Dynasties, infighting mark California legislative battles on Super Tuesday

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The inside of the San Diego Registrar of Voters building is seen during Super Tuesday on March 3, 2020. (Credit: Ariana Drehsler / AFP / Getty Images)

The inside of the San Diego Registrar of Voters building is seen during Super Tuesday on March 3, 2020. (Credit: Ariana Drehsler / AFP / Getty Images)

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California voters picked through 101 legislative contests Tuesday, from a battle between two Democratic dynasties to nasty infighting among outnumbered Republicans.

The top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The exception is the 28th Senate District special election in Riverside County, where Jeff Stone resigned in the middle of his term to take a Trump administration post. GOP Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez was leading in a five-candidate field over Democrat Joy Silver but was short of the majority vote needed to avoid a May 12 runoff election.

Among the compelling story lines in this year’s elections:

Battle of the dynasties

Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon’s retirement at first seemed to end a family tradition at times scarred by scandal.

He succeeded his father, Charles Calderon, to represent the 57th Assembly District in southeast Los Angeles County. His two uncles also served, Ron Calderon in the Senate and Tom Calderon in the Assembly, but both uncles were convicted on public corruption charges in 2016.

Now Calderon’s stepmother, Lisa Calderon, is running to retain the family’s hold on the Democratic seat.

Her opponents include Sylvia Rubio, whose sisters are Democratic state Sen. Susan Rubio and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio.

The campaign became a business-versus-labor contest with nearly $3 million in independent expenditures, the most of any race so far this year.

Business organizations were backing Sylvia Rubio, a former Republican who misrepresented herself as a longtime Democrat on her official candidacy declaration, public documents showed.

Labor’s support for Calderon and Rubio’s background were setting up a November contest between Calderon and Republican Jessica Martinez.

Republican Trump defectors

Former Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes was holding his own while running as an independent in the 42nd Assembly District in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Mayes, a critic of President Donald Trump and founder of the moderate New Way California organization, seemed headed to a November runoff with his GOP rival, San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk.

Former GOP Assemblyman Brian Maienschein is at least guaranteed a spot on the November ballot against his lone opponent. Maienschein’s switch to the Democratic Party in the San Diego-area’s 77th Assembly District gave Democrats 61 votes in the 80-member Assembly. Democrats hold 29 of the 40 Senate seats.

“If anything, Republicans seem to be in danger of losing even more seats,” said Rob Pyers, research director at the nonpartisan California Target Book that tracks legislative races.

Republican infighting

Even as Republicans fight to maintain their dwindling legislative presence, a nasty fight within the party is playing out in the 72nd Assembly District in northern coastal Orange County.

Tyler Diep appeared headed to a November face-off with former state Sen. Janet Nguyen, the latest round in a long-running power struggle within the district’s strong Vietnamese community.

Diep angered Republicans by being the only GOP vote for a broad new California labor law giving wage and benefit protections to independent contractors. He’s still endorsed by the state GOP, but the Orange County party rescinded its endorsement.

“It goes to one of the great dilemmas of political parties, how much do you sacrifice your core values to win?” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at nearby Chapman University.

Lyft, the ride-hailing company that is a major target and foe of the new labor law, spent more than $300,000 against Diep.

“To waste time and energy on a seat that an incumbent narrowly won — when everyone else lost — just seems like a waste,” said Matt Fleming, a former California Republican Party spokesman who now is an editorial board member for the Southern California News Group.

The GOP is also in the odd position of backing Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies over incumbent Assemblyman Bill Brough in Orange County’s 73rd Assembly District. Both seemed headed to a November face-off.

Brough has denied claims he made unwanted advances toward four women, calling the allegations a politically motivated. He also faces an investigation by California’s campaign watchdog into allegations that he improperly used campaign funds to benefit himself and his family.

Tipping the scales

Business groups are trying to tip the scales in favor of the last remaining Republican assemblyman in Los Angeles County: They’re supporting a Democrat with a troubled past in the primary over one who is endorsed by the Democratic Party. Business interests have independently spent more than $300,000 to boost Steve Fox and oppose Johnathon Ervin.

GOP Assemblyman Tom Lackey already has beat Fox three times in the 36th Assembly District and would be favored again in a November race. Fox was holding on to the second ballot spot despite previous lawsuits from two former staff members alleging sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Mani Grewal was trying to make it a Democrat-on-Democrat runoff in November against Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman in the Central Valley’s 5th Senate District, where Democratic Sen. Cathleen Galgiani faces term limits.

The Democratic Party endorsed Eggman and the Republican Party endorsed Jesus Andrade. But two other Republicans split the GOP vote, including longtime Democrat Kathleen Garcia, who switched her party registration just before filing to run as a Republican. The third Republican, Jim Ridenour, had an early lead in vote tallies.

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