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Assembly fights get serious

By   /   Friday, May 29th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Assembly fights get serious

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Tri-county Republicans will make a grab for three open assembly seats in 2010, and the primary fight for one just got bigger.

Assembly seats in the 33rd, 35th and 37th Assembly Districts – which cover the Tri-Counties – will be without incumbents. Republican Jeff Gorell of Camarillo has made an early move for the Republican slot in Ventura County’s 37th district, while Mike Stoker, a Santa Ynez political veteran, has said he’ll run for the 35th District in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties now represented by Democrat Pedro Nava.

But a primary fight is brewing in the 33rd District, which stretches from Lompoc and Santa Maria through all of San Luis Obispo County. Three Republicans have stepped in to run in a district that the GOP has won handily in recent years.

The three-way primary comes as tri-county Republicans have raised their profiles in Sacramento.
Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo represents the 33rd assembly district. Though Blakeslee was recently named leader of his party in the assembly, making him a key player in ongoing budget battles, he’s termed out.

Blakeslee has filed to run for the 15th District state senate seat now held by Abel Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican whose crucial vote temporarily eased the state legislature’s budget gridlock in February and led to the May 19 special election. Maldonado’s legislative pay cap was the only proposition to pass of six on the ballot.

Rumors are buzzing in Sacramento that Maldonado wants to run for state office, but he’s made no announcement. His name has been dropped as a nominee for lieutenant governor if current Lt. Gov. John Garamendi runs for a northern California congressional seat.

Meanwhile, a handful of Republican contenders have stepped up to vie for Blakeslee’s assembly seat: Etta Waterfield, a Santa Maria Planning Commissioner, Katcho Achadjian, a longtime SLO County supervisor, and Matt Kokkonen, a San Luis Obispo financial planner.

It’s Waterfield, who heads the economic development arm of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Achadjian that present a potential primary divide.

Achadjian has ties to Maldonado, whom he’s endorsed in runs for state assembly and senate. Waterfield, on the other hand, was named “Woman of the Year” by Blakeslee.

Some observers say it could shape up as a contest between support from the local party and support from Sacramento Republicans. Other observers, such as Mike Latner, a political scientist at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, say that the party would do well to keep its primary cordial because its Republican support in the general election for the 33rd District appears firm but isn’t certain at a time when voters are so dissatisfied with state officials.

“Republicans have about a five point edge in terms of registration,” Latner said. “The big question is where the 18 percent of decline-to-state voters will go.”

In the primary, Latner said, “Katcho is probably the presumed favorite right now, but he doesn’t have the urban spillover vote. Someone with substantial organizational support form the party could do well.”

In both the primary and the general election, Latner said, it’ll probably come down to who presents the stronger case against Sacramento.

“For the next few years, any successfully candidate needs to talk about reforming the process,” Latner said. “Someone with a  credible reform message could have the potential to reach across party and demographic lines.”

Republican Tony Strickland, who won a grueling contest for the open 19th District state senate seat in November, has been hitting that reform message hard, proposing a spending cap of cost-of-living increases plus population growth, which would come out to about 7 percent a year. “If we’d done that since 1990, we’d have a $15 billion surplus instead of a $21 billion deficit,” Strickland argued.

Mike Stoker has embraced that spending cap scheme and intends to hammer it after he launches his candidacy for the 35th District, which he planned to formally announce May 29. Democrat Nava is termed out and has announced plans to vie for state attorney general, and his wife, Susan Jordan, is running for his seat.

Jordan faces a Democratic primary challenge from Das Williams, a Santa Barbara city council member who jumped in the race after state regulators reversed an offshore drilling compromise between environmentalists and an oil firm after Nava – and Jordan – raised objections.

Stoker told the Business Times he sees an opportunity to take the 35th District into the GOP column.

“There’s a big split in the Democratic party between the labor wing and the environmental wing,” he said. “The labor wing likes jobs. The labor wing doesn’t support [economically costly environmental] policies, and the labor wing is what you find in Ventura.”

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