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State voters to decide a few hot contests

If contested primary elections are family feuds among like-minded candidates eager to set themselves apart from the pack, there are some “relatives” who may not be speaking to one another after Tuesday’s elections.

Vigorous, sometimes highly personal contests have erupted in some congressional and legislative districts, mostly in those without incumbents. And because most of California’s districts were drawn to favor a Democrat or a Republican, all the real action is in the primary. Whoever wins the dominant party’s nomination in a given district is all but assured of the seat in November.

“Here’s a fun one — a real family feud,” political analyst Allan Hoffenblum said recently as he paged through the nonpartisan California Target Book, which he publishes to track state legislative and congressional races. He referred to an open seat in the Central Valley.

There, Fran Florez, a former Shafter city councilwoman and mother of state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), is competing in the Democratic primary with former Kern County Supervisor Pete Parra, father of Nicole Parra, who narrowly defeated a Republican for the seat in 2002. When termed out in 2008, Democrat Nicole Parra endorsed Republican Danny Gilmore, who won the 30th Assembly District seat over Fran Florez.

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“The Parra and Florez families are longtime fierce political rivals,” Hoffenblum said, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.

Republicans on the ballot are Hanford dairyman David Valadao and community activist and Bakersfield business owner Stephanie Campbell. Hoffenblum said this would be one of only a handful of competitive districts in California in the fall.

Although they may lack the Hatfields-and-McCoys flavor of the Central Valley race, more than a dozen other legislative districts have turned into primary battlegrounds. Some of the hottest in the strongly Republican districts include:

* The Inland Empire’s 59th Assembly District, where six Republicans are vying to replace Anthony Adams of Hesperia, who angered GOP colleagues by voting to raise taxes. On the ballot are Claremont City Councilman Corey Calaycay, former Covina Councilman Chris Lancaster, Hesperia school board member Anthony Riley, Lake Arrowhead businessman Ken Hunter, Apple Valley attorney Iver Bye and businessman Tim Donnelly, former leader of the Minutemen anti-illegal immigration group.

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* Orange County’s 70th Assembly District, which has drawn four GOP contenders seeking to replace Chuck Devore (R- Irvine), who is termed out and running in the U.S. Senate primary. They are Tustin City Councilman Jerry Amante, Irvine City Councilman Steven Choi, college trustee Don Wagner and businessman Jay Ferguson.

Among the contested primaries in Democratic strongholds:

* The Southeast Los Angeles County’s 50th Assembly District, where four Democrats are competing to succeed termed-out Hector De la Torre (D- South Gate), who is running for insurance commissioner. The area’s Latino political leadership, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), has lined up behind Ricardo Lara, a former Los Angeles Planning Commission member who moved into the district to run.

He is communications director for Assemblyman Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles). His strongest competitor appears to be Downey Councilman Luis Marquez, a senior aide to state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, (D- Long Beach), who has endorsed him, as have the California Teachers Assn. and the League of Conservation Voters. South Gate City Clerk Carmen Avalos, who has some police and labor backing, and homebuilder Art Olivier also are seeking the Democratic nomination.

* The Bay Area’s 20th Assembly District, where a two-way race to succeed Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), who is termed out and running for attorney general, has become what Hoffenblum describes as an ideological battle between a moderate and a liberal. The moderate is Garrett Yee, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, who is backed by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek), among others. The liberal is attorney and Fremont Councilman Bob Wieckowski, who is endorsed by Torrico and many labor groups, plus some local elected officials.

* The San Diego County- Imperial County-based 40th Senate District, where Assemblywoman Mary Salas (D- Chula Vista) is battling with former Democratic Assemblyman Juan Vargas of San Diego. Groups that include tort reform advocates, oil and insurance companies and other business interests are spending heavily on independent campaigns to elect Vargas and defeat Salas.

Among congressional races, the strongest competition has emerged in the Central Valley’s Republican contest to replace George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), who is not running for reelection. The four GOP candidates in the 19th Congressional District are state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater; former Rep. Richard Pombo, who was defeated in 2006 in a neighboring district; former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno Councilman Larry Westerlund.

Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) has drawn three GOP opponents in his 42nd Congressional District, which covers parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Challengers are business owner Lee McGroarty, CPA and business owner Phil Liberatore and sales representative David Su.

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And in Orange County’s 47th Congressional District, three Republicans are competing for the chance to take on Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez in November. They are termed-out Assemblyman Van Tran of Garden Grove, who was recruited by GOP congressional leaders to run; Anaheim Union High School board member Katherine H. Smith and Tan Nguyen, whose 2006 run for the same office was marked by accusations that his campaign tried to discourage Latinos from voting.

jean.merl@latimes.com


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