Thanks to newly redrawn district boundaries, Napa County has a chance to put its first lawmaker in the state Capitol in more than a generation.
The race to replace termed-out 4th District Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, promises to be hotly contested, featuring family connections, Democrats going head-to-head and a scramble for campaign funds.
“Nobody from Napa County has won this seat in somewhere around 35 years,” said Bill Dodd, a Napa County supervisor vying for Yamada’s job. “Certainly now with the redistricting and with the open primary, it’s a prime opportunity for me, or somebody like me, to get elected in this district,” he said.
If Dodd, a former Republican, were to win he would become the first Napa-area politician to win a seat in the Legislature since 1980, when Assemblyman Mike Gage declined to seek re-election.
Until recently, Napa County was lumped in with much larger Santa Rosa and failed to gain political traction in the Assembly. It may have a better shot under new district lines drawn by California’s voter-approved, independent commission.
The Assembly district once drawn for Davis Democrats now expands westward to include Napa County and pushes north through Lake County. The boundaries took effect in time for the 2012 elections.
Dodd has a tough road ahead, with strong contenders from Yamada’s home turf. Davis-area politicians with local name recognition are in the running for the open Assembly seat. Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza and Deputy Mayor Dan Wolk — the son of state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis — are among five contenders competing in the June primary for Yamada’s seat.
Yamada has not endorsed any candidate, although there was speculation early on that she would endorse Dan Wolk. He has received support from other legislators, including Senate leadership.
Meanwhile, Yamada has set up a campaign committee to run for Lois Wolk’s seat in 2016 when she is termed out. Yamada has raised about $44,000.
The political maneuvering in Davis ultimately may play out across the district.
“Napa is bigger in name than it is in population,” said Paul Mitchell, a political data expert and vice president of Political Data Inc. “People in France know Napa, but Napa itself is a rather small community and a county that doesn’t have a lot of population.
“When you put it in with a city like Davis, you’re going to have to expect that Davis, especially in a Democratic primary, is going to have more say than Napa.”
Voter turnout in Napa County trailed Yolo by about 1.5 points in the 2012 primary, according to Political Data Inc., which markets detailed data packages for candidates and campaigns.
But data also suggest that Napa County is likely to lead in voter turnout for this June’s primary election with 31.9 percent, compared with Yolo County’s 28.8 percent, Mitchell said.
The seat is a safe one for Democrats, who maintain 45.7 percent of registered voters versus Republicans’ 26.1 percent. The top-two primary system makes it all but certain that two Democrats will face off against each other in the November general election.
Mayor Krovoza, Deputy Mayor Wolk and Dodd are the three Democrats still competing in the June primary. Two Republican hopefuls include retired Marine Corps officer Charlie Schaupp and Dustin Call, a legislative aide to a Southern Californian assemblyman.
According to state financial disclosure records, Dodd has the fundraising edge. He has raised more than $640,000, with donors including John J. Fisher, son of The Gap founder Donald Fisher, and other members of the Fisher family. They also include the powerful Personal Insurance Federation of California and other insurance interests, plus builders and commercial property interests.
Krovoza has raised about $240,000, including support from retired developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and members of the UC Davis academic community. Dan Wolk has raised about $184,000. His backers include the union group the Service¬Employees International Union, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, incoming Senate Leader Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles, other lawmakers and family members.
Through the end of March, Schaupp and Call had not yet filed reports with the state.
Despite the hefty war chest, Dodd will need to establish himself as a Democrat. Fifteen months ago he switched from the GOP because, he said, his values aligned more with the Democratic Party, particularly on social issues.
“Frankly, the good thing about my record is it’s long and it’s extensive and it’s available,” Dodd said. “I’m leading the pack in the way of endorsements as well. Those are things that I think reflect legitimacy in my candidacy.”
The two Davis Democrats are working hard to garner endorsements as well as donors.
“I have over 650 individual donors to my campaign at this point, and that’s on my own — not because of a machine or some sort of family help,” Krovoza said. “None of us are close to Bill Dodd’s money, that’s just incredible, but I’m running on my name and my record. I’m very proud of it, and I think that’s going to get through to the voters.”
Krovoza noted that he is backed by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. But his city council colleagues have decided to back Wolk.
“I think it’s definitely noteworthy these members don’t have to endorse, and of course two of their colleagues running against each other. You can imagine they would feel cornered, but they’re not,” Dan Wolk said. “They endorsed me. I think it speaks to how well we work together. I work well with all my colleagues, including Joe.”
Yamada is the third consecutive Davis woman to be elected to the Assembly. Former Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson first took the seat in 1996, followed by Lois Wolk.
Crafting the 4th Assembly District was a contentious feat for the citizen’s commission, and joining the university city with Napa County wasn’t always the plan, said Stan Forbes, who sat on the redistricting commission. He said he favored Davis joining instead with Sacramento.
“West Sacramento went with Sacramento, that was a given,” Forbes said. “I think Davis really is much more connected to Sacramento than it is to Lake County, but again I lost that one.”
There also are Napa wine country links to Davis.
“There are a lot of facilities (on the UC Davis campus) that are generously donated by winemakers in Napa, and a lot of the Napa winemakers were educated in Davis,” said Helen Thomson, who once represented the old 8th Assembly District. “In that regard, there is a relationship.”
Ed’s Note: A version of this story appeared earlier in The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, a content partner of Capitol Weekly.