Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Riverside Press Enterprise: Big interst in newly redrawn Inland Empire districts

LEGISLATURE: New lines indicate hard contests in 2012

Redrawn inland Assembly and State Senate districts could foster competitive Democrat vs. Republican contests


Photo by William Wilson Lewis III/The Press-Enterprise
Highway 91 runs through the 60th Assembly District. Corona, Norco and the western half of Riverside make up the district.
 
BY JIM MILLER AND BEN GOAD
STAFF WRITERS
Riverside Press Enterprise
Published: 26 December 2011 08:59 PM

SACRAMENTO – For the past 20 years, most legislative elections in Inland Southern California have been ho-hum affairs.

Republicans dominated the region, and Democratic caucuses had better prospects elsewhere.

Beginning next year, however, the Inland region – and particularly its Riverside-San Bernardino core – could see major Assembly and State Senate campaigns thanks to this year’s redrawing of political lines by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

In a report earlier this month, the Public Policy Institute of California listed three Assembly districts – the 40th, 60th and 61st – and one State Senate district – the 31st – as potentially highly competitive in 2012.

All the seats lack incumbents running for re-election. Voter registration is closely matched between the major political parties. In past elections, the districts' voters have supported both Democratic and Republican candidates running statewide.

In addition, the debut of the state’s top-two primary system could play a role in some Inland contests shaping up as same-party fights. Under the new voter-approved rules, the top two finishers in June’s primary will move on to the November general election, regardless of their party.

Some candidates already are campaigning. More are expected to jump in early next year, after the candidate-filing period opens for the June primary.

Jose Medina, the Democrat running in the new 61st Assembly district, said he has had more strategy meetings with Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, than when he was a candidate for an existing Republican-leaning district in 2010.

“It's clear there's more attention,” said Medina, a Riverside teacher.

ASSEMBLY

In 2012, the 61st is virtually certain to be among a handful of districts targeted by both parties. Democrats and Republicans cleared the field for their chosen candidates.

Medina ran unsuccessfully for the current 64th Assembly District in 2010, which leans Republican and went for Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert. The redrawn 61st, however, has a seven-point Democratic registration advantage.

And in last year’s election, Medina and the other underfunded Democratic Assembly candidates received 56 percent of the vote in the area that would become part of the newly drawn 61st district.

Republicans recruited longtime Moreno Valley Councilman Bill Batey, a Riverside firefighter. He could attract support from fire and other public-safety labor unions.

Medina and Batey reflect the district’s diversity: Medina is Latino, and Batey classifies himself as Black-Latino.

To the west in the 60th Assembly District, Latinos make up a large percentage of the population. Republicans, however, hold a registration edge, and the two announced candidates so far are Republican.

“My understanding is that Democrats are pretty much staying out of it,” said Greg Kraft, a member of Alvord Unified School District board of education and one of the candidates for the seat.

Even so, the race could still be a fight in both June and November. Corona Councilman Stan Skipworth also has declared for the seat. The race could emerge as a test case for the top-two primary, and Kraft and Skipworth may have to reach out to Democrats and independent voters.

“The open primary is a very different dynamic this year,” Skipworth said.

The same phenomenon could play out in San Bernardino County’s 40th Assembly District.

Like the 60th, Republicans have a registration edge in the 40th, but Democrats on the statewide ballot, such as Barack Obama in 2008, have won there. Assembly Democrats have publicly shown little interest in the district.

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, represents much of the 40th but lives just outside its boundaries. He plans to rent a house inside the district and run there.

“I’m only one stop-light away. I’ve lived in Cucamonga in 32 years,” Morrell said.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, lives in the 40th and plans to run there; he represented Morrell’s district in 2003 and 2004 and can serve two more terms in the Assembly.

SENATE

Dutton supports an effort to qualify a ballot measure to overturn the redistricting commission’s Senate plan.
For now, however, Riverside County’s 31st Senate District shapes up to be among the state’s most competitive Senate seats next year. The outcome could determine whether Democrats achieve a two-thirds majority to sideline Republican senators.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, is the only Republican in the race.

“It’s going to be a very big race. It’s going to get nasty,” he said.

Former Inland lawmaker Steve Clute announced he was running for the 31st in the summer and opened a fundraising committee. Senate Democrats, however, have looked for other candidates.

Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, a Democrat, was wooed but announced he would not run. Other names circulated, but nothing came of them.

Last week, Riverside attorney Richard D. Roth, a retired Air Force major general, expressed his interest. He plans to announce his intensions in early January.

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