East Bay runoff race splits CA Dems

Democrats fighting logoFacing a key special election in the 7th Senate District, California Democrats have been drawn into an intraparty conflict with a high profile and higher stakes.

In the wake of a tight first-round vote, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord — the runner up to Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer — snagged the endorsement of the California Democratic Party in her bid to replace state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, freshly elected to Congress.

Formalizing its support even further, the Party has now cut Bonilla a sizable check to help defeat Glazer, as the Sacramento Bee reported:

“The California Democratic Party has contributed more than $73,000 to Bonilla’s campaign, state filings through Thursday show. It is the first time the party has spent significant money in an open race featuring two Democrats.”

A rare battle

The state Republican Party did its best to bow out of the race in the 7th Senate District, which former state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier has vacated upon his election to Congress. Although she dropped out of the race, Republican Michaela Hertle’s name remained on the first-round ballot. As a result, Hertle earned just 17 percent of the initial vote.

The absence of a viable Republican candidate helped create near-perfect conditions for a divisive struggle that could pit Democrats’ left wing against its center. Glazer, a business-friendly Democrat who recently served as one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s key advisors, took the lion’s share of the vote, but not enough to prevent a runoff election. “Glazer topped two fellow Democrats with 32 percent of the vote. He was followed by Bonilla of Concord with 24 percent and former Assemblyman Joan Buchanan of Alamo with 22 percent,” the San Francisco Chronicle recounted.

Big consequences

Typically, close runoff races have provoked bitter campaigns between rivals. This time around, the battle between Bonilla and Glazer has taken on an extra edge because of its potential impact on Democrats’ policy agenda in Sacramento.

Voters have been hit with an avalanche of mailers castigating one candidate or the other, often with so little context that local papers, such as the Contra Costa Times, have had to provide fact-checking breakdowns of which allegations hold the most water.

As the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, no matter how much the contending interests behind the candidates amp up outrage around the big issues dominating statewide politics, voters may well choose between Bonilla and Glazer based on their opposing positions on a more local issue: labor strikes affecting the Bay Area Rapid Transit metro system. Glazer, according to the Mercury News, has come out in favor of banning the strikes, while Bonilla would head them off by doubling down on negotiations.

But the bare-knuckle conflict has left no doubt that major fissures within the California Democratic Party are in danger of widening. “Bonilla sees high-speed rail as a necessary alternative to congested highways; Glazer sees it as a high-minded concept with no feasible funding plan,” the Mercury News noted. “Bonilla thinks voters should decide whether to extend Proposition 30 sales and income tax hikes; Glazer thinks they should sunset as originally intended.”

While unions and activists have shelled out seven figures to praise Bonilla and sink Glazer, Bee columnist Dan Walters has noted, corporate groups and private supporters have done the reverse — both struggling to tip the balance of power within the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

“Only 19 or 20 Democratic senators, just short of a majority, are reliable votes for the most contentious business-related bills, such as those on the CalChamber’s target list. The May 19 election could tip the balance either way. A Bonilla win would enhance the bills’ chances in the Senate, while a Glazer victory would make their passage even more difficult.”

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