Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer said Sunday that he will file papers today that clear the path for him to raise campaign money for his possible run for state attorney general next year, but will not announce his candidacy.
Lockyer, the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat, said that if a federal appellate court agrees that legislative term limits are illegal, he may forgo the statewide race and seek reelection to the Senate.
In an interview, Lockyer said he intends to deposit $2.6 million in surplus campaign funds into a new account that will be created today for him to run for attorney general in 1998.
He conceded that the action all but commits him to a statewide race without actually filing a formal declaration, and it also keeps the door ajar for a possible return to the Senate next year.
“It keeps all the options maximized,” said Lockyer.
He said that if he does decide to run for attorney general, he would make the official announcement early next year. In the meantime, today’s action will mean that he can begin actively raising new campaign funds for a statewide race.
Under the voter-approved Proposition 208 campaign finance reform initiative, candidates for statewide office are prohibited from raising funds until one year before next June 8’s primary election. Candidates for the Legislature must wait until December before raising new funds.
Lockyer said the documents he intends to file today with elections officials will enable him to be competitive as a fund-raiser during the summer and early fall, when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to decide an appeal on term limits.
Legislative term limits, enacted by the voters in 1990, were struck down in April by U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland. She held that a lifetime prohibition on former lawmakers seeking reelection to the Assembly and Senate is unconstitutional.
Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren has appealed, asking the federal appeals court to reverse the ruling. The higher court has indicated that it will rule in time for next year’s elections.
Lockyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1973, faces forced retirement next year under term limits. For endangered incumbents, a favorable court ruling could jump-start their stalled careers.
On Sunday, Lockyer insisted that “I haven’t made a decision” on running for attorney general. But he said that creating a new candidate account will enable him to “continue to do a modest amount of fund-raising” until the court rules.
Lockyer was elected Senate leader in January 1994, when Democrat David Roberti stepped down after 15 years.
Lockyer is from Alameda County, and running for statewide office after representing only one legislative district would not be “an easy jump for me,” he said. “I don’t have any illusions about being the political matinee idol.”
If he finally decides to run for attorney general, Lockyer said, he believes that he would hand the Senate post to a successor early in 1998.
But others may have different ideas, among them Democratic state Sen. Richard G. Polanco of Los Angeles, who months ago made it known that he was eager to replace Lockyer.
“I’ve said historically that if Bill Lockyer stays [as president pro tem], I’m going to be supportive of him. The minute he decides to move up and out, I’ll mount my campaign,” Polanco said Friday.
Lockyer puts himself in a tough position with Democratic members, Polanco said Sunday, by even indicating that he wants to run for attorney general yet still remain president pro tem. The Senate leader’s fund-raising and campaigning must be either devoted to himself or to Democratic senators, Polanco said. “You can’t have it both ways.
“The minute that you hint or indicate interest in another position, you have a problem with members,” Polanco said.
Polancosaid that if Lockyer makes up his mind to run for attorney general, he hopes that majority Senate Democrats would elect him president pro tem and that it would not be necessary for him to seek help from minority Republicans.