Former Kern County supervisor Pete Parra on Tuesday set up an exploratory committee to run for the 30th Assembly District, a seat now held by Republican Danny Gilmore of Hanford. Parra’s decision appeared to confirm what political insiders have felt for weeks – that Gilmore won’t seek reelection next year.
Parra’s action was announced by his daughter, former Democratic Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, who held the seat from 2002 to 2008.
“He’s in it now. He’s signed the paperwork,” Parra told Capitol Weekly. She added, “We’ll be in Sacramento next week making the rounds.”
The younger Parra beat Gilmore in a close, hard-fought race in 2006. Afterwards, the two met for lunch and became friends. Both Parras crossed party lines to campaign for Gilmore last year, when he defeated Democrat Fran Florez to win election to the Assembly.
Pete Parra has said publicly that he was interested in Gilmore’s seat, but that he would not run against Gilmore, whom he considers a friend.
While Nicole Parra would not say that Gilmore has decided not to run, she did say they each spoke with him earlier on Tuesday, before Pete Parra signed the papers to jump into the race.
Assembly Republicans say party officials are interviewing potential candidates to replace Gilmore. But he also said it was premature to comment on which party officials were speaking to about the slot, saying only it was a “diverse” group.
“We are preparing for the possibility if he does not run for reelection,” said Kevin Spillane, political director for the Assembly Republicans. “We are doing what we expect to do in that kind of situation.”
That situation made it into newspaper headlines last week when the California Target Book reported that Gilmore would not seek reelection.
“He doesn’t enjoy the job,” said Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum. “If he was forced to make the decision today, he wouldn’t run for reelection.”
Gilmore himself has remained mum on his plans. But there have been rumors for months that Gilmore was unhappy with the harsh partisanship in the Legislature, as well as having to vote and deep cuts in state services.
An Oct. 17 story in the Bakersfield California, “Danny Gilmore’s Tough First Term,” tells of Gilmore praying, crying and suffering bouts of insomnia following tough votes and meetings with mothers of disabled children. Perhaps tellingly, Gilmore’s Assembly website links to the story in its “In the News” section.
Hoffenblum also noted that Gilmore was elected out of the 30th District, one of the most-closely divided in the state. After losing to Parra in 2006, he came back to two years later to beat Fran Florez, mother of Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and a well-known local politician in her own right, by a single percentage point. Gilmore was outspent in both campaigns, and endured numerous attack ads.
Hoffenblum noted that Gilmore is about to turn 60, and that as a retired CHP officer, he has a good pension.
“He doesn’t need the money,” Hoffenblum said. “He probably looked around and said “What am I doing this for?”
Spillane gave Gilmore credit for the way he ran his last campaign.
“Gilmore was able to win it in the worst possible environment with the Obama tidal wave sweeping the country,” Spillane said. “This cycle is much more favorable to Republicans.”
He also expressed hope that Fran Florez and Pete Parra might weaken each other in a bitter primary fight. The two powerful Central Valley Latino political families have a feud that goes back to at least 2002, when former Dean Florez staffer Michael Rubio beat Pete Parra in a tough race for the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
Another freshman legislator, Alyson Huber, D-Lodi, said she understands some of what Gilmore’s going through. After all, she was the only legislator to win an even closer race, topping Republican Jack Sieglock by 474 votes after a three-week recount. Her seat is certain to be a top Republican target next year.
“Danny and I get along really well,” Huber said. “We commiserate all the time because we do feel some of the same pressures.”
Among these pressures are being low on the legislative totem pole. Huber didn’t get stuck in the Doghouse, the 391 square foot office where Gilmore spent his time until the resignation of Assemblyman Mike Duvall, R-Brea. But as the “51st Democrat,” she did get a “Republican office,” a 751 square foot space, formerly occupied by termed out Republican Alan Nakanishi, that is one of the Assembly’s smallest.
Gilmore also publically battled Speaker Karen Bass, R-Los Angeles, over his desire to have a second regional office in Bakersfield to help serve his sprawling, rural district. Huber notes that she also restricted to a single regional office, despite her own large, four-county district.
Another freshman Republican, Dan Logue, R-Chico, said he isn’t conflicted about some of the hard votes they’ve had to face in the recession and budget crisis.
“You want my honest response?” Logue asked. “I love it. I live for it. This is the best opportunity we’ve had to fix this state in years.”
Logue said he sees the budget problems as a chance to reduce what he sees and onerous regulations of business in California, and also to devolve some power out to local governments. But also noted that coming out of a solidly Republican district gives him some freedom.
“His district is different,” Logue said of Gilmore. “He has more of a tightrope to walk.”
Despite Gilmore’s office-space feuds with Bass, Hoffenblum said the Speaker probably helped get him elected. While she wasn’t necessarily popular with other Democrats in the Legislature, Parra was well-liked in her own district.
Parra’s support for Gilmore led Bass to move Parra completely out of the Capitol, to a small space in the Legislative Office Building in September of last year, weeks before she termed out—a move Hoffenblum said probably hurt the Democratic brand in the district coming so close to the election.
“I wish I’d had a better relationship with the Speaker before she became Speaker,” Parra lamented.
Parra still has nothing but kind words for Gilmore. His behavior towards her in the campaign contrasted not just with other Republicans she’d faced, but even with other Democrats she’d challenged in primaries. They first met at a 2006 debate, when Gilmore came over, shook her hand and introduced himself to both her and Pete Parra.
“It was a tough race, because he’s such a good person,” Parra said. “When I first ran against Dean Gardner, it wasn’t hard for me to challenge his credentials and campaign against him. He wasn’t the nicest guy,” she said of her 2002 and 2004 general election opponent.
Speaking of Gilmore, she added: “It’s a combat sport. I don’t’ think in his heart he was prepared for that. I understand.”