Veteran politicians vie for California Senate vacancies

A March 17 special election will fill three vacancies in the state Senate.
(Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times)

Voters will soon cast ballots in special elections to fill three state Senate seats vacated by lawmakers who were elected to Congress last fall.

Although one of the races is already settled, the other two feature contests between veteran politicians in the same political party.

There’s no contest in parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, where former Republican Assemblywoman Sharon Runner of Lancaster is the sole candidate. The 21st District seat was left empty when Republican Steve Knight was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

By contrast, three Orange County Republicans are battling to replace former state Sen. Mimi Walters, now a GOP congresswoman, when the elections are held March 17.


Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner of Irvine has a big lead in fundraising, having brought in $371,000 as of Feb. 28. Rival John W. Moorlach of Costa Mesa, a former Orange County supervisor, reported raising $108,000 and congressional aide Naz Namazi of Irvine has raised $11,240.

Moorlach, who is also the former county treasurer, touts his work in the private and public sectors, reducing public pension costs and helping Orange County recover from its 1994 bankruptcy.

“I’m an accountant. I’m a money guy. I’m not afraid to take on the unions” said Moorlach, 59. He accused Wagner of being under the sway of public employee unions that he said control Sacramento.

Wagner, 54, said he has promoted pension reform and responsible budgeting in the Legislature.


“What I really think I bring that John doesn’t have is a lot of experience up in Sacramento, actually doing the job and passing bills that the community wants and championing a conservative message,” Wagner said.

His priorities include creating more jobs, reducing the school dropout rate and opposing amnesty for immigrants in the country illegally.

“I’m going to continue to make this state more business friendly,” Wagner said. “I’m going to continue to grow jobs and put people to work.” He opposes the bullet train, calling the project championed by Gov. Jerry Brown a waste of money.

Namazi, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), said she entered the race in the 37th District to give voters an alternative to candidates she termed “bureaucrats.”

A former marketing consultant, Namazi, 47, wants to make higher education more affordable. She also proposes allowing legislative votes to be cast online so lawmakers can spend more time in their districts and less in Sacramento, which she describes as dominated by special interests.

The other contested race is in Northern California, in parts of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, where former state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier was elected to Congress.

Four Democratic candidates want that 7th District seat: Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of Concord; former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo; Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer; and Terry Kremin, a scientist from Concord.

Republican Michaela Hertle is also on the ballot, even though she dropped her campaign and endorsed Glazer.


Bonilla, a former teacher, is endorsed by DeSaulnier and the California Democratic Party and has raised the most money — $480,900, compared with Buchanan’s $284,000 and Glazer’s $213,600. In addition, doctors, dentists and other groups have spent more than $540,000 on their own in support of Bonilla.

“The way I have done my work is very collaborative,” she said. “I have been able to accomplish significant policies.”

Bonilla, 54, cites legislation to set insurance requirements for transportation companies, including Uber and Lyft, and legislation helping schools implement the Common Core system of standards.

Bonilla also says she has a sensitivity to local government that comes from having served as mayor of Concord and on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Buchanan, a former teacher and school board member, has many endorsements from local elected officials and Democratic clubs as well as support from the powerful California Teachers Assn.

The 62-year-old candidate touts her extensive experience in both the public and private sector. “I’ve done corporate budgets. I’ve negotiated with large groups,” she said. “I bring deep knowledge of education to the job.”

Glazer, a former political consultant to Gov. Jerry Brown, describes himself as “fiscally conservative and socially progressive,” saying he would work to keep the state budget stable and support same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Glazer, 57, has come under attack from some labor groups that were angered by his past work on campaigns against union-backed candidates and by his opposition to Bay Area transit strikes.


Unions representing teachers, nurses, state workers and construction trades are bankrolling an independent campaign against Glazer, charging that he has “sold us out” to big business. Glazer was formerly a consultant for the state Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee.

Kremin, who has a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience, is running with the slogan, “Put a scientist in the Senate.”

Kremin, 50, an adjunct professor in the biology department at Dominican University of California, supports a cap on executive pay in the public university systems and paring back the number of administrators.

“We need to look at how much money is reaching students and how much is lost to unnecessary administration costs,” Kremin said.

He has raised $2,500 for his campaign.

Twitter: @mcgreevy99