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February 3, 2014
Insider Extra: Legislative races to watch in 2014 - Part 1


By Christopher Cadelago

In the first 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. We start with a look at some of the most interesting state Assembly races in Northern California.

2nd District
Democrat Wes Chesbro of Arcata is termed out of the Assembly. In the race to replace him are Hezekiah Allen, the head of an environmental organization, Healdsburg City Councilman Jim Wood and John Lowry, a retired former executive of a development and property management organization. All are Democrats.

Tony's Take
This was traditionally the north coast district, but redistricting drew it into Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County now dominates the safely Democratic district. Of the three Democrats vying to replace Chesbro, Wood, a Healdsburg dentist as well as council member, boasts a long list of Democratic endorsements, including Chesbro. He will probably face off against one of the other Democrats in the top-two November runoff.

3rd District
Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of Marysville is challenging Democratic Rep. John Garamendi for Congress, leaving his seat open this year. Republicans running to succeed Logue include James Gallagher, a member of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors, and Ryan Schohr, who hails from a farming family in Butte County. Democrats include Marysville Mayor Ricky Samayoa and tax attorney Jim Reed, who favors creating a new northern state.

Tony's Take
Redistricting shuffled the counties in this Sacramento Valley district, but Butte County, with 48 percent of the district's voters, still dominates. The fight for this safe Republican seat (Romney won here by 12 points) will be a battle of farm bureaus. The Butte County Farm Bureau is behind Schohr; the Sutter-Yuba Farm Bureau is backing Gallagher. This race could be decided in the primary, as two Democrats are also running, and Reed has run before. So a Republican-Democrat fall runoff is likely, but whoever emerges from the GOP part of the primary is the next assemblyman.

4th District
Running to replace Democrat Mariko Yamada of Davis are Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, Napa County Planning Commissioner Matt Pope and Davis Councilman Dan Wolk, the son of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. All are Democrats.

Tony's Take
For years the Assembly member for this safely Democratic Yolo-Solano district has come from Yolo County, but redistricting made major changes. Gone is most of Solano County, and instead Napa County, Lake County and part of Sonoma County have been added. West Sacramento in Yolo County was also removed, meaning Yolo County is now only about a third of the district. If no Republican files, a top-two runoff of Democrats from Yolo and Napa counties seems a good bet.

7th District
Vying to succeed Democrat Roger Dickinson of Sacramento are Sacramento City Council members Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty, and West Sacramento City Councilman Mark Johannessen, son of former GOP state Sen. Maurice Johannessen. All are Democrats.

Tony's Take
All three Democrats have different areas of strength in this heavily Democratic district. Johannessen should do well in West Sacramento, but it is only 11 percent of the district. The rest is in Sacramento County, and each of the two Sacramento councilmen has a base of support. A same party runoff is all but assured as long as no Republican files. If the two Sacramento council members face off, an interesting issue could be public funding of the new Sacramento Kings arena, where the two are on opposing sides.

8th District
Democrat Ken Cooley is up for reelection. He'll be challenged by Republican Doug Haaland, a recently retired legislative staff member.

Tony's Take
It is unclear whether this district will see a serious race. It consists of eastern Sacramento County suburbs, and was pretty much safely Republican a decade ago. A Republican collapse in the county has made the district very much Democratic-leaning. But it is not safe; President Obama received 52 percent of the vote here in 2012, and Cooley 54 percent in his first election. With Haaland the only Republican, this will clearly be a two-party general-election contest.

9th District
In a race to replace Democrat Richard Pan of Sacramento are Elk Grove Councilman and county sheriff's deputy Jim Cooper, real estate agent Sylvia Crockett, Sacramento City Councilman Darrell Fong, Chris Parker, a lawyer with the Franchise Tax Board and county Democratic Party official, and Sacramento Unified Trustee Diana Rodriguez, all Democrats. Republican Tony Amador, a Lodi resident and retired federal marshal, could run, as might Manuel Martin, a local Tea Party leader.

Tony's Take
This district, southern Sacramento County and Lodi in San Joaquin County, is safely Democratic in its voting but has a large enough GOP base that a Republican could make the runoff. The next Assembly member, however, will be one of the five Democrats: Cooper ran for Sacramento County Sheriff in 2010; Fong is a first term councilman; Parker planned to run in a different district in 2012. Early on they would appear to be the strongest candidates. The two Republicans are from Lodi, but that is only 15 percent of the district, so a same-party runoff involving two of the Sacramento Democrats is possible.

10th District
Assemblyman Marc Levine will get intraparty competition from Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom and Marin Community College District trustee Diana Conti.

Tony's Take
Former Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen was a big loser in redistricting, as his formerly Sonoma-Napa district was largely moved to Marin County. In 2012, he lost a top-two runoff to fellow Democrat Levine, a San Rafael Councilman. That left much bad blood, as labor strongly supported Allen. And so Levine will face another likely same-party runoff in November, against either Carlstrom or Conti. Both will be trying to gain labor support and place themselves to the left of the more moderate Levine. The district is heavily Democratic, so it is unlikely a Republican can make the November runoff.

15th District
With Democrat Nancy Skinner departing, this is a wide-open race for the heavily Democratic, Berkeley-based seat. The Democrats running are San Pablo City Councilwoman Cecilia Valdez, Sam Kang, an attorney with the Greenlining Institute, environmental attorney Andy Katz, Elizabeth Echols, a former regional director for the federal Small Business Administration, and Tony Thurmond, a former member of the Richmond City Council. Rich Kinney is the lone Republican.

Tony's Take
This overwhelmingly Democratic district will have a same-party runoff in November. It consists of northern Alameda County and western Contra Costa County. For decades, this was an African American district, and Thurmond is endorsed by the Legislative Black Caucus. The five other Democrats have different areas of strength. Echols and Kang are long time local activists; Katz is openly gay; Valdez holds local office, as does Republican Kinney. But with only eight percent of the voters registered Republican, this will be a hard-fought race between the various Democrats to see which two can make the November runoff.

16th District
Democrat Joan Buchanan is termed out of the suburban East Bay district, which leans blue. Running is Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer, a close adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti and Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, all Democrats. Republican Catharine Baker, an attorney from Pleasanton, also has indicated she will run.

Tony's Take
Postal workers in this district better ask for a raise, because this seat is shaping up to be a monster battle between Democratic factions, with a Republican waiting in the wings. Political consultant and council member Glazer was blacklisted by labor in 2013 as punishment for participating in two Democratic races against labor-backed candidates. He is highly critical of public-employee strikes, including the recent BART strike, and can expect business backing and labor opposition in the primary. Labor and most local elected Democrats have rallied behind Sbranti. Glazer and Sbranti are likely to be well funded and will likely draw major outside PAC money that will fill voters' mail boxes with campaign literature. But the two other candidates could play a role. Arnerich has a base in Danville, and Baker is the sole Republican. The question is whether Baker will be funded in the primary and make the runoff, as the district is strongly Democratic but has a Republican base. That could squeeze Glazer out of the runoff, as he will be appealing to Republican voters. A battle royal is shaping up.

17th District
Democrat Tom Ammiano is leaving. Two San Francisco supervisors, David Chiu and David Campos, are already busy slugging it out.

Tony's Take
San Francisco usually does not have legislative campaigns, as the various factions often decide who the candidates will be. But not this time. Supervisors Chiu and Campos will fight it out in June and again in November in this overwhelmingly Democratic district. Retiring Assemblyman Ammiano has endorsed Campos, who is viewed as one of the most liberal of the very liberal San Francisco Board of Supervisors. This district consists of the eastern and generally more liberal part of San Francisco. Campos, who is gay, was born in Guatemala, and Chiu is the son of immigrant parents from China. With probably few issues between them, could this come down to an ethnicity contest?

21st District
Incumbent Democrat Adam Gray is running for re-election.

Tony's Take
Someday Republicans may again compete for this Merced-Stanislaus Assembly district, but not this year. Gray is home free.

25th District
Democrat Bob Wieckowski is testing his fortunes in a state Senate race, and a host of Democrats are running to retain the deep blue district. They are San Jose City Councilman Kansen Chu, Milpitas City Councilman Armando Gomez, Ohlone Community College Trustee Teresa Cox and Craig Steckler, the former police chief of Fremont.

Tony's Take
Wieckowski was lucky in 2012 that he had a Republican runoff opponent in this safe Democratic seat that consists of part of San Jose and of Fremont. With two thirds of the voters in Santa Clara County, Chu and Gomez may have an edge, but Steckler is known in Fremont, as is Cox, who has the support of the Legislative Black Caucus. The district is one-third Asian in its voter registration, covering San Jose's historic Asian neighborhoods, and that could give Chu an edge. Chu and Steckler seem to be winning the endorsements war. A same-party top-two runoff seems likely.

28th district: Democrat Paul Fong is termed out. The two Democrats to succeed him are Evan Low, a member of the Campbell City Council and Barry Chang, a member of the Cupertino City Council. The lone Republican is Michael Hunsweck, a silicon chip processing engineer.

Tony's Take
Twenty years ago Republicans were very competitive in this west Santa Clara County district that covers the Silicon Valley, and Fong did face a semi-serious challenge from a former Republican running as No Party Preference in 2012. But the district now is safely Democratic. Low and Chang are probably fighting it out for one of the runoff spots, as there is still a sufficient GOP base to get Hunsweck into the runoff. Low has the endorsement of Fong and a bevy of Democratic legislators and interest groups.

See something amiss or just missing? Contact Cadelago. Email or call (916) 326-5538.