Sac Bee: Opinion--Three Seats in Senate Await Votes

Sacramento Bee
February 2, 2015
By Dan Walters

This is an odd-numbered year, but some California voters – especially those in the affluent Bay Area suburbs along the Interstate 680 corridor – will be getting the full campaign treatment this spring.

Three state senators resigned last month to take newly won seats in Congress, and special elections have been called to choose their successors.

While none of the three districts will change partisan hands, two will see sharp-elbows battles in their March 17 primaries, perhaps extending into their May 19 runoffs.

Sharon Runner, a former Republican senator, is all alone as the successor to Steve Knight in the 21st Senate District, which sprawls over the suburbs north of Los Angeles.

However, two well-known Republicans are vying in Orange County’s 37th Senate District, county Supervisor John Moorlach and Assemblyman Donald Wagner, to succeed Rep. Mimi Walters. And if a third Republican on the ballot, Naz Namazi, pulls enough votes to prevent either Moorlach or Wagner from getting a majority March 17, they’ll battle a second time.

The season’s most interesting special Senate election, however, will be in Contra Costa County, plus a slice of Alameda County.

Democrat Mark DeSaulnier resigned from the 7th Senate District seat to go to Congress. The combatants to replace him are former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and Steve Glazer, the mayor of Orinda and a longtime political consultant, plus a lesser-known Democrat, Terry Kremin.

There’s also a Republican, Michaela Hertle, on the ballot, but she withdrew from campaigning Monday and endorsed Glazer.

Given the circumstances, none is likely to win the seat outright in March, so the question is who will make it to the runoff.

Buchanan formerly represented most of the Senate district and has the endorsement of the powerful California Teachers Association, for whom she carried a mild teacher discipline reform bill last year, staving off harsher efforts to weed out abusive and/or ineffective teachers.

However, a Buchanan bill to close public pension spiking loopholes three years ago angered other unions, and over the weekend, the local Democratic Party apparatus, strongly influenced by unions, endorsed Bonilla.

If unions are divided on Buchanan and Bonilla, they are united in disliking Glazer, who ran for Buchanan’s Assembly seat and was a target for union-sponsored attacks. Glazer lost to a union candidate, who later lost to a Republican.

Although Glazer managed Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign in 2010, he earned unions’ enmity by advising the state Chamber of Commerce on strategy that led to the defeat of two Democratic Assembly members in 2012.

Prognosis: Probably another business vs. union duel with Glazer facing either Buchanan or Bonilla on May 19.