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

BY JIM MILLER AND BEN GOAD
STAFF WRITERS
jmiller@pe.com | bgoad@pe.com

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.

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