Five we like

Political machinations have given California not one but two sets of primaries this year -- the presidential contests in February and then, next Tuesday, a host of local races to pick party nominees for the state Assembly and Senate. Though the seats won't officially be won until November, these legislative districts are so heavily gerrymandered that the real action is now, between Democrats in their districts and Republicans in theirs.

Why two primaries? It was part of a failed effort to loosen term limits. Lawmakers who are due to be termed out this year wanted to be able to run at least one more time. But they needed the law to change before the June primary, when they were hoping to be on the ballot again. So they created the February race and presented voters with Proposition 93.

It didn't work. Voters rejected the measure, making Tuesday's election moot for termed-out incumbents. But that left several open seats for newcomers -- or at least for legislators hoping to jump from one house to the other. As for the gerrymandering problem, voters may have a chance to deal with that in yet another ballot measure, most likely in November.

There are too many state legislative races for us to endorse in each -- and precious few are meaningfully contested anyway. So The Times endorses selectively, picking those races that are closest to home, are competitive and in which we have clear favorites. That has boiled down to five.

A list of these endorsed candidates, and all other Times endorsements for the coming election, will be printed in the Sunday Opinion section and as election day is upon us. They also are available, together with a cutout take-to-the-polls list, at "> .

Senate District 23, Democratic primary: Fran Pavley. The race to succeed Sheila Kuehl is a battle of liberals, as might be expected in a district that includes Santa Monica and Malibu, chunks of Los Angeles' Westside and west San Fernando Valley and a snake of coastline into Ventura County.

Candidate Lloyd Levine has made a splash in the Assembly, authoring such bills as light-bulb regulations and animal spay-neuter mandates that sometimes seem tailored for headlines more than good lawmaking. His tack is opposite the one taken by former Assemblywoman Pavley, that rarest type of lawmaker -- one who happily forgoes recognition in the name of getting good results.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Speaker Fabian Nunez may jet around the globe taking credit for the anti-global-warming initiative AB 32, but it was Pavley who wrote it. She also wrote a bill to regulate auto emissions and other measures that have returned California to its position as a leader in the fight to preserve the environment. Pavley -- hardworking, principled, self-effacing -- is a model lawmaker, and California would benefit from having her back in Sacramento.

Senate District 29, Republican primary: Bob Huff. This GOP primary, in a sprawling district that includes a piece of Los Angeles, foothill cities such as Monrovia and even a portion of distant Anaheim, is a match-up between termed-out Assemblyman Huff and former Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy. Both candidates are poles apart from this page on a host of positions: on same-sex marriage, on immigration, even on state budget priorities. But there is a stark difference.

Where Mountjoy excels at the burn-the-liberals rhetoric of division and has become a symbol of Republican decline in Sacramento, Huff is a civil, articulate and effective advocate for his views and those of his constituents. It is him, rather than Mountjoy, whom believers in market economics would want picking apart Democratic bills or standing firm on budget matters. We expect to continue disagreeing with Huff on many issues, but we expect that it would be a constructive, and instructive, disagreement.

Assembly District 40, Democratic primary: Bob Blumenfield. Voters seeking to replace Lloyd Levine in this San Fernando Valley district have a wealth of choices. Blumenfield is their best bet, combining the political get-it-done savvy he gained as a congressional aide in Washington with a deep knowledge of the district and a command of the budgetary and other structural problems facing the Capitol.

Stuart Waldman has Sacramento know-how, but he is prone to undermining his own efforts by alienating would-be allies. Laurette Healey has scored numerous endorsements and donations, but her vision for the district is unfocused. Dan McCrory convincingly paints himself as more independent than the other candidates but fails to demonstrate how he would better serve his constituents.

Assembly District 46, Democratic primary: John Perez. We endorse Perez in this race in part out of despair. That isn't because the candidate doesn't show promise -- he does, with a good grasp of education and budgeting policy. But this labor leader and former Los Angeles community redevelopment commissioner has in essence been deeded the seat currently filled by Nunez by winning the pre-primary -- the unofficial winnowing process by which power brokers strip voters of the power to decide who will represent them. Two contenders were chased from the race by L.A.'s bosses, leaving Perez accountable not to his constituents but to people like his cousin, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who orchestrate votes in Los Angeles.

Assembly District 52, Democratic primary: Isadore Hall. We hope his action meets his rhetoric. Hall is all energy and ideas in this race to succeed Mervyn Dymally in the district that includes Compton, Paramount and part of South Los Angeles. But he appears better prepared to tackle the job than any of his three competitors.

Diane J. Martinez has been a good council member and mayor in Paramount, and Deborah LeBlanc and Linda Harris-Forster have been assets for Compton, but they don't appear to match Hall in ability.

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