Legislative race preview: The primary contests to watch on Election Day

On June 8, the fate of 100 legislative seats will be decided, but just a handful of the races are remotely competitive. What follows is a brief list and description of what to look for on June 8.

The vast majority of these races will be decided in the primaries. Of the seats listed below, only one race – the Hanford-area, 30th Assembly District being vacated by Republican Danny Gilmore – is expected to be competitive in the fall. While there are other races not listed below that will demand attention and resources, what follows are the races to watch on Election Day next month.


Democratic Primaries
AD 7 – Like many races this cycle, this contest is notable for a lack of fundraising by the candidates. The Democratic primary in this district – which stretches from Napa to Sonoma and down to Vallejo – is expected to settle the race. The “establishment candidate” is attorney Michael Allen, who has the support of incumbent Noreen Evans and Sen. Pat Wiggins. Allen also has most of the key labor endorsements in the race. Allen’s contracts with a local water agency have come under scrutiny as opponents try to gain ground. Still, Allen remains the clear front-runner here. Councilman Michael Wilson is the only candidate from Vallejo in the race. Wilson has received backing from local business groups. Businessman and part-time radio host Lee Pierce is also seeking the Democratic nomination

AD 9 – The race for this seat – which encompasses the heart of Sacramento – is filled with familiar faces. County Supervisor Roger Dickinson has run for this seat twice before. Councilwoman Lauren Hammond also ran against Dave Jones and Dickinson in 2004. Chris Garland, the political director for the California Faculty Association, has been promised big independent expenditure money from CFA. Former Capitol staffer and current councilman Kevin McCarty, who has clashed openly with Mayor Kevin Johnson on the council, is also seeking the seat.

AD 20 – The race to replace Alberto Torrico has been one of the hotbeds of early activity among independent expenditure committees. It’s your standard moderate, pro-business Democrat vs. liberal Democrat here. Garrett Yee has received backing from business groups and health insurers. Meanwhile, an IE backed by trial lawyers and the California Nurses Association have spent about $100K on behalf of attorney Bob Wieckowski, who also has received a boost from law enforcement groups.  

AD 21 – Last time this seat was open, it became the most expensive Assembly race in California history as Republican Steve Poizner spent millions to try to knock off Democrat Ira Ruskin. This year, the fight is exclusively on the Democratic side. Three candidates are seeking the nomination, including San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, former Palo Alto Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto and venture capitalist Josh Becker.
Gordon has been tagged by some in Sacramento as a potential star of his class, but he’ll have to survive a bruising primary first. He has secured most of the major labor endorsements in the race, and labor has begun spending in an independent expenditure campaign focused on Kishimoto. As of March, Becker had raised more than $300,000 for his campaign.

AD 28 – This is another race where the liberal vs. moderate schism is being played out writ large. Attorney Luis Alejo is a Watsonville councilman with heavy labor backing and the IE money to show for it. Salinas Councilwoman Janet Barnes hails from the demographic base of the district, and has gotten backing from EdVoice and some business groups. Gilroy School Board member Francisco Dominguez is also seeking the Democratic nod here.

AD 30 – Parra vs. Florez. Need we say more? The Capitol’s longest running feud gets another (final?) chapter next month as Fran Florez once again asks her party to give her the nomination here after losing the seat two years ago. Former supervisor Pete Parra is running to spite, er, capture the seat once held by daughter Nicole.

AD 35 – Political spouses have had a mixed record when it comes to taking over their partners’ Assembly seats. This year, Susan Jordan tries the feat, running for the seat held by her husband, Pedro Nava. Jordan was the early front-runner but Das Williams, a 30-year-old former Capitol staffer and current Santa Barbara councilman, has come on strong. Williams has proven to be a fundraising juggernaut, challenging Jordan’s environmental credentials and securing the endorsement of the California Teachers Association and his former boss, Hannah-Beth Jackson.

AD 53 – Talk about your free-for-alls. This race in Los Angeles’ South Bay features Betsy Butler, the top fundraiser for the state’s trial lawyers association against James Lau, the assistant executive director of the state League of Conservation Voters education fund. IEs are playing big time here, including doctors, business groups, and of course, the lawyers. But this isn’t necessarily a two-way race. The Democratic field includes attorney Kate Anderson, deputy L.A. City Attorney Nick Karno and Manhattan Beach Councilman Mitch Ward are all launching serious campaigns for the seat.

Republican Primaries
AD 25 – This Central Valley seat, now held by Tom Berryhill, attracted six Republican candidates with political experience. Among them are Modesto Councilwoman Kristin Olsen, Tuolomne County Supervisor Teri Murrison and former Modesto councilwoman Janice Keating. There are also some rogues on the list, including Jesse White, the Riverbank councilman who was arrested on drug possession charges last week. Also seeking the seat is Bill Conrad, the former Modesto councilman who suggested back in 2006 that Berryhill’s heart transplant meant he might not live to serve out his term in the Assembly.

AD 29 – This is the seat of former Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines, who is termed out of this year. But the district may be better known for his predecessor, one-termer Steve “Looking for the Farm Bureau” Samuelian. There’s a trio of serious GOP candidates for this safe Republican seat.  Surgeon Linda Halderman made connections in the Capitol after she came to work for Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley. She’s facing Don McKinney, an almond farmer who has been active in growers groups and has several big name endorsements, and Bob Whalen, a Clovis City Councilman and deputy district attorney for Fresno County.

AD 32 – The political tentacles of Kevin McCarthy are still evident in his former Assembly district. First, it was Jean Fuller, who is all but assured a promotion to the Senate this fall. Now, McCarthy and his political family are backing Shannon Grove, who Republicans are already touting as a potential star of her class. But first, she must survive a primary against Ken Mettler, who has the backing of conservative grassroots groups.

AD 33 – This is another in the list of Republican blood feuds this spring. Four Republicans are running to replace Sam Blakeslee. Etta Waterfield has the backing of Rep. Tom McClintock and Sen. Tony Strickland (and, according to the Target Book, former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda). Moderates from the district including Abel Maldonado and Brooks Firestone are backing Katcho Achadjian, a member of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. Also running is Matt Kokkonen, a Tea Party activist who narrowly lost a 2004 bid for the seat to Blakeslee.

AD 59 – This seat opened up when Hesperia Republican Anthony Adams opted not to seek reelection. And it looks like conservative Republicans will get their wish. Whoever wins this primary appears as though they will be a more strident conservative vote than Adams turned out to be. Among the front-runners here are former Covina councilman Chris Lancaster, son of fo
rmer Assemblyman Bill Lancaster, who ran against Adams four years ago. Former Hesperia school board member Anthony Riley has the backing of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the core of the conservative base that launched a recall effort against Adams.

AD 63 – Bill Emmerson’s pending election to the Senate has opened up this San Bernardino County seat. GOP consultant Kevin Spillane called this race “the wildest and woolliest Assembly primary in the state of California.” In all, seven Republicans are seeking the party’s nod here. Most of the population is based in the western half of the district, and that’s where most of the candidates hail from, as well. Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth has received backing from the California Medical Association and Rep. Gary Miller. Former candidate and mortgage broker Mike Morrell is back with the support of tax groups and conservative officials past and present. Former sheriff’s deputy Paul Chabot has touted his military service. And Redlands Mayor Pat Gilbreath is hoping those three all split the vote on that side of the district.

AD 70 – The race to replace Chuck DeVore is another four-way race. Irvine Councilman Steven Choi has been blasted by his opponents as a carpetbagger, but has perhaps the highest name ID of any candidate in the race. Wagner, a community college district board member, has been touting his conservative credentials in the race, touting the endorsement of the California Republican Assemby.  Tustin Mayor Jerry Amante has locked up lots of support among the Sacramento lobbying corps, but that’s not always a guarantee of victory. Amante has pledged to work across party lines, and backed a local sales tax hike to pay for more transportation projects – not exactly what you’d expect a candidate to be telling voters who have elected Chuck DeVore for the last six years.

AD 77 – This seat came open two years early when Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, decided to mount a bid for state Senate. Another three–way race, this one includes El Cajon City Councilman Bill Wells; Brian Jones, a Santee City Councilman; and Christine Rubin, a former staffer for Senator Mark Wyland, R-Escondido. Wells appears to have the most endorsements, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, though Rubin is well-connected and boasts the support of several sitting GOP legislators. Jones has some local support, but may have made some enemies in 2008 when he attempted to take on local Rep. Duncan Hunter in his own primary; he lost by 56 points.  


Democratic Primaries
SD 40 – Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg is all-in on this race, and his victory is anything but assured. Steinberg is backing Assemblywoman Mary Salas against former Assemblyman Juan Vargas, in what has become a proxy fight for the heart and soul of the state Senate. Moderates like Vargas already hold significant sway in the house, and a Salas defeat could make it that much harder for Steinberg to control his caucus. That explains why Senate staffers are phone-banking in their free time and why business groups have already spent more than $1 million to help Vargas.

Republican Primaries
SD 4 – This race between Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa has been years in the making. The two didn’t get along when they were colleagues in the Assembly, and they don’t appear to be getting on very well now. La Malfa has criticized Keene’s history of voting for budgets in the Assembly, while Keene has made an issue out of La Malfa’s personal wealth. Get your umbrellas ready. The mud is going to fly here.

SD 36 – Assemblyman Joel Anderson has his hands full with Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone in this race to replace Dennis Hollingsworth. Anderson has proven to be a crackerjack fundraiser during his time in Sacramento. But he ran afoul of the Fair Political Practices Commission for allegedly funneling money through county parties into his campaign. Stone has come under fire for money his sister has received from Stone’s campaign warchest, and receiving use of a county car.

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