Nothing less than a grand game of political musical chairs has ensued since Rep.George Miller’s (CA-11) retirement announcement. There is intense speculation and horse trading around who will move up the Democratic Party food chain to obtain higher office. So far in this game of political musical chairs, the tune is still playing. Unfortunately for voters, given the way political machines work in Contra Costa County, all the players may yet win a seat once the music stops and no one will be left standing.
The clear front runner from the Democratic Party is State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord). DeSaulnier has all the apparent prerequisites to win the seat: name recognition, a large campaign fund, support from labor unions, and the Central Committee of the Contra Costa Democratic Party, plus some the endorsements of key Democratic electeds including Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson.
At this juncture the only candidate who would appear to have any chance to challenge DeSaulnier would be Assemblywomen Joan Buchanan who will term ] out from her seat in 2014. The question is should Buchanan run, how would she be able to defeat a seemingly more powerful opponent in the June Primary?
The likely answer is that it does not matter. With relatively new election rules, the top two vote getters in the primary face off in the Fall. Under this formula it is likely the second place finisher in a DeSaulnier-Buchanan race would likely meet again in November to determine who is to replace Miller in Congress. The only difference in this contest would be the addition of Independents, Republicans, and other splinter factions in the final vote. This phenomena has already came to fruition with the defeat of Pete Stark who lost his long held congressional Seat at the hands of another Democrat in 2012.
Buchanan, even though she shares DeSaulnier’s progressive credentials could benefit from a back lash of indignant voters who are still angry about DeSaulnier’s support as County Supervisor of lucrative labor contracts given workers that ended up putting the Contra Costa in red ink they are still recovering from. In DeSaulnier’s ill-advised entry and loss to John Garamendi in the 2012 Democratic primary for Tauscher’s open Congressional seat, exit polls showed some distain for his previous performance as he climbed up the political ladder.
Political musical chairs
Leaving nothing to chance, it is rumored that a deal has already been set where Buchanan will stay out of the race to replace George Miller and receive a consolation prize of being appointed to a key post under Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Under this scenario Buchanan would be in position to run for Torlakson’s job should be run for another statewide office as expected this fall.
Currently, no one is talking seriously about any meaningful Republican opposition to face DeSaulnier for the open House seat. In all of Contra Costa County, the only viable GOP challenger would be District Attorney Mark Peterson. While the former Mayor of Concord has name recognition and fund raising capabilities to run a strong race, there is no indication he wants to enter the fray. This is why DeSaulnier’s only possible challenger in November will likely come from another Democrat.
Should DeSaulnier rise from the California State Senate to reside in Washington D.C., it is all but determined that Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla D-Conord will run in a special election to replace DeSaulnier in the State Senate. As it is, she was expected to do this in 2016 when both Democratic stalwarts were being termed out of their respective positions, anyways.
Again, Joan Buchanan is a wild card to possibly oppose Bonilla. Things might change but currently there are no strong Republican challengers who are even given a “puncher’s chance” to win any of these contests in a pretty blue, liberal stronghold district where Bonilla has both name recognition and a huge war chest to wage her campaign.
If Bonilla moves up as expected in a special election to replace DeSaulnier, she would resign her Assembly seat. Under current law, there would be a special election to replace her in the Spring of 2015. This is where things could become both interesting and dicey. There are no current incumbents elected to the legislature to replace Bonilla then, or when she is scheduled to leave office in 2016.
Two current office holders might join this game of political musical chairs. Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff and Concord Mayor Tim Grayson are the most prominent Democrats being whispered as possible candidates for the Assembly post. However, there is no indication either one of them are interested in moving to Sacramento. Not to be forgotten are individuals that may emerge next year following the 2014 elections.
On a long term basis, the race for replacing Bonilla in the Assembly, will likely be a barometer for the direction of the Democratic Party in the coming years. Following the 40 year reign of George Miller’s coalition of public employee and trade unions, environmental interests along with the “entitlement lobby” of the health and welfare industrial complex, there is bound to be a vacuum in power within the local Democratic Party.
The politics of this group of Democrats is far more Progressive than the electorate that have historically supported them. Perhaps credible opposition come rise from the middle and right. While inside players scoff at such ideas, there may be a day when Republicans will become a force again beyond the City Council level in Contra Costa.
While such a radical notion seems more bizarre than the Oakland Raiders contending for the Super Bowl, change often comes swiftly is politics. In my mind there may be a day on the horizon when voters become weary of the State taking more power away from local governments in order to impose their will on the electorate.
The catalyst for this turnaround may well be the starvation of tax revenues to cities in order to fund social engineering projects such as $60 billion being allocated for the One Bay Area Plan. In addition to over-regulation, failure to reign in public employee pensions and job killer legislation, have all contributed to bringing the economy of California to its knees.
Perhaps the Labor-Democratic Party coalition believes it will never have to account for these massive policy failures. Who will be left standing when the music stops? Only the future will tell how all of this will play out.