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The domino effect

Changing the state term-limits law may give comfort to some termed-out legislators, but it’s unsettling to political hopefuls who already have plans to take those seats.
In many parts of the state, whole domino chains of political aspiration are dependent on voters rejecting a bid to give incumbents more time in office.
“It creates a quandary for everybody–candidates, contributors and endorsers,” said political consultant Jeff Raimundo.
For just one example, take a look at Yolo County, just across the river from Sacramento. There, state Senator Mike Machado and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk both are termed out in 2008.
Wolk has indicated she’s interested in running for Machado’s Senate seat.
In turn, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada already have announced that they are running for Wolk’s Assembly job, and political scion John Garamendi Jr. is expected to challenge Wolk for the open Senate seat.
But if the governor this week signs a law creating a February 5, 2008, presidential primary in California (which he is expected to do), and if legislators put on that February 5 ballot an initiative extending term limits (also expected), and if voters actually pass such an initiative (a very big “if”)–then Wolk and Machado both would be eligible to run again for their seats in 2008.
If Machado runs, Wolk then has to decide whether to run against Machado or to make another run for Assembly.
Representatives for both legislators declined to comment on any what-if scenarios. Cabaldon has said he won’t run if Wolk decides to run again. Yamada is still mulling over the possibility.
“There’s a kind of trickle down effect,” said Cabaldon spokesman Robbie Abelon. “There are just too many scenarios. We just have to proceed as if term limits are going to stay as they are,” Abelon added.
But Republican political consultant and current Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad added a couple more links to the chain.
If Cabaldon’s assembly bid stalls, he’ll likely hold onto his spot in the mayor’s office. Then somebody on the council, West Sacramento City Council member Oscar Villegas perhaps, decides not to make a bid for mayor. Somebody else–perhaps a current school-board member–scratches “run for city council” off of his or her to-do lists.
“For every Don Perata, there’s a whole chain of people waiting to get their bite at the apple. They want them to move out, so they can move up,” Rexroad explained.
Up and down the state, candidates are forging ahead under the current term-limits regime. But at the same time, many are ready to abandon those campaigns come February ’08.
“Unless and until the law changes, I’m campaigning very enthusiastically,” said Richard Holober, who serves on the San Mateo Community College Board, and is running for the Democratic Party nomination to the Assembly’s 19th District in South San Francisco.
But Holober said that if term limits are changed, he expects current Assemblyman Gene Mullin to run again. “He would run with my support,” said Holober, explaining that he would simply step aside. “It’s not about the personal political career of Richard Holober.”
In the Assembly’s 75th District, Republican Nathan Fletcher is running with the endorsement of termed-out Assemblyman George Plescia.
But, “If George Plescia is running for re-election, Nathan Fletcher is not running,” said Fletcher’s consultant Duane Dichiara.
For his part, Rexroad doesn’t think term-limits reform is going to pass. But he said even the possibility is hurting the ability of some candidates to raise funds.
“It’s happening to clients of mine. It’s a great excuse for donors to say. ‘We’re just going to wait and see what happens,'” said Rexroad.
While political wannabes may find themselves stranded by term-limits reform, incumbents may have to scramble to regain their seats.
There would be a short turn-around time between the results of the February election and the March 2008 filing deadline for the June primary.
As Sacramento County assistant registrar of voters Alice Jarboe points out, “You can’t run for office unless you’re entitled to run for that office.”
And, technically, termed-out legislators wouldn’t even be able to file papers to run again until the results of the February election is completely official–which in some counties could take up to 28 days.
Counties have until Tuesday, March 4, to complete the full canvass of the February 5 election. The last day to file for election in the June primary is 5 p.m. on Friday, March 7. That would leave incumbents trying to take advantage of extended term limits with just three days to file for re-election.
[For more information on the challenge to local governments of an early presidential primary, see “Seeing double,” left]
And it is not entirely clear how incumbents would go about raising funds for their primaries.
“You can’t raise money for the seat you’re in when you’re termed out of that seat,” said Jody Fujii, chief of staff to state Senator Machado.
Or can they? Whitney Barazoto, spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission, said the FPPC has not yet given any formal advice on the matter, but said “there does not appear to be anything in the Political Reform Act that would specifically prohibit a candidate from raising funds for a future term of office for which he or she may not currently be eligible.”
Contact Cosmo Garvin at
cosmo.garvin@capitolweekly.net

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