A NASTY BATTLE SPAWNED from personal betrayal unfolds in the Valley. … A rare openly gay Latino uses his City Hall connections to scare off Democratic rivals on the Eastside. … An even rarer pro-business, pro-gun black Democrat attracts big bucks in Compton. Few Los Angeles voters have heard about these stories, yet they are all happening behind the scenes of the June 3 primary, which will fill some of the most powerful seats in the California Legislature.
The historic June election — not historic in a good way — is expected to produce voter turnouts so low that “you could have only a few thousand people backing the person who ends up in Sacramento, writing important laws and representing many, many thousands of people in huge, huge districts,” says Dick Rosengarten, of the venerable political newsletter CalPeek.
Voters can thank recently replaced Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata for the upcoming election that wasn’t. They’re the ones who decided to split the state’s early-June primary, making it separate from the presidential primary, which they then moved to Super Tuesday, February 5.
Although they are touted as a move to put California into the presidential-nomination process earlier, many political analysts now believe that two primaries — in February and June — were created by Núñez and Perata so that the two men could seek voter approval of Proposition 93 early in the year, then use Prop. 93’s softening of term limits to run for office later on, in June.
It would have worked like this: Had the unsuccessful Prop. 93 actually passed in February, lifting term limits for more than 40 sitting legislators, it would have given Núñez and Perata enough time to legally file and run for office on June 3, when they would have almost certainly recaptured their termed-out seats in the legislature.
But Prop. 93 failed, and Núñez and Perata will soon be forced from office. Their manipulation of the election days in California, says Republican strategist Kevin Spillane, is “just another example of Núñez and Perata putting themselves ahead of voters.”
“For the first time in decades,” says Tony Quinn, co-author of the California Target Book, which closely tracks races for state elective offices, “California will not have a U. S. Senate race or a presidential race, or a governor’s race to draw voters to the ballot during our actual state primary. Núñez and Perata are responsible. So we are going to see, very starkly, the public’s lack of interest in who their state legislators are.”
Compounding the problem of voter boredom is the fact that in Los Angeles County, there isn’t a single competitive race between a Democrat and a Republican. Thanks to gerrymandering — the use of computer programs to carefully identify and then separate Democratic and Republican voters, street by street, into separate districts — only a few legislative races involve a viable Democrat and a viable Republican. Those two-party races are unfolding in San Diego, Palm Springs, Livermore, Kern County and Sacramento’s suburbs.
In Los Angeles County, by contrast, every legislative election on June 3 is a single-party feud being played to voters in single-party districts. Barring personal scandal, all the L.A. winners of this primary are guaranteed victory in their stacked districts in November.
Despite all the single-party contests here, those vying for office haven’t been any more civil to one another, and huge “independent expenditure” donations haven’t slowed, even though the candidates in most of the races differ on the issues by only scant degrees.
One melodrama is in the San Fernando Valley’s 40th Assembly District, where Stuart Waldman, a long-toiling aide to outgoing Assemblyman “Lightbulb Lloyd” Levine, threw his hat in after gracefully bowing out years ago — so that Levine could have an easy run at the Assembly seat.
Levine repaid Waldman’s loyalty by recently firing him, then backing Waldman’s rival for the 40th Assembly District, Bob Blumenfield, an aide to Congressman Howard Berman.
Says Rosengarten, “If those two boys [Waldman and Blumenfield] beat the crap out of one another, the third candidate, Laurette Healey, could come right down the middle. She comes out of the old Riordan administration, a Democrat, big on the environment, pro-business and an open lesbian.”
Another tense to-do is unfolding in the 52nd Assembly District, covering Compton, Paramount, Watts, Willowbrook and other areas, where businesses tired of anti-business votes by outgoing Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally have poured almost $400,000 into promoting Isadore Hall*, a black real estate executive and minister up against black community organizer Linda Harris Forster and Diane Martinez, the former mayor of Paramount, who is now a council member.
The outgoing Dymally is running for state Senate District 25, covering Inglewood, Compton, San Pedro and other areas — a job he first held decades ago. Because of his extensive name recognition, Dymally would normally be considered the favorite, but he got extensive bad press for improperly handing out official-looking but fake state badges to political cronies, and now the ticked-off business community has heaped his top rival, former Assemblyman Rod Wright, a pro-gun Democrat, with more than $700,000.
Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles expert on legislative races in California, says, “If Dymally wins that senate seat, then ‘business’ will never get another vote from Dymally. So the business community is taking a real risk backing Rod Wright.”
In the most stark example of ethnic political kingmaking, the Eastside machine led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pressured two already-announced Latino candidates out of the race for the 46th Assembly District — a choice seat soon to be vacated by the termed-out Fabian Núñez.
Villaraigosa wanted an easy victory for his first cousin, former labor honcho John Perez, another openly gay candidate. Soon after that, says Hoffenblum, two viable Latino candidates, political aides Arturo Chavez and Ricardo Lara, “got the call from the big boys, deciding to winnow the field.”
Chavez and Lara dropped out several weeks ago. Now, the mayor’s first cousin is almost assured victory in June and November.
With all the hardball local politics unfolding, a relatively polite battle is under way for Senate District 23, to replace the departing Sheila Kuehl in a bizarrely shaped district that snakes roughly from the Grove shopping mall on Fairfax over the mountains to Oxnard.
Lefty enviros Lloyd Levine and Fran Pavley are running solid races, but the quiet and unassuming former Assemblywoman Pavley, who gained a reputation for working with both parties and co-authored the major anti-global-warming legislation, is considered the front-runner by many.
Levine hasn’t done himself any favors, proposing often-bizarre laws, including banning incandescent light bulbs and requiring pets to be neutered, and earning himself titles like Lloyd Levine (D-Outer Space).
With the June 3 election whittled to almost nothing by Núñez and Perata, Hoffenblum sums up the L.A. legislative races like this: “The Democratic voters are starting to feel like superdelegates. That’s how much attention and money is being spent on the few who will actually vote.”
* Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Isadore Hall's name. We regret the error