the main Vietnamese Republican in a district where a quarter of the electorate is Vietnamese, that candidate, Long Pham, turned around and ran as an independent in the primary, making fun of Mansoor’s community college degree in the process. Mansoor, who is half Egyptian and has an Arab last name, had to endure photo-shopped online images of himself in a turban. In the end, Mansoor, a burly former high school wrestler and Orange County sheriff’s deputy, kept his cool and won handily in the general, against yet another Vietnamese candidate, the very moderate, 33-year-old Phu Nguyen. In Sacramento, Mansoor will be a solid fiscal conservative fighting to lower business regulations and fees.

Holly Mitchell (D-AD 47)
Holly Mitchell worked as a policy analyst for the State Senate Health and Human Services Committee and as Chief Executive of Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit that provides childcare for working families throughout Los Angeles, before she filled Karen Bass’ vacancy in the 47th Assembly District. Mitchell also worked in the L.A. district office of former State Senator Diane Watson and has studied public policy and leadership at UC Riverside and through the elite Coro Fellowship program. She has spoken to students of Rutgers University’s Center of American Women and Politics, University of California’s Breast Cancer Research Council, and the California State Commission on the Status of Women. Her district includes areas in South and West Los Angeles, Little Ethiopia, and Koreatown. Mitchell defeated Republican rival Lady Cage by 76,346 votes. She is the mother of one son.

Mike Morrell (R-AD 63)
Real estate broker Mike Morrell comes from the private sector – and is proud of it. A real estate broker, Morrell incorporated his home loan business, Provident, in 1989 and belongs to a slew of local organizations and boards in Rancho Cucamonga, including the YMCA and the Inland Empire Economic Partnership. Morrell’s mantra: “family, faith, and limited government.” Morrell and his wife, Joanie, live in Rancho Cucamonga, an area that has a penchant for producing solid, aggressive Republicans, such as Jim Brulte, who led both the Assembly and Senate GOP contingents. Morrell and his wife have been married 32 years and have raised four children. Who was one of his biggest campaign donors? Himself.

Kristin Olsen (R-AD 25)
Shortly after being sworn in last week, former Modesto vice-mayor Kristin Olsen introduced her first piece of legislation – a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s annual budget cycle to a two-year deal. Olsen said her primary goal in Sacramento is to mend the state’s plagued budget. The Modesto conservative and mother of three was endorsed by a gamut of prominent conservative organizations like the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed both Olsen and her predecessor, Republican Tom Berryhill, as he heads for the state Senate. Aside from her post on the Modesto City Council, Olsen was also the Assistant Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs for CSU Stanislaus. Olsen and her husband Rod live in Modesto.

Richard Pan (D-AD 5)
The joke about Richard Pan is that he should have a “CMA” next to his name instead of a “D,” as in the California Medical Association. This group backed him heavily with positive campaign mailers showing his work as a UC
Davis pediatrician, raising his profile in the district. Pan added to his public policy credentials in recent years in several roles, including founding a group called Communities and Physicians Together, a program placing pediatricians in low-income communities. Perhaps his calm bedside manner is part of what helped him survive a crowded Democratic field and then beat a high-profile, well-financed GOP opponent in Andy Pugno, best-known for his work on the Prop. 8 campaign. Pan’s win represented a key pickup for Democrats in the Legislature – the seat was last held by Republican Roger Niello.

Henry Perea (D-AD31)
Henry Perea is another of those smart, upwardly mobile politicos who make their bones in local government and then work their way to Sacramento. Perea was elected to the Fresno City Council eight years ago at the age of 25, the youngest person ever elected to that position, according to his biography.  He was reelected in 2006, and was named council president the following year. His district includes the core of California’s farm belt – an array of agricultural communities and the city of Fresno. He also was the co-founder of the Latino Water Coalition, a controversial group that pushed for water system improvements for the Valley but came under for being an “astro-turf” group – that’s “astro-turf” as opposed to “grass roots” – created and funded by special interests.

David G. Valadao (R-AD 30)
People may not know Valadao — he doesn’t even have a bio posted on his Assembly website — but they know his district. It’s the Hanford based swing district that the Parra and Florez clans have been fighting over for years. When a Republican finally won it — Danny Gilmore in 2008, in his second try – he later announced that the pressures of dealing with budget cuts were too much and he wasn’t going to seek reelection. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association-endorsed Valadao likely won’t have the same problem. A lifelong Hanford area farmer of Portuguese ancestry, he is a strong opponent of government regulation. His father was a dairy farmer, and Valadao continues to run a pair of dairy farms and wheat/corn feed operations with his brothers. Of course, this being AD 30, you’ll never escape the Parra/Florez thing. Valadao accepted Nicole Parra’s endorsement after her dad Pete lost to Fran Florez in the Democratic primary.

Don Wagner (R-AD 70)
For conservatives, Chuck DeVore is a hard act to follow. But Don Wagner looks to be up to the task. Most of the attention on his “right even by the standards of Republicans” credentials may have gone to donations from Holocaust-denying history teacher Steven Frogue and other so-called extremists. In fact, Wagner is considered so conservative that there were rumors floating around the district that he was being supported by Democrats who wanted more moderate Republican Debbie Tharp to lose the primary. Tharp came back and ran as a Libertarian, and Wagner still won the general by 30 points. He was the board president of the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees, among other civic duties.

Bob Wieckowski (D-AD 20)

Bob Wieckowski may be the only freshman to ride BART to Sacramento. Of course, the Bay Area’s subway system doesn’t reach nearly this far. As vice-mayor of Fremont, he helped bring in $200 million for a BART extension. He also successfully pushed Measure K this past election, a parcel tax measure that will bring $3.25 million into local schools in the area. Wieckowski grew up in Fremont, went to D.C. as a young man to work for Congressman Don Edwards, then came back and became an attorney working on bankruptcy cases for small businesses. His pet issues include affordable housing and environmental causes.

Das Williams (D-AD35)

Das Williams cut his political teeth as a former aide to Assemblywoman Hanna Beth Jackson, who once represented the 35th District seat. Williams, a former junior high school teacher, served seven years on the Santa Barbara City Council and became identified with environmental and educational issues. Williams’ Democrat primary election was a brawl, but he wound up winning handily over rival Susan Jordan, a prominent environmentalist and the wife of departing lawmaker Pedro Nava, and Williams easily defeated his GOP challenger in the fall.  Williams has a master’s degree in environmental science and management, and served as a national board member of the National Organization for Women.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: