State District 7 contest is Democrat free-for-all

Steve GlazerThe luck o’ the Irish.

That’s what the winners are going to need in today’s St. Patrick’s Day election for California state Senate District 7.

Long-brewing tensions among Democrats have come to a head in a bitterly fought race. The candidates seek to replace Steve DeSaulnier, who resigned after his election last November to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Five candidates are running in this primary election. Unless one candidate gets 50 percent plus one votes — almost impossible in this race — the top two will face off in a May 19 runoff.

The Democratic Party has helped corral most unions behind Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, has secured the support of the California Teachers Association.

But with neither woman willing to drop out, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer well could wind up with enough support to make it into the top two. Glazer’s extensive resume in Democratic politics has been eclipsed by his recent willingness to support reform in areas fiercely guarded by organized labor, including pension and education issues.

A fourth Democrat, Terry Kremin, is on the ballot but is expected to get few votes.

Adding to the strangeness, every Republican candidate who entered the race later dropped out, except one. Michaela Hertle, a business woman, remained on the ballot — then endorsed Glazer.

That created an opportunity for rival Democrats to attack him as a virtual DINO — a Democrat in Name Only — despite his rock-solid credentials as a career party strategist.

As a result, Republican fortunes in District 7 have been reduced to possibly becoming a kingmaker — or unmaker — for Glazer. And Democrats have been forced into an embarrassing conflict over wedge issues that won’t go away anytime soon.

High stakes

The contest has quickly been cast as part of a decisive battle between labor and business interests for influence over California Democrats. Glazer has become a lightning rod for that controversy in recent years.

In a boon to all Democrats, Glazer was the top political strategist for Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2010 gubernatorial bid and Proposition 30, Brown’s $7 billion tax-increase initiative in 2012.

But then, as Ben Adler at Capital Public Radio noted, Glazer “helped elect business-friendly Democrats on behalf of the California Chamber of Commerce and called for a ban on public transit worker strikes. So unions spent big to defeat him in an Assembly race last year.”

That race resulted in a Republican win, despite an 8-point lead in registrations among Democrats. Glazer came in third in the June primary. In the November runoff, Republican Catharine Baker became the first Bay Area Republican in the state Senate in two decades, defeating Democrat Tim Sbranti, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Stuffed with ambitious, rising Democrats, California labor interests haven’t always been able to consolidate their support for a single candidate. In District 7, that potential problem has come into sharp focus.

Dirty politics

With so much perceived to be on the line, some Democrats haven’t hesitated to push the envelope in defeating Glazer, who inevitably will attract the support of a significant number of Republican voters.

In one recent move, a Democrat-led political action committee appeared to campaign disingenuously for Hertle in order to draw votes away from Glazer. “The Asian American Small Business PAC has reported spending $46,380 on research, polling and mailing on behalf of Michaela Hertle,” according to Political blotter.

Glazer retorted on Monday, “It’s gutter politics. There’s no Asian American in the race, and the Republican has withdrawn and endorsed me. It’s clearly an attempt to confuse the voters and smear me.”

Then the PAC printed and distributed pro-Hertle flyers bearing the distinctive Republican elephant symbol — an unauthorized use of a trademarked image. That led to a trademark infringement lawsuit from the California GOP.

In a statement, the CAGOP noted its cease-and-desist warning flagrantly was ignored by the PAC, leaving Republicans little choice but to seek injunctive relief in court:

“Deceptive ads like these mislead voters and misinform them about the positions and endorsements of the California Republican Party,” said California Republican Party Chairman Senator Jim Brulte (Ret.). “It’s egregious on the part of a Democratic Political Action Committee to intentionally deceive Californians with its use of well-known Republican images.”

This is part of a general theme on which has been reporting. With the California GOP in such a weak condition, and only starting to pick up a little steam, it was inevitable fractures would develop in the majority Democratic Party.

Throw in a close ally of Brown, a popular governor with a history of opposing too much spending and being unpredictable, and the 7th District’s three-way race might just portend the future of California electoral politics.

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