California’s citizen-led redistricting effort is beginning to leave its mark on tri-county congressional races.
The retirement of longtime U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, a Simi Valley Republican, has thrown the race for California’s new 26th District wide open. Five Democrats are running for a seat which now holds a slight edge in Democratic Party registrations, with Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett given perhaps the best chance of getting the nomination. Bennett, a strong environmentalist, emerged a decade ago as a backer of the county’s SOAR growth limits, but he’s become known as a bit of a consensus builder.
The other four include Moorpark Councilman David Pollock; Zeke Ruelas, a longtime community activist; David Cruz Thayne, a businessman; and Oxnard Harbor District’s Jess Herrera. While Democrats have an edge in registrations, the new district, comprising most of Ventura County except Simi Valley, also could favor social conservatives, and it may pit pro-business Hispanics against slow-growth environmentalists.
Among Republicans, eager to keep a seat they’ve held since 1986, State Sen. Tony Strickland, who eked out a win against Hannah Beth Jackson, holds an edge in name recognition, fundraising and connections. He’s particularly close to U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, majority whip, a Bakersfield Republican whose district includes parts of San Luis Obispo County. But a spoiler could be Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, nominally a Republican but expected to run without affiliation. Parks has a loyal following, a strong record of opposing development in East Ventura County and a knack for sniffing out controversial issues that can raise her profile.
Meanwhile in the Central Coast constituency that comprises most of the 24th District, incumbent Lois Capps, a Santa Barbara Democrat, has been raising a ton of money in what is expected to be one of her toughest campaigns. Her re-election campaign said it had raised $1.1 million so far, including $321,643 for the fourth quarter. Capps will face former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a likeable strawberry farmer and processor from Santa Maria, who rose from city councilman to assemblymember to state senator prior to his appointment by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Maldonado has a number of wealthy backers, including Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, a successful Los Angeles attorney with ties to the Santa Barbara area. Symbolic of how close and confusing the 26th and 24th District races might be, it could turn out that money raised by Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett for Democratic Party causes finds its way to the Capps campaign at the same time that longtime Buffett business partner and pal Munger is writing checks for Maldonado.