Proposed bill seeks to recoup costs of special elections

Denise Cross / flickr

Denise Cross / flickr

An assemblyman will soon introduce legislation aimed at curbing the cost to taxpayers when a legislator retires from their position early, forcing a special election — but it may stop short of recouping costs in other instances.

The bill would require legislators — like former Asm. Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, who resigned last month to take a position lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry — to use some or all of their leftover campaign cash to mitigate the cost of a special election. The bill would also block using leftover funds to make donations to other legislators.

“If you trigger a special election, then you’ve got to save some campaign funds to pay down the cost of the special election,” Asm. Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, told CalWatchdog, adding that he may be “inclined” to expand language to include certain instances where ambitious politicians ditch their current positions for higher office or to escape term limits.

The Cost of Ambition

Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, left Orange County taxpayers with a nearly $2 million price tag when she vacated her state Senate seat immediately after being elected to Congress in the 2014 cycle. Had John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, not received more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary to win the seat outright, the cost would have doubled.

Patterson was not asked about the Walters example, but agreed with the principle of mitigating the cost to taxpayers in these instances as well. However, he said the specific cause of the vacancy should be considered and warned that a realistic approach to the bill was needed.

“I have to have some kind of caution in this if I hope to even get this much passed,” Patterson said. “If I reach to ambitious politicians and touch their freedom of decision making, even though I might think it’s the appropriate thing to do, I don’t want to build enemies for the bill.”

It’s worth noting that Patterson will run for a soon-to-be vacant state Senate seat in 2018, but will not run for re-election to his Assembly seat while doing so, according to the Fresno Bee.

Who Says Politicans Don’t Listen to Constituents? 

The idea for the legislation, which was first reported by the Fresno Bee on Friday, came from a caller a few weeks ago while Patterson was a guest on a local radio program. The caller, who was reportedly one of around a half dozen on the special election to replace Perea, was upset that the county would be forced to pick up the check, which the Fresno Bee reported could be as much as $675,000.

“Voters are very tired of politicians who act in ways that just simply seem to be tone-deaf to common sense, and I think they’re tired of politicians costing them fundamental services,” Patterson said. “You’re going to take that right out of fundamental services for roads and safety and public works, public parks, and that should not be the case if you’re sitting on lots of cash from contributors.”

Perea left the Assembly with $863,000 in his campaign account, as of the most recent filing. Patterson argues that at least some of that money should be used for the special election and not to donate to other legislators.

Patterson referred to former state Sen. Michael Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat, who stepped down from office in 2013 for a government affairs position with Chevron Corp. On his way out the door, Rubio made several contributions to other lawmakers, including $5,000 to Perea.

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