Date: Aug 01, 2014
August 2014-Western Grower Ag Legal Network

California voters may have set a record in June’s primary election by largely electing not to bother to vote.  Only about one-quarter of the state’s registered voters participated, leading to some wild results and possibly setting the stage for more unpredictable outcomes in November if the low-participation trend holds.

At stake are all constitutional offices, starting of course with the Governor, which is not expected to generate much voter interest as Jerry Brown appears headed for a relatively easily re-election to an unprecedented fourth term.  More interest, at least among political professionals, is being generated in some of the other statewide contests.  The June primary election for Controller produced a first-place finish for Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen, a Republican thought by many in the GOP to represent a new image for the party.  The second place finisher was state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, who finished just 481 votes ahead of former Assembly Speaker John Perez.  At the time of this writing, Perez has launched a selective recount in 15 counties.  If Yee’s lead holds up, she will move on to the November contest against Swearingen.

There is little apparent competition in the other statewide contests, where Democrats have the upper hand, although the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Pete Peterson, has generated some attention as a “new Republican” facing off against Democratic state Senator Alex Padilla of Los Angeles.

The primary election also set the stage for a bruising battle over the Democratic Party’s two-thirds majorities in the state Assembly and state Senate.  Business interests invested heavily in a few primary contests where labor- and environmental group-supported Democratic candidates on the left faced challenges from more business-friendly Democrats.  In the most expensive of these contests, labor won by securing a first-place finish for a teacher’s union official in an East Bay area open seat.  Business groups heavily supported moderate Democrat Steve Glazer (see “Glazer’s Rebellion,” WG&S, March 2014), but a surge of Republican Party support for their candidate pushed Glazer to third.  Republicans will now focus on taking that seat.

Assembly Democrats hold 55 of the chamber’s 80 seats, one more than two-thirds.  To preserve their supermajority, Democrats and their allies in labor will pull out all the stops to hold onto that East Bay seat and protect two vulnerable incumbents who surprised many by defeating two incumbent Republican Assembly members in 2012 in districts considered safe for the GOP.  Assembly Democrats will also seek to take a Ventura area seat being vacated by Republican Jeff Gorrell, who is running for Congress.

The state Senate appears to present the best chance for Republicans to end the Democratic supermajority.  Democrats currently hold 28 seats, one more than two-thirds.  Republicans head into the campaign season knowing they already have one seat picked up as redistricting took a Democratic Senate district away from San Francisco and created a new Republican district in the Inland Empire.  Three other Senate contests will determine whether Democrats can hold onto their supermajority.  Two are held by Republicans seeking reelection, Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Andy Vidak of Hanford.  We can expect to see hard-fought and expensive campaigns in both contests, especially Vidak’s, but so far both of the incumbents look strong.  That means an incredible amount of money will be spent by opposing forces on the 34th Senate District in Orange County.  Currently held by a termed-out Democrat, voter registration in this district is almost evenly split between the parties.  Democrats are banking on former state Assemblyman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana, while Republicans are backing Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, whose district includes much of Orange County’s large Asian population.

Other state legislative contests might crop up as competitive battlefields as the election nears, and there are some interesting same-party runoffs such as the battle for a Sacramento-area Senate seat which pits two sitting Democratic Assembly members against each other.

The battle for the supermajority in both houses will be early tests for the new leaders, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego and Senator Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles.  Atkins was sworn-in as Speaker in May and has established firm control over the Assembly’s affairs.  DeLeon will formally take over as Senate President pro tempore after the Legislature concludes its two-year session at the end of August.  For both leaders, and especially Atkins, the fate of dozens of controversial bills in the final weeks of the session will send important signals to divergent interest groups as they make political plans for the fall elections.

WG Staff Contact

Dave Puglia
President & CEO

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