If you were one of the almost 90% of people who didn't turn out for the recent elections held in March and May, as a result of the ascension of Gloria Negrete McLeod to be our Congresswoman in Washington, there was a special election held for her State Senate seat. The field included Assemblymember and former Pomona mayor Norma Torres, San Bernardino County Auditor Larry Walker, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, Ontario City Councilmember Paul Vincent Avila, Pomona Planning Commissioner Kenny Coble, and Rialto school board member Joanne Gilbert. Norma Torres beat Paul Leon 60-40 in the runoff, and was sworn into the State Senate on Monday.
So there is another special election upon the voters of Pomona, Chino, Ontario, to pick Torres's replacement. In a special election musical chairs scenario, turnout is guaranteed to be low. The previous group of special elections hovered around 10% turnout. Permanent absentees, where ballots are mailed to the voter automatically instead of having to be requested by the voter, are a good source of votes, but need follow up so that the ballot is not lost with the daily junk mail. A good ground game and Get Out The Vote effort can pay huge dividends. Focusing on low propensity voters - those who only participate in Presidential elections - generally pays less dividends than focusing on the person that votes in every election, although everybody will get mail and some will get phone calls. With the rise of caller ID and people not putting phone numbers on voter registrations, door to door precinct walking is important - and can be done efficiently in the long days of summer.
There are also differences between counties. Pomona, in Los Angeles County, has a much lower absentee voter rate, primarily because Los Angeles County has never focused on signing people up for permanent vote by mail status. Meanwhile, San Bernardino County, like many other counties, has promoted vote by mail because it allows for the concentration of precincts and allows for votes to be tabulated faster, an important cost savings measure in a county which span tens of thousands of square miles. This can be seen by the huge difference in vote by mail vs. in person between counties. (Incidentally, the average polling place in both counties received less than 100 voters on Election Day - a true test of patience for the precinct worker.) The turnout was also markedly higher in San Bernardino County than Los Angeles County, all due primarily to vote by mail - although LA County caught up in the runoff election since Pomona is Torres's base. Permanent absentees are perfect for campaigns because savvy ones can track the status of the vote - and continually hound the voter who does not return it.
So what are we looking at when we handicap the race?
- Endorsements - Endorsements are not just names on a flyer, but are signals to low or medium information voters as to who to support. They can also bring volunteers and campaign contributions. Unions, especially, can mobilize a motivated workforce that lives in the surrounding area. Chamber of commerce types can bring in money from big business and a lot of $4,200 contributions. Incumbent elected officials can bring their supporters to knock on doors and give money.
- Two thirds vote - The Democrats want to keep a two thirds majority in Sacramento. Therefore if this becomes a Republican vs. Democrat race, you will see a lot of money from the Democrats and their allied interests to make sure that no upset happens and that Democrats maintain that majority. This is important because it allows for the Legislature to disregard the Governor and override any vetoes, as well as pass tax increases ("revenue measures") without trying to get Republican support.
- Demographics - The demographics of the area make it almost insurmountable for a Republican to win. But they may give it a good shot, and there is also the slight possibility that two quality Republicans or more conservative candidates could finish in the top two, and crowd out the union friendly or liberal candidates. This is what happened in the 31st Congressional District, where despite a Democratic advantage in registration two Republicans went to the runoff since the Democrats dispersed themselves among four equally strong candidates. Also, this seat is heavily Latino, although low turnout elections traditionally skew older and whiter than general elections.
- Which Democrat - Within the Democratic Party there are those who are more moderate and those who are more liberal. Even though the Democrats may have a two thirds majority business friendlier ones can easily break away and make it impossible for the legislature to override the veto. Incidentally Governor Jerry Brown is considered a fiscal conservative and is being spoken of highly by business interests and Republicans, who look to him as a "goalkeeper" against the over-regulating, over-taxing impulses of the liberals in the Legislature.
- McLeod vs. Baca - McLeod is the current Congresswoman and Baca is the Congressman she beat. The two factions have a general grudge against each other, which some have called a "blood feud". Although both are considered moderate Democrats, one issue they differ on significantly is guns. Baca was a major supporter of the NRA, while McLeod received money from Michael Bloomberg on the gun issue that may have pushed her over the top. They support opposite groups of people.
- San Bernardino County - Three out of the five announced candidates are from Pomona, but the majority of the votes are outside the city. They are a blank slate to many voters. This makes them ripe targets for mailers and calls either extolling their virtues, or providing facts about the disappointments of their careers.
- Pomona - Pomona is a fiscally challenged city with rising crime, low levels of business development, and a library running on fumes. Will this hurt the impressions of candidates whose last elected experience was serving Pomona?
What isn't here are any issues. At this stage most candidates will spew generic statements about creating jobs, preserving the environment, and improving (name portion of government here). At some point the candidates may differentiate themselves but at this stage in the game it is so preliminary.
Scott Lay, a Sacramento "political consultant", has a great web site, Around the Capitol, which has all of the key information on probables and past results for this district. The best free source for "inside baseball" like this is his Nooner newsletter, which occasionally covers this race. A brief summary of each announced candidate follows, with links to web sites, Twitter feeds, and Facebook posts for more information. Some alleged candidates, like Kenny Coble and Paul Leon, have not updated their web sites; when they do make a formal announcement, I'll update this post.
Paul Vincent Avila
Occupation: Retired Counselor/Ontario City Councilmember
Web site: None
Avila is one of the more colorful elected officials in the Inland Empire. But, with big money in this race, he is unlikely to make the next round. He spent no money and got elected to Ontario City Council. That won't work for the Assembly.
Occupation: Retired Youth Authority Officer/Former Ontario Councilman
Web site: http://www.favilaforassembly.com/
Favila ran for Congress in 2000 and lost. His last elected office was in the 90's as a Ontario City Councilman. Unfortunately, he has been out of the spotlight for too long. Having a web site which is nonfunctional doesn't help.
Occupation: Emergency Medical Technician, Pomona Vice Mayor
Web site: http://www.freddierodriguez.com/home
Endorsement: Senator Norma Torres
Expect plenty of mailers that have Rodriguez and Torres together. Although she may not be popular among many who are involved deeply in local Pomona politics, she has never lost an election and is not disliked by most voters.
From the April 16, 2013 edition of the Capitol Morning Report:
Democratic fundraising consultant Connie Sanders Emerson reports being hired by Freddie Rodriguez, the Vice Mayor of Pomona and a candidate in AD 52.
For those of you who don't know what this means, a credible consultant doing fundraising can open doors and help raise money. Fundraising will be key - his mayoral race only raised about $14,000, compared to incumbent Mayor Rothman's $56,000.
Occupation: College Lecturer, Pomona School Board Member
Endorsement: California Faculty Association
Rothman is the mayor's son, but has a decent track record of his own at the Pomona School Board. The PUSD is one of the better functioning agencies in Pomona today, with rising test scores, more options for children and parents, and lower dropout rates. Education is always a key issue in elections, and Rothman was endorsed by Associated Pomona Teachers, the local teachers union, which could give him a leg up should he seek the endorsement of the statewide teachers unions.
Occupation: (Former) Senior Field Representative/District Coordinator for Assemblymember Norma Torres
Web site: http://manuelsaucedo.org/
Endorsements: (Former) Congressman Joe Baca, Pomona Councilmembers Cristina Carrizosa, Debra Martin, John Nolte, Pitzer professor Jose Calderon
As a district director he knows the district well. He may have the best chance of making a play at the east. The Baca endorsement will be a good signal since Baca's base has historically been Ontario and eastward. If he can bag more endorsements from Chino, Montclair, and Ontario, that would help - he is in the best position to do so.
Occupation: Staff Assistant, South Coast Air Quality Management District/Former Pomona City Councilmember
Web site: http://www.daniellesotoforassembly.com/
Endorsement: Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod
The Soto name has a long track record in Pomona Valley politics. However, her thumping in the First District Pomona City Council race is a cause for concern for fundraising. She was attacked on the slumping budget and the transfer station issue, with John Nolte being seen as more in touch with the community than Soto. She is a proven good fundraiser, but that was meaningless in the City Council election. The trash station makes for a good mailer if someone wants to go negative since it is not in her Council district but is close to the center of AD 52. However, I don't see her rising to the top so that anyone would need to go negative on her.
More later as this campaign develops. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the candidates in the comment box.