The filing deadline for the June legislative primaries came and went last week, and with its passing came a few surprises. Three races that were supposed to be among the most contentious in the state got a whole lot less interesting, when some prominent candidates opted not to run for office.
Among them was former Assemblyman Jerome Horton, D-Inglewood, who’s three-way race with Assemblyman Merv Dymally and former Assemblyman Rod Wright was going to be one of the most closely watched in the state.
In the race to replace Fabian Nuñez, two of the top candidates, Arturo Chavez and Ricardo Lara, have decided not to run, after a series of meetings with top Los Angeles power brokers, including Nunez, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Chavez, who works as district director for Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, insists there was no deal that led to his decision not to run. But he did say it was clear that if he ran, the race would be nasty and divisive.
“There are lots of friends and family involved in this,” Chavez said. “Sometimes those things are more important than individual gain.” Chavez grew up with Cedillo and Villaraigosa, and has known Perez since he was five-years-old. He is not only close with the candidates and their surrogates, but also the candidates’ families.
“There’s just too many family members and friends involved — too many splits and divisions that are not necessary. We don’t need that right now. We’ve worked way too hard to build [Latino] representation. We’ve had enough scandals and problems with our folks who are elected.”
Chavez said that he did have a conversation with Villaraigosa about the race, but that Cedillo was still urging him to run. His decision was a personal one.
“There was no deal. I don’t have anything that I’ve been offered,” he said with a laugh. “We just came through some ugly stuff with the Prop 93 campaign. The press is having a field day with this in-fighting. Half of it is not necessary.”
As for Lara, who is Nunez’s district director, got into the race with the speaker’s backing. But Nunez reportedly made a decision to back Perez, the political director of the United Food and Commercial Workers and Villaraigosa’s cousin, who had the backing of Villaraigosa and Durazo.
The clearing of the field in the 46th helps begin the healing process between Nunez and Durazo, who tangled over tribal gaming compacts in the Legislature last year.
Over in the Senate, Horton’s decision not to run helps clear the field for Dymally. Wright, another former Assemblyman, is still in the race, but Dymally is considered to be the favorite.
Horton said his decision not to run stems from disillusionment with the Capitol political process. “I began to realize that term limits has caused the Legislature to be far more political driven than principle-driven,” said Horton. “I’m more of a principle-driven guy. The integrity of the process had diminished.”
Horton said the “the [special] interests set the agenda in Sacramento.”
“I signed up to deal with these issues – health care, prison reform. And what I found was, people have more personal political concerns. I didn’t see that the political will was there to bring about solutions. I didn’t want to go back to play no games. I wasn’t in it for the politics. “
Horton said he would consider another elected office, or a political appointment, but said he has not been promised anything. “A true servant, never loses their desire to serve. You never lose it. When an old lady drops something, you feel that pull to bend down and pick it up. Like a minister being called to the ministry. You can’t do nothing but serve.”
Another expensive Senate primary was avoided in Contra Costa County, Joe Canciamilla opted out of a challenge against Mark DeSaulnier for Tom Torlakson’s Senate seat. Sen Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the pro-tem-elect, reportedly shared polling information with Canciamilla that showed DeSaulnier as a strong favorite in the race.
Less of a surprise was Assemblywoman Nell Soto’s decision not to seek reelection, creating a Democratic vacancy in the San Gabriel Valley. Soto has rarely been seen in the Capitol since being elected to the Assembly in 2006, as she is dealing with significant health problems.