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February 5, 2014
Insider Extra: Legislative races to watch in 2014 - Part 3

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By Christopher Cadelago

In the third of five parts, veteran political analyst Tony Quinn offers his take on key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this year. Here's a look at the most interesting Assembly races in Southern California.

33rd District
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, is running for governor. At least six Republicans are making plans to succeed him: Michele Ambrozic, vice president of an insurance service; Art Bishop, a member of the Apple Valley Town Council; Scott Markovich, a Crestline building contractor; Jay Obernolte, a Big Bear Lake council member; Rick Roelle, a San Bernardino County deputy sheriff; and Brett Savage, a graduate teaching assistant at the University of California Irvine.

Tony's Take
This is California's monster district, covering all of the San Bernardino desert and larger than some states. It is safely Republican, but could well see a play out of the national GOP civil war this election. Donnelly is clearly the most conservative Republican legislator, a favorite of the tea party. He has endorsed Bishop, but Ambrozic is a conservative activist. Obernolte is a successful businessman. In 2012, an overlapping congressional district featured a same-party runoff election between a tea party and a business-oriented Republican. That could happen in this district later this year.

36th District
Democratic incumbent Steve Fox of Palmdale is seeking re-election. Republican challengers include Palmdale City Councilman Tom Lackey, a retired sergeant in the California Highway Patrol, and Suzette Martinez, a public affairs specialist.

Tony's Take
Fox was a most improbable winner. His Republican opponent thought the district was so safe that he did not bother campaigning in the 2012 general election. He got quite a surprise when he lost by a few hundred votes. Republicans thought they had the perfect candidate to go against Fox in car dealer Lou Gonzales, but he has dropped out, and party leaders scrambled to find a replacement. Lackey, who lost the primary in 2012, has a number of GOP endorsements. Martinez entered the race more recently.

40th District
Republican Mike Morrell won re-election in 2012, and his seat is viewed as a top target in 2014. Morrell is running in the special election in the overlapping 23rd Senate District to succeed Bill Emmerson. Possible contenders for the Assembly seat are Democrat Art Bustamante of the Chaffey Joint Unified School District, Democrat Elvira Harris, a correctional counselor, and Republican Marc Steinorth, a Rancho Cucamonga councilman. Republican Paul Chabot, a businessman and opponent of legalizing marijuana, is said to be weighing a run.

Tony's Take
With Morrell all but assured election to a safe Republican Senate seat, this increasingly marginal Assembly district will see a major battle in 2014. The Republican base vote in this district is about 45 percent, and Morrell barely won in 2012. When the district was drawn in 2011, voter registration was even between the parties. Now Democrats have taken a small but growing lead. This district is a prime candidate for a Democratic pick-up in 2014 if the registration continues drifting to Democrats.

42nd District
Republican Brian Nestande of Palm Desert is termed out and running against freshman Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert. The Republican contenders for his Assembly seat are Gary Jeandron, the former police chief of Palm Springs, ex-Yucca Valley Town Councilman Chad Mayes and former San Jacinto City Councilman Scott Miller. The Democrat is Karalee Hargrove of the Morongo Unified school board.

Tony's Take
This eastern Riverside and San Bernardino district is safely Republican, although if Hargrove can put on any kind of a campaign and the GOP vote is split, only one Republican may make it to the runoff. Jeandron is probably the early leader for the GOP nod, having run before, but Mayes has a number of endorsements.

44th District
Republican Jeff Gorell is departing to run for Congress. At least seven candidates have indicated plans to challenge for the Ventura County-based seat, including Sean Paroski of the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, and Port Hueneme City Councilwoman Sylvia Muñoz Schnopp on the Republican side. The lone Democrat is Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Jacqui Irwin after the departure from the race of Bernardo Perez, chairman of the Ventura County Community College District board.

Tony's Take
This is another district sliding away from the Republicans. It includes heavily Democratic Oxnard and shows Democratic registration growth. Mitt Romney only received 46 percent of the vote here in 2012. A Republican vs Democratic runoff is all but assured, but none of the candidates is especially well known district-wide.

53rd District
Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez is termed out. Los Angeles Community College Trustee Miguel Santiago and Democratic activist Sandra Mendoza are running.

Tony's Take
Santiago has the endorsement of every important Democrat in this district, including Speaker Pérez. His path to Sacramento seems pretty assured, but he may face a same-party runoff in November.

55th District
Republican Curt Hagman of Chino Hills is termed out. Republican candidates are Diamond Bar City Councilwoman Ling-Ling Chang, Phillip Chen of the Walnut Valley school district trustee and Yorba Linda City Councilman Craig Young. Democrats include businessman Christopher Brown.

Tony's Take
This three-county district is safely Republican. It also gives the GOP an opportunity to elect an Asian Republican to the Legislature, something leaders want as the Asian vote has swung strongly to the Democrats in recent years. But there is a problem. The two Asian Republicans, Chang and Chen, are both from the Los Angeles portion of the district, while Young is from Orange County where more than half the voters reside. Chang and Chen show impressive fundraising, while Young has shown no money. Brown, the Democrat, has no campaign so far, so a same-party Republican runoff remains a possibility.

56th District
Democrat V. Manuel Perez of Coachella is termed out and running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. His possible replacements on the Democratic side are former Coachella Mayor Eduardo Garcia and former military police officer Charles Bennett Jr.

Tony's Take
This is a safe Democratic district with a 54 percent Latino voter registration. Garcia has all the major endorsements, including Pérez, and is the probable winner, although a same-party runoff in November is likely.

57th District
Democrat Ian Calderon of Whittier is running for re-election. The question is whether he faces any political blow-back from the legal problems confronting his uncle, Sen. Ron Calderon.

Tony's Take
Whether Calderon faces a challenge from another Latino Democrat probably depends on what happens to his uncle. Thus far no names have surfaced, and Ron Calderon has not been charged with a crime despite the leak of a politically damaging affidavit.

60th District
Incumbent Assemblyman Eric Linder is seeking re-election.

Tony's Take
This is one of several Republican-held districts in Southern California that is drifting to the Democrats. Linder was supposed to be safe in 2012, but barely won against a Democrat who spent no money. Whether he is seriously pressed in 2014 remains to be seen, but there are several potentially strong Latino Democrats in this area with a growing Latino population.

62nd District
Democrat Steve Bradford of Gardena is termed out. One of several candidates eyeing the seat is former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who shifted back south for the opportunity. The other Democrats are Autumn Burke and Gloria Gray. The Republicans are Eloy Morales, Jr., Patricia Donaldson and Mervin Evans, a perennial candidate.

Tony's Take
This is an African American-held district that is part of the historic Assembly district in south Los Angeles that first elected a great-grandson of President Thomas Jefferson by his slave Sally Hemings to the Assembly in 1918. But the black voter registration is only 27 percent today. Butler, a white former assemblywoman who lost an adjoining district racer in 2012, is a strong candidate, if she doesn't run for an open state Senate seat. This will be a same-party runoff.

64th District
Isadore Hall is termed out and several Democrats are vying to succeed him, including Compton School District member Micah Ali, Carson Councilman Mike Gibson, Long Beach Councilman Steve Neal, and anti-gang activist Prophet Walker.

Tony's Take
This is another historically African American district, although the black voter registration in this district is only 27 percent. The district is among the most heavily Democratic, and a same-party runoff in November is all but assured. The leading candidates are Gibson and Neal, both of whom boast an impressive list of endorsements. This district will almost certainly remain in African American hands.

65th District: Incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is running for re-election. Republican challengers thus far are La Palma City Councilman Henry Charoen and Young Kim, a district director for Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton.

Tony's Take
The upset of Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby by Quirk-Silva in 2012 was a surprise, and Republicans badly want this very marginal district back. Charoen is a leader in the local Thai community as well as a local government official. But GOP heavyweights have coalesced behind Kim, a Korean-American, including Royce, who has represented much of this area over the years. The district is 23 percent Latino and 19 percent Asian in voter registration.

66th District
Incumbent Democrat Al Muratsuchi is running for re-election, unless he leaves to run for an open Senate seat. Taking on Muratsuchi are Republican investment banker David Hadley and attorney Seth Stodder, No Party Preference.

Tony's Take
Redistricting did Republicans a favor here because it restored the formerly safe GOP seat in the Palos Verdes-Torrance area that was split in the 1991 redistricting. But over time, this area has drifted to the Democrats, and by 2012 was very marginal. The Republicans who used to win here were moderates but the GOP candidate in 2012 was a strong social conservative, and he lost -- gaining just 45 percent of the vote. The fall runoff will probably be Muratsuchi and Hadley.

70th District
Long Beach Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal is running to replace her ex-mother-in-law, Bonnie. Suja was married to the son of Bonnie and Alan Lowenthal. Bonnie is running for mayor of Long Beach, and Alan, her ex-husband, is a freshman congressman. Three Democrats, including Long Beach Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, and a Republican are also running for the Assembly seat.

Tony's Take
This safe Democratic district seems to be the soap opera of the Lowenthal family that has dominated politics here for a generation. The strongest Democrat may be O'Donnell, since the district is largely Long Beach and he has several important endorsements, including that of Bonnie Lowenthal. A same-party runoff between O'Donnell and Suja Lowenthal is quite possible, meaning the soap opera will continue into the fall.

73nd District
Termed-out Republican Diane Harkey is running for the Board of Equalization. Among the Republicans planning to run here are Dana Point Councilman Bill Brough, Capistrano School Trustee Anna Bryson, former Laguna Miguel Councilman Paul Glaab and Rancho Santa Margarita Councilman Jesse Petrilla.

Tony's Take
Sorting out Orange County Republican politics is never easy, and this is the most Republican district in the state, so a same-party GOP runoff is very probable. All the candidates have something of a base in the district. The two candidates who will make the runoff are anyone's guess; Bryson has a long list of endorsers, including former Secretary of State George Schultz.

74th District
Incumbent Republican Allan Mansoor is running for the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Republicans planning to run for this district include Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry, Huntington Beach Councilman Matthew Harper, Irvine magazine publisher Katrina Onofre and Emanuel Patrascu, district representative for Assemblyman Travis Allen.

Tony's Take
This Orange County district is safely Republican, although were a Democrat to run in the top-two primary it is possible a Democrat could make the fall runoff. With none on the horizon, a runoff between two of the four Republicans is likely. There is no apparent leader among the GOP candidates at this time.

See something amiss or just missing? Contact Christopher Cadelago at ccadelago@sacbee.com or (916) 326-5538.