Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg formally entered the Democratic primary race today for Senate District 7in Contra Costa County.
The incumbent, Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, terms out next year. Of course, that could change if voters support a bill on the February ballot that alters term limits; Torlakson has said he will run for re-election to his Senate seat.
Barring passage of the term limits bill, Canciamilla, a moderate who often sparred with Democratic Party leaders during his six years in Sacramento, will most likely face Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.
It will be a difficult race for Canciamilla on several fronts.
Although he has raised nearly $500,000, DeSaulnier has deep ties to labor unions and other traditional sources of campaign cash for liberal Democrats. DeSaulnier also has the support of high-profile lawmakers such as Torlakson and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez.
Voter turn-out in June 2008 could also be a factor. Many are predicting sparse turn-out because the state shifted the presidential primary to February. In a Democratic primary, low turn-out historically favors the candidate viewed as more liberal because independents who might have voted for a moderate tend to stay away from the polls.
Canciamilla said he decided to run because he has a broad range of experience he hopes to use to find solutions to some of California’s thorniest problems such as ongoing budget deficits, a need for healthcare reform and the Delta water crisis.
Until he was termed out in 2006, Canciamilla had been in elected office for 34 years. In addition to the Assembly, he has been elected to the Pittsburg School Board, City of Pittsburg and the Board of Supervisors.
As a supervisor, he is probably best known for his successful 2000 campaign to tighten the county’s growth boundary. And as a legislator, he helped lead the “Mod Squad,” a bipartisan coalition of moderate state lawmakers who proposed their own budget solutions and promoted the election of moderate candidates throughout the state.
He has also launched an initiative to fight renewed interest in the construction of the Peripheral Canal in the Delta, a water conveyance that East Bay critics say will result in the loss of critical water supplies.
“I have a lot of experience, in the local, education, municipal and special district levels, and the Senate is a logical place to put it to use,” Canciamilla said.
Critics, however, say Canciamilla’s unquestioned intellect combined with his sharp tongue alienated his colleagues and left him unable to advance his own agenda. He also ran afoul of the League of Conservation Voters, who disliked Canciamilla’s votes on some environmental issues and sent out critical mailers in his Assembly district.
But Canciamilla doesn’t consider his lack of ties to Democratic Party leaders or his often contentious relationships with special interest groups a detriment to his candidacy among average voters.
“I’m not part of the Democratic Party’s ‘in crowd’ and I never have been,” he said. “I’m not willing to pay the price of admission to that club. So, the voters will have a choice.”
For more details on Canciamilla’s candidacy, visit his web site which went live today at www.JoeforSenate2008.com.
Click here to link to DeSaulnier’s campaign web site.
What about the Republican candidates, you ask?
There aren’t any yet and while the GOP might find a warm body to slap onto the ballot by the sign-up deadline, it won’t matter. Democrats have a nearly 17 percentage point registration advantage in this district, which means the senator will be selected in the Democrat primary.