James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 03/25/2010 03:39:51 PM PDT
At its widest point, the 59th State Assembly District stretches nearly 80 miles.
It covers parts of two counties, two National Forests and five area codes. It’s impossible to drive from one end to the other without leaving the district.
Also impossible, experts say, is to run a successful campaign in the sprawling 59th without raising and spending lots of cash.
“The district’s shape makes money the dominant factor in the race,” said Doug Johnson, a research fellow with Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government. “Because it’s impossible to be known throughout the district, all people know is what they see in their mail. … It really comes down to how much mail (campaigning) you can afford.”
The 59th District, which experts and some lawmakers call a case-study in gerrymandering, is just about evenly split between San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. In San Bernardino County, it covers Hesperia, Apple Valley, Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Mentone, most of Highland, part of San Bernardino and a tiny slice of Redlands. On the Los Angeles County side, the district includes Claremont, Glendora, La Verne, Sierra Madre and parts of San Dimas, Monrovia and La Crescenta-Montrose.
“I’ve had to get to a couple events up in Apple Valley, and it’s at least 45 minutes to drive up there,” said Claremont City Council member Corey Calaycay, one of six Republicans running for the seat. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
Indeed, the district’s physical size – it’s more than 90 miles by road from Apple Valley to La Crescenta-Montrose – limits the kind of campaigning candidates can do.
Going door to door might be a good use of time and resources in a more compact district, such as the nearby 61st Assembly District, which is only about 17 miles wide and covers four adjacent cities. But it doesn’t make sense in many parts of the 59th.
“You can get off the freeway and hit a couple neighborhoods,” said Ken Hunter, a Lake Arrowhead real estate broker who is running for the Republican nomination in the district. “But it’s just too big of a district to get everywhere.”
On top of that, the district’s size limits what voters know about candidates. High Desert voters, for instance, likely don’t know much about Calaycay or what he’s done in Claremont, meaning he will have to try to build name recognition in far-flung communities.
“In a reasonably community-oriented district, people know the leaders in the cities around them,” Johnson said. “If you’re in Pomona, you’re aware of what’s going on in Claremont. But if you’re near Glendale, you don’t know what’s going on in Hesperia.”
That, along with the difficulty of door-to-door campaigning in the district, has most of the Republican candidates saying they’ll rely, at least in part, on direct mail advertising – the campaign cards and flyers that fill mailboxes in the weeks before an election.
“Mail is going to play an important role,” said Anthony Riley, a former San Bernardino County government aide who is running for the district’s Republican nomination. “That means you’re going to need money.”
Indeed, the seat’s current occupant, Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Claremont, who announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term, said candidates would be “foolhardy” to think “they can run a campaign with $50,000 to $100,000.”
Direct-mail campaigning is expensive, said Adams, a Hesperia resident who won a primary and two general elections in the 59th District.
“You’re mailing out to between 20,000 and 40,000 people if you’re doing a districtwide mail piece,” Adams said. A candidate “who wants to spend $30,000 and win, if they were very clever and had great people and did everything right, they could turn that money into just one districtwide mail piece.”
The first round of pre-election campaign contribution reports will be released today. So far, the only candidate who has had to report contributions is
Some candidates, like Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks and Iver Bye of Apple Valley, said they plan to focus their efforts on campaigning door to door and building volunteer support across the district and won’t necessarily need to raise large campaign funds for direct-mail campaigns.
But with Chris Lancaster – an executive at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, a sister paper of the Daily Bulletin, who donated $100,000 to his own campaign – already committing six figures, most candidates said they are expecting to have to raise big sums.
Hunter said he wants to raise about $200,000 for the June primary.
“I’m trying to raise that amount in two months flat,” he said. “I have a long way to go.”
Smaller, more compact districts don’t guarantee inexpensive campaigns, but Johnson said they at least make it more likely a poorly funded but well-known local leader can compete, meaning candidates might not have to focus so much on fundraising.
“A rich candidate can always buy their way into any race,” he said. “But (in a compact district) a local leader who has worked in the trenches for years can run based on their network and their reputation and not need a million dollars.”
Candidates say they hope the 59th District will be at least somewhat more compact after the state adjusts its legislative boundaries next year.
“This district is an excellent example of government at its worst in designing a district,” said Lancaster, who lost to Adams in the 2006 Republican primary. “It looks like Italy. It’s a big boot.”
California’s legislative districts were redrawn in 2001. Lawmakers and political experts say those districts were drawn in such a way that practically guaranteed either Republicans or Democrats would have a clear advantage. In many cases – including the 59th – that led to oddly shaped districts that include communities that don’t have much in common.
When California’s district boundaries are redrawn again next year, it will be by an independent citizens commission, rather than by state lawmakers, as has been the case in the past.
More compact districts would, if nothing else, make lawmakers more accessible to their constituents, candidates said.
“It’s a real benefit to the constituents to have a more compact district,” Lancaster said. “When you have your district office, it has to be somewhere in the center. But in this district, that’s still a long way from other areas of the district.”
Calaycay said there’s “no question” a smaller district “would be a much healthier thing.”
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