Victories by Sharon Runner, Ted Lieu mean status quo for California Senate
Republican Sharon Runner and Democrat Ted Lieu’s solid victories in state Senate seats in Tuesday’s special elections amounted to a zero-sum game for their respective parties and for Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to put a tax-extension proposal before voters in June.
Runner adamantly opposes the governor’s call for a special election on his proposal to help the state out of a deep deficit; Lieu “absolutely” supports it. And the division of power in the Legislature’s upper house remained exactly the same — 15 Republicans and 25 Democrats — as each of Tuesday’s victors replaced members of their own parties. (Runner succeeds her husband, George Runner, who was elected to the state Board of Equalization last fall, and Lieu replaces Jenny Oropeza, who died in office.)
The gerrymandered districts that allowed the two winners to avoid runoffs voted under California’s new elections system. But Tuesday’s elections also were probably the last for the High Desert-based 17th and South Bay area’s 28th Senate districts under the current political boundaries that made seats safe for one or the other of the two major parties.
Assuming Runner and Lieu seek reelection as their terms expire — hers next year and his in 2014 — they could find themselves running in very different districts and perhaps even end up in runoffs with a candidate from their own party, as the new “top two” primary system allows. An independent commission is working to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries after the 2010 Census and expects to have the new districts in place in time for next year’s elections.
In the meantime, there is the pressing business of filling the state’s deep budget hole. On Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he hoped to have Runner and Lieu sworn in Friday, in time for initial votes on some elements of the budget.
“I am looking forward to getting to Sacramento and fighting the governor’s proposed tax extensions and cutting the budget in meaningful ways that will benefit our economy,” Runner, 56, said late Tuesday as she cruised to victory with 64% of the vote over her only opponent, Democrat Darren W. Parker, 51, who took in 36% of the vote. Both candidates live in Lancaster.
The sprawling, strongly Republican district spans parts of four counties, and Parker was unable to reach enough of his potential voters to overcome Runner’s strong name identification — she formerly represented the area in the Assembly — and popularity among the many voters who share her conservative views.
Lieu, 41, a former Assemblyman from Torrance, said Wednesday he believed Brown had a “very good plan” to solve the deficit, half by cuts and half by tax extensions.
“Otherwise we’ll be facing severely debilitating cuts in California,” said Lieu, who won 57% of the vote against seven other, mostly little-known candidates. He got into the race even before the special election was called and sewed up enough early backing to discourage other substantive Democrats from running.
Lieu’s closest competitor in the heavily Democratic district, which runs from Venice along the coast to San Pedro, was Manhattan Beach attorney Bob Valentine, 72, a Republican, who garnered 25% of the vote. Lieu spent heavily on mail to voters, and he and Valentine were the only candidates to raise significant campaign funds, according to documents filed with the secretary of state.
Others were Republican Martha Flores-Gibson, who finished with nearly 7%; Mark Lipman, who listed no party preference on the ballot, with 3%; Democrat Kevin Thomas McGurk, with nearly 3%; Republican James P. Thompson, 2%; Republican Jeffrey E. Fortini, 2%; and Michael Chamness, no party preference, with 0.5%. Numbers are rounded.
Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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