The campaigns for the 10th Congressional District have nearly reached the end of the line and polls will open in a matter of hours.
By this time Wednesday, we should know the outcome of what has been a suspense-filled accelerated primary election season, chiefly due to the presence of three elected Democrats in the contest — Lt. Gov. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo.
The Democratic top vote-getter will become the prohibitive favorite in the Nov. 3 runoff election and if one of these three ultimately prevails, it will trigger one of three events:
1. If Garamendi wins, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will nominate someone to fill out the remainder of his term or 2010. The nomination is subject to approval of both houses of the California Legislature. But if state lawmakers fail to vote within 90 days, the governor’s choice automatically takes the seat.
2 and 3. If DeSaulnier or Buchanan win, a vacancy in the Assembly or Senate seat triggers the state’s special election rules. The governor cannot appoint members of the Legislature. The governor has 14 days as soon as the seat becomes vacant to call a special general election, which must occur within 114 to 126 days. A special primary will be held eight weeks prior to the general election.
Of course, one could extend this line of thought to the extreme. Let’s say DeSaulnier wins the Congressional seat and triggers a special Senate election. Then Buchanan wins the Senate seat and her departure triggers a special Assembly election. All of which translates into millions of dollars to pay for more special elections and all on the backs of the district’s taxpayers.
A few folks have already indicated they will run for an open Senate seat, including Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich and West Contra Costa School Board Trustee Tony Thurmond. Open seats usually attract additional candidates, so we almost certainly expect that list would grow.
As for the lieutenant governor’s seat, talk among Sacramento politicos is that Schwarzenegger favors the appointment of a Republican although the names of several prominent Democrats have surfaced, too.
The governor can either use the post to elevate someone into a position where he or she can run as an incumbent in 2010 for this job or even for governor. Or he could nominate a place-holder, someone who poses no threat to the current gubernatorial or statewide candidates.
“The person who gets appointed has an advantage and the (governor and his staff) will be very careful about who they give that advantage to,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California and a former Republican political consultant.
On the GOP side, names include state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria. He infuriated Republicans when he voted with Schwarzenegger last year for a state budget that contained tax hikes in return for a redistricting ballot measure. On the plus side, Democrats might go along with it; his departure from the Senate creates an opportunity for Democrats to win the seat in a special election. But it would look like political pay-back, a label the moderate Maldonado might not survive in a tough 2010 primary.
Another GOP possibility is Assemblyman Mike Villines of Fresno, the former minority leader who also sided with Schwarzenegger in February on a state budget that included temporary tax hikes in return for spending reform.
There is also speculation that Tom Campbell, the governor’s former finance director, might be persuaded to give up his gubernatorial bid in exchange for the lieutenant governor’s nomination. Campbell’s presence could lead to an unusual partnership between the two Constitutional offices. (Garamendi and Schwarzenegger are not pals. Garamendi’s opposition to the governor’s policies and ballot measures cost the lieutenant governor half of his office budget.)
Democrats who might make the short list include former Assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg. I’m told the two have a strong relationship and Hertzberg might view it as a pulpit for his California Forward initiative, a study of potential governance reforms in the state.
Would Schwarzenegger appoint a Democrat? Who knows? He is unpredictable. And with just a 1 1/2 left in his term, he could always decide to shake things up.