59th Assembly District

James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 06/27/2010 08:31:33 PM PDT

Tim Donnelly wants to cut government spending. He doesn’t believe global warming is real. He wants to bring Arizona’s latest immigration law – known as S.B. 1070 – to California.

In short, he is conservative.

Too conservative, some Democrats and political observers say, to win the 59th State Assembly District seat he is running for. They say Donnelly’s win over more established, arguably less conservative candidates could open the door to a Democrat in that district, which has long been a Republican stronghold.

“He’s certainly more to the right than the average voter is in that district,” said Allan Hoffenblum, author of the California Target Book, which handicaps political races in the state. “I’m sure the (state) Democratic leadership will be taking a look at that district.”

In November, Donnelly, a former Minuteman, will face Democrat Darcel Woods, a Chaffey College professor and former sheriff’s deputy who was appointed to the state parole board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hoffenblum said Woods is “not a doctrinaire liberal” and has a law-enforcement background – not the kind of untested “wingnut” he said often represents the Democratic Party in Republican-dominated districts.

“She seems like a very well-credentialed, serious candidate,” Hoffenblum said. “Democrats are bound to look at this district.”

Donnelly is a Republican and says he expects Republicans and the Republican Party to support him. About 43 percent of registered voters in the 59th District are Republican, while about 35 percent are Democrats and 18 percent are not members of any party.

If those percentages don’t change dramatically by November, any Republican would have a big advantage going into the general election.

But Donnelly also says most of the voters he’s met over the past few months aren’t interested in party affiliations. And he says Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike “have sold us out.”

“I don’t think it matters anymore whether there’s an R, a D or an A (for American Independent) attached to their name,” Donnelly said. “People see themselves as Americans, and they see an entire elected political class that has decided they don’t have to represent the people.”

He said Republican lawmakers haven’t fought hard enough for their constituents’ interests, and he said he sees his win in this month’s election as “a referendum on how we elect people.”

Most voters, he said, see eye to eye with him on the need for a change in Sacramento and specifically on the need to crack down on illegal immigration.

“I think it’s 80 to 90 percent of the people I’m talking to,” he said. “It’s not the Kool-Aid drinkers in the parties.”

That kind of language could alienate some voters, though that might not be a bad thing this year, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“It reinforces his appeal as an outsider and diminishes his appeal to insiders,” Pitney said. “In any year, the insiders will always have the advantage. But there are some years in which outsiders can get a foothold, and this is one of those years.”

Woods, though, like Donnelly, is not an elected official and is making her first run for elected office.

Hoffenblum said he’s watching to see if the California Democratic Party gets financially involved in Woods’ campaign. Even if the party doesn’t help Woods raise funds, he said he is sure the state party will do polling in the district to see what Woods’ chances are.

“We’ll know if all of a sudden Darcel starts raising money and spending some money,” he said. “But we won’t know that until well into September.”

Mark Alvarez, acting chairman of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party, said the 59th District race will be an uphill battle but that he thinks Woods can win.

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