Some California legislative incumbents fighting to survive

Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles)
Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) appears at the state Capitol on Aug. 29, 2019. The incumbent is fighting to hold onto his seat in District 59.
(Robert Gourley / Los Angeles Times)

California Democrats are in no danger of losing control of the state Legislature and may well expand their supermajorities in the 80-member Assembly and 40-member Senate after votes are tallied.

But incumbents aren’t invulnerable — particularly with California’s top-two balloting system. In some cases, it has set up contests within the same party by advancing the two highest vote-getters from the March primary election, regardless of their political affiliation.

Among the races to watch:


Republican Assemblyman Phil Chen of Yorba Linda is in a competitive race with Democratic challenger Andrew Rodriguez of Walnut in the district that includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Democrats took a narrow lead in voter registration this year. It has drawn the fifth-highest spending by the state’s major political parties and 13th most in independent spending for and against legislative candidates, according to the California Target Book, which tracks races.


The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. literally put a target on Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles in a campaign ad that the union quickly withdrew after criticism. As chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, Jones-Sawyer has promoted policies to reduce mass incarceration. The union is pouring money into supporting his opponent, Efren Martinez, a fellow Democrat and executive director of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce.


Latinos hold a slight majority in the district, prompting influential Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo to back Martinez in a district that Cedillo calls “an integral microcosm of Latino communities in California.” The race has generated the third-highest level of independent spending.

It is all here. How to vote. Where to vote. Endorsements. What issues are on the ballot in California and Los Angeles County.


Democratic challenger Melissa Fox of Irvine has outraised and outspent Republican Assemblyman Steven Choi of Irvine in the Orange County district where Democrats have taken a narrow lead in voter registration. It has drawn the second-highest spending by the state’s major political parties.


It’s Nguyen vs. Nguyen as Garden Grove Democratic Councilwoman Diedre Nguyen vies with former GOP state Sen. Janet Nguyen in the Orange County district where Republicans hold a slim majority. The pair bested incumbent Republican Assemblyman Tyler Diep of Westminster in the March primary. The contest has the fourth-highest contributions by state parties.


Democratic Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach is challenged by Republican Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon in an Orange County district with a near tie in voter registration.


Sen. Scott Wiener is widely viewed as one of the Legislature’s most liberal members. But in an only-in-San Francisco development, he’s being challenged from the left by fellow Democrat, Indigenous activist and San Francisco State University lecturer Jackie Fielder. Both are LGBTQ activists.


Another Democrat-on-Democrat contest is for the open seat being vacated by termed-out Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose. Organized labor is generally backing Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, while business is supporting Ann Ravel. Ravel once was chairwoman of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission and was appointed by then-President Obama to the Federal Elections Commission. More than $5.5 million in independent spending has poured into the race — the most in any legislative contest.

While the long wait for election results is unfamiliar in other parts of the country, it’s common practice in the Golden State.


Republican Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita is trying to hold his seat in a district in parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties where Democrats have an 8-percentage-point advantage in voter registration. He’s challenged by Democratic labor attorney Kipp Mueller.


It’s a rematch of a rematch as Democrat Josh Newman of Fullerton tries to unseat Republican Sen. Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar in the Orange County-centered district that spills into Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Newman’s quirky campaign narrowly beat Chang in 2016, but he was recalled in 2018 and replaced by Chang after he voted for a state gas tax. Now he has significantly outraised and outspent Chang as he tries for a comeback. It’s the costliest contest for the state’s political parties and second-highest in independent spending.


GOP Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa is trying to hold his seat in traditionally Republican Orange County, but the district has shifted to a near-tie in party registration and he has been outspent by Democratic challenger Dave Min of Irvine. It’s the third-most expensive race in state party spending and fifth-highest in independent spending.