Redistricting and Blanket Primaries Make For Compelling Congressional Races

Garamendi2How much has redistricting and blanket primaries actually changed the dynamics of California politics?  It is difficult to know just yet, but the combination is producing some compelling Congressional elections – however, some of that is produced by the one-time phenomenon of redistricting forcing two incumbents – sometimes of the same party – into a single district.

Yolo County has one of the more intriguing congressional races developing.  John Garamendi is a name most Californians know – he has spent years building and rebuilding a political career in Sacramento.

Two years ago he won a special election for Congress.  Now he is forced to basically start all over again in a district that is 80% different from the one he first ran in just two years ago.

Only the Fairfield portion of Solano County is a holdover.

Republicans are targeting this as a district that they can at least compete in.  It is a Democratic-leaning district with a plurality of 42-33 percent Democrats, but there is no Democratic majority.

Congressperson Garamendi has five opponents including Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, reserve officer and pilot Rick Tubbs, realtor and karate instructor Eugene Ray and Sutter County Deputy District Attorney Tony Carlos.

He has thus far raised just under $1 million for this race.

His most likely opponent is Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann who has raised the most money and earned the second endorsement by the Sacramento Bee.

The Bee pointed out that she has refused to sign the non-tax pledge that they say “binds the ability of too many Republicans to negotiate with Democrats.”

They also argue that she would be willing to “fight for the 3rd District’s share of aid for transportation and other projects, unlike many Republicans who religiously eschew earmarks.”

On most other issues, she is a party-line Republican.  “She opposes the Affordable Care Act, and what she sees as unnecessary regulation, and says she supports gun owners’ rights. Coming from a farming family, she is keenly interested in changes to California’s water delivery system.”

The Bee believes that Supervisor Vann would give the incumbent a real challenge in November.  However, the Congressional representative is a veteran campaigner.

His campaign spokesperson told the Vanguard on Sunday that he is not taking anything for granted, he is knocking on doors.  And they feel he is a great fit with his rural roots for a district that includes portions of eight counties – Glenn, Solano east of Fairfield, Colusa, Lake, Yuba-Sutter, all of Yolo County except for West Sacramento and even a little bit of Sacramento County.

Experts believed that the blanket primary system, in which the top two vote getters in the primary regardless of party affiliation will face off in the fall, will advantage moderates.  Under the previous system, with party primaries, the more extreme party loyalists would select the candidates, giving the advantage to liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans.

The verdict is too early to tell, but in the North Bay District that seated Lynn Woolsey of Petluma, Norman Solomon, a longtime activist and iconic figure of the progressive left, has a real shot at a second-place finish.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman remains the frontrunner on Tuesday.  He has raised the most money at $1 million.

But Mr. Solomon is in a battle with political newcomer and liberal business person Stacey Lawson, in a heavily-tilting Democratic district.

Under the old system, Mr. Solomon would have no chance to make to the general election, as a Jared Huffman would be the clear favorite.

How serious is Mr. Solomon? Not only has he raised $630,000, behind Assemblymember Huffman and Ms. Lawson, but he sent out controversial attack mailers against Ms. Lawson.

One of the mailers cites Ms. Lawson’s acknowledged failure to vote in eight of 12 elections from 2003-08.  The controversial part is the comparisons of Ms. Lawson pictorially with both Meg Witman, the one-time gubernatorial candidate and Pinocchio.

Mr. Solomon has been criticized for going negative against his principles, but he defends it as a legitimate criticism.

“A progressive principle is that we do not accept multi-millionaires buying elections,” he said.

The California Federation of Teachers has endorsed Mr. Solomon’s candidacy.

“We look forward to working with you to promote issues pertaining to California’s educational system, public employees, and protecting the interests of working families,” the union’s president, Joshua Pechthalt, said in a letter to Mr. Solomon.

Mr. Solomon responded by vowing to work for full support of public education and working people.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “Students, teachers, parents and communities deserve robust public investment in our schools. This is an unwavering commitment that I intend to fulfill as the North Coast’s representative in Congress.”

“The leading Republican contender is Daniel Roberts, a Mill Valley financial adviser who wants to amend accounting laws to stop corporate fraud. He’s the stronger GOP contender in the race, but he faces an uphill fight in this left-leaning district,” the Santa Rosa paper reported.

They endorsed Assemblymember Huffman and wrote of Mr. Solomon, “Solomon is passionate on progressive causes and speaks well on issues of foreign policy. But this district needs someone who will do more than speak out about bringing troops home from war, something just about all the candidates have pledged to do. In our view, it requires someone who has a history of legislative success and/or experience in elected office, which both Solomon and Lawson lack.”

Ultimately in November, Mr. Huffman presumably would win out, but one never knows.  The blanket primary gives a Norman Solomon a chance to compete where the previous system did not.

On the other hand, the new redistricting has, in two southern California Districts, pitted Democrat against Democrat.

In July of 2011, Janice Hahn won a special election for Congress to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Jane Harman. Despite the strong Democratic lean of the district, she defeated Republican Craig Huey, a Tea Party-backed direct marketer from the Torrance area, with 55 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 45 percent.

Less than a year later she is battling for her life against Laura Richardson, a three-term Congresswoman.

“I was sort of disappointed,” said Congressperson Hahn in an interview earlier in the campaign.

“I wished that Laura had assessed it for a longer period about what it would mean,” Hahn said. “But, she just said that she would be doing this and hoped that I understood why she was moving to run in the same district as me.”

“I’m taking this race seriously, even though there’s another one in November,” Congresswoman Richardson said. “I’ve been in Congress for five years and my opponent has been here for less than a year. It’s not about making promises of what we would do, it’s about what we have accomplished and who is best positioned to continue serving.”

“When I get out and talk to people, I’m not hearing any concerns about race,” Ms. Hahn said. “They’re looking for someone who will bring jobs and work across the aisle to get things done, not about the color of the person who represents them.”

“I think it was an interesting move by the redistricting committee and speaks to the fact that there are unique issues in our community,” Ms. Richardson said. “I believe the reason why the communities I represent continue to vote for me is because I’m a part of them and I get it.”

Meanwhile in another Southern California District, a USC Poll shows Rep. Brad Sherman leading fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, 31.7% to 24%, with more than 23% of those surveyed saying they had not yet made up their minds.

Dan Schnur, who directed the poll, said “the survey showed both Berman and Sherman were doing well in the parts of the new district that each currently represents in his old district. The two veteran congressmen’s homes wound up in the same district in last year’s redrawing of state political maps, and both insisted on seeking reelection in that district.”

This is a Democratic district with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 48 to 26 percent.

The irony, Mr. Schnur said, “is that in this Democratic district, it is the Republican voters that could determine the outcome in the fall.”

However, these battles are really more anomaly than the rule.  Any time one redistricts, there will be some of these battles between incumbents.  But that is a one-time phenomenon.

Overall, it is too soon to tell if the new primary will create new dynamics.  Most observers do not expect it to impact the Democrats’ stranglehold on government.  The only real question is whether it will ultimately produce more competitive districts and give more moderate figures a chance to compete.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Redistricting and Blanket Primaries Make For Compelling Congressional Races”

  1. Rifkin

    [i]”Now he is forced to basically start all over again in a district that is 80% different from the one he first ran in just two years ago.”[/i]

    At least Garamendi’s residence is in this Congressional district and he won’t have to lie about it any longer. It’s perfectly legal to live in one district and represent another. It’s just sleazy to lie about that, like Garamendi did when he won Ellen Tauscher’s old seat.


  2. Rifkin

    [i]”Experts believed that the blanket primary system, in which the top two vote getters in the primary regardless of party affiliation will face off in the fall, will advantage moderates.”[/i]

    Time will tell if this is true. I hope that it is. However, my expectation is not that the new system will be advantageous for all moderates in all districts. Rather, I think it gives moderate Dems and moderate Republicans a better chance when the majority of voters in the district are moderates.

    Certainly, in some districts in say, South Carolina or Mississippi or Utah, most of the voters are deeply religious and conservative; likewise, in some mostly inner-city or urban districts, most of the voters subscribe to a left or liberal philosophy. So if one of those districts had our system, I don’t see why they would end up electing a moderate/centrist.

    My hope for our district in the new system is that whoever we elect–I feel confident it will be John Garamendi–is that the system itself pushes our representative toward our own philosophical middle. If we elect a Republican, that person will have an incentive to vote as a centrist. If we elect a Democrat, that person will also have an incentive to vote as a centrist.

    One thing I observed about the person who represented Davis the longest in my lifetime, Vic Fazio, is that his philosophy (and votes) changed every time his district changed. In the late 1970s, our district was very liberal and so was Fazio. After 1982, the redistricting took in a lot more rural voters and Fazio became more conservative (though still left of center). And then after the 1992 redistricting, when a majority of our district was Republican, Fazio became one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats in the House. In other words, Fazio did not have a fixed ideology. He saw his role as a representative of his constituency, and I think that is a reasonable approach.

  3. David M. Greenwald


    There is no residency requirement for Congress. Also, I believe the district quite literally came to across the street from his residence.

  4. Rifkin

    Rich: [i]”It’s perfectly legal to live in one district and represent another.”[/i]

    David: [i]”Rich: There is no residency requirement for Congress.”[/i]

    I said that first.

    Rich: [i]”It’s just sleazy to lie about that, like Garamendi did when he won Ellen Tauscher’s old seat.”[/i]

    David: [i]”I believe the district quite literally came to across the street from his residence.”[/i]

    Well, Scott Norwood’s infamous field goal miss at the end of Super Bowl XXV was even closer. But that does not give Norwood the right to claim he made the kick. Garamendi was wrong to have said he lived in the 10th CD. But that no longer matters. He does live in our new district.


  5. David M. Greenwald

    Sorry, automatic response from our previous argument.

    I don’t think Garamendi’s claim is on par with Norwood’s miss. Norwood’s miss on the other hand was specifically proscribed by rules, Garamendi’s wasn’t.

    From a functional perspective Garamendi living just in or just out of the district is not of material importance. The concern about outsides is that they wouldn’t represent the district.

  6. Rifkin

    But what if Garamendi’s were a closet Buffalo Bills fan? Would he have the right to flip off Scott Norwood?


    I am guessing that this kid will not end up in Congress.

  7. Frankly

    Rich: [i]”Fazio did not have a fixed ideology. He saw his role as a representative of his constituency, and I think that is a reasonable approach.”[/i]

    I think there is a line for this over which begins a slippery slope. When a politician shifts his principles to get re-elected he is a flip-flopping slime ball, IMO. However, if the politician is honest and says “I support my constituents on this issue” from the start, then I agree it is reasonable and admirable to shift when the opinion of the constituents change.

    Like Obama’s principle that marriage should be between and man and a woman, and then a complete change when he and his re-election handlers decide that his Christian facade had crumbled and he was better off pandering to his liberal base – this type of flip-flopping exemplifies the exact type of politicians we DON’T want…. I M O.

    Fazio did good things for this area, but I can’t say I was ever a big fan. I remember his words and votes resonating more with me the longer he was in office, but at the same time I felt like I trusted him less.

  8. Rifkin

    [i]”Fazio did good things for this area, but I can’t say I was ever a big fan.”[/i]

    It was near the end of his run in Congress, but I think Fazio’s finest hour–and for that matter the finest hour for our neighboring Congressman, Bob Matsui–was when Fazio and Matsui, against the wishes of organized labor, fought for and helped push through the NAFTA and GATT agreements.

    With free trade–or with our semi-free trade agreements–our country as a whole always wins, as does our trading partner country. But certain companies or other narrow interests will lose and will make noise about losing. And thus, with the winners spread thin and the losers** concentrated and organized, it takes a lot of testicular fortitude for a member of Congress–particularly for a Democratic leader like Fazio–to buck the unions and do what is best for America as a whole.

    Bill Clinton* also deserves a lot of credit for getting NAFTA and GATT passed. However, it is easier for a president to do what is right for the country on the whole than it is for a Congressman to stand up to the organized special interests in his party.

    *Clinton’s predecessor, George Bush the First, could not get the job done, though that was mostly the fault of Dick Gephardt and other protectionist Democrats thwarting him.

    **The fairest thing to do with those who lose from free trade agreements is to compensate them. For example, if NAFTA ended up costing the jobs of people in the needle-trades (it probably did), then with our larger national gains, we should have given those folks some cash and some scholarship money for re-training in a new trade or profession.

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