Election season is upon us. If you’ve yet to be assaulted by campaign ads on your TV, radio or in your mailbox, count yourself lucky. They’re coming.
Most of the media’s attention will be on the gubernatorial race, even though Gov. Jerry Brown has a comfortable lead over Republican Neel Kashkari. Meanwhile, much of the campaign advertising will focus on ballot measures, particularly Proposition 45, which would give the state insurance commissioner rate-regulation authority over health care plans. Opponents of that initiative have raised tens of millions of dollars and are poised to spend, spend, spend to defeat it.
So that’s what you have to look forward to. What you’re not likely to see are very exciting local races for state Senate and Assembly.
Ten of the San Diego region’s 11 legislative seats are up for election this year. Incumbents are running in all but one of those races (the lone outlier being the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mark Wyland of Oceanside, who is termed out). The presence of so many incumbents is enough to make any election boring. (Some incumbents are so strong, in fact, that the other party doesn’t even bother to put up a candidate. Exhibit A: Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who is running unopposed this year.)
The fall races, however, likely would have been snoozers even with all new candidates. The reason: demographics.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen maintains voter registration statistics for all 120 legislative districts. And in every one of San Diego’s legislative districts one party has more than a 5-point registration advantage. In Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso’s 40th Senate District, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 22.9 percentage points! In Republican Assemblywoman Marie Waldron’s 75th Assembly District, Republicans reign supreme (18.7 percentage point advantage).
It’s simple math. All of San Diego’s incumbent state legislators are favored because they belong to the same party as the majority of the registered voters in their district.
But don’t feel bad, most of California is in for boring legislative races. Only 11 of the 120 seats have voter registration numbers that differ by 5 percentage points or less. Only one of those seats is up for election in the Senate this cycle — Senate District 34 in Orange County.
In the Assembly, there’s six races with tight voter registration numbers, the tightest (according to the most recent statistics) being the 40th Assembly District in the Inland Empire.
This is why Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ job is so difficult. Democrats grabbed a two-thirds majority in the Assembly by squeaking out wins across the state in 2012. That’s really hard to do when there’s only a handful of competitive seats. To maintain the Dems’ supermajority, Atkins is going to have to orchestrate a masterful election strategy statewide and basically run the table on competitive seats.
It’s also worth noting that the general lack of competition isn’t the result of some great conspiracy by legislators. Voters in 2008 stripped the Legislature of drawing its own districts and gave the power to an independent citizens commission. Politically driven gerrymandering is (at least in theory) a thing of the past. California’s districts look the way they do simply because Californians tend to live in communities with like-minded people, with Democrats clustering on the coast and Republicans inhabiting the inland areas.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there can be real drama in California legislative elections – it just happens during the primaries. In some ways, those races have become even more exciting after California voters approved Proposition 14, which made the June primaries open to voters of all parties.
But you’re going to have wait ’til 2016 for that fun. For now, you’re stuck with what should be a slate of cakewalks. Sorry.
You’re reading the Sacramento Report, the Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of state capitol news.
San Diego in State News
• The Sacramento County DA’s office officially filed DUI charges against Chula Vista Sen. Ben Hueso. (U-T)
• 2014 was the year of the woman in the California Legislature, writes VOSD editor Sara Libby, with the ascension Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and the passage of several major pieces of legislation that specifically impact women. (Slate)
• Strange but true: Republicans opposed a fiscally conservative vote-by-mail bill impacting San Diego County, writes Ari Bloomekatz.
• Gov. Jerry Brown signed San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. (Sacramento Bee)
• The state’s 10 biggest counties (including San Diego) spent 16 percent more on inmate health care than the previous year. This jump coincides with prison realignment, in which the state made incarcerating low-level offenders the job of counties. (Sacramento Bee)
• The Public Utilities Commission says a proposed $4.7 billion settlement on the closure of San Onofore needs to be revised for the sake of consumers. (L.A. Times)
• Grocery store owner Kroger plans to hire 2,000 more workers in Southern California. (L.A. Times)
• Student success fees at San Diego State are $100 per student — among the lowest in the CSU system. (San Bernardino Sun)
• U.S. News and World Reports ranks five UCs among the top 10 public universities nationwide. UC San Diego comes in at No. 8. (Daily Cal)
Other Interesting Tidbits
• Doesn’t this sound familiar? Election expert Allen Hoffenblum says the Assembly Democrats’ attempt to maintain their two-thirds majority “may be one of the few (battles) that will make an otherwise boring and predictable November election interesting.” (Fox & Hounds)
• It’s increasingly looking as though U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer will not seek re-election 2016. This is relevant to Sacramento because several high-profile state politicians might seek her office. (San Francisco Chronicle)
• Plastic bags, groundwater and more. Here’s a list of the major bills Gov. Jerry Brown is currently mulling whether to sign. (Sacramento Bee)
• Secretary of State Debra Bowen reveals she’s suffering from severe depression. (L.A. Times)
• Freshman state legislators, the first class operating under new term limits, are mostly not looking to score cheap political points. (KQED)
• While Neel Kashkari bombarded reporters with press releases and statements following the gubernatorial debate last week, Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t put out anything. (San Francisco Chronicle)
• The Republican candidate for state controller, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, has changed her ballot designation from “Mayor, City of Fresno” to “Mayor/CEO.” (Sacramento Bee)
Prediction: Get ready, because the campaign machinery is just ranking up. We may be less than two months from the election, but in a few short days it’s going to seem like Nov. 4 can’t get here soon enough with all the advertisements on the airwaves and in your mailbox. ‘Tis the season!