It’s Democrat vs. Democrat 
in confusing California races

By Mary Louise Giblin Henderson

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. — Nobody ever claimed Northern California politics aren’t ... uh ... different.

That’s why it is no surprise that, in at least two instances in my immediate area, Democrat is running against Democrat in this year’s November general election. Both races — one for the State Assembly and the other for Congress — are tied in with newly redistricted areas.

This intriguing turn of events became possible under California’s new voter-approved open primary law, which provides that the two top vote getters in the primary, regardless of party, face off in the general election.

It was probably bound to happen in the heavily “blue” new 10th District, made up largely of Marin and Sonoma counties located north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was also a likely scenario in the new 15th Congressional District, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, where Democrats hold a 2-1 majority among registered voters.

In the redrawn 10th district, where I cast my ballot, the primary battle for the State Assembly included a long list of contenders. Previously, my district included Marin County and a small portion of Sonoma County and was represented by Marin County’s Jared Huffman, now a candidate for Congress. The new district includes all of Marin and Sonoma Counties and some small coastal areas. Combining the two counties meant that Sonoma County’s current assemblyman, Michael Allen, would have to fight to keep his post.

When primary election votes were counted, the two top contenders were San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine of Marin County and Allen. Both are Democrats.

Allen moved from Sonoma County to a rented Marin County apartment earlier this year, specifically to run in the redrawn district.

Confusing enough for you? It gets more complex.

While political parties traditionally keep their noses out of publicly endorsing any candidate in primaries, there’s no precedent for general elections, since 2012 is a “first” in which two Democrats are running for the same California office.

The result is that the California Democratic Party has taken sides and is actively promoting Allen’s candidacy in a flood of mailings. Among their criticisms of Levine is that he is — horrors! — a closet Republican. Besides identifying Levine as “the elephant in the room,” the party has characterized him as being backed by polluters and as “the favorite candidate of Republicans, developers and big business.”

The Marin County Democratic party has added its backing to the state organization, announcing that Allen has “lived and worked in our community for over 40 years,” despite the fact that he had been a resident of Marin County for less than a year.

Levine’s backers criticize Allen for not providing a candidate’s statement for the Voter Information Guide, surmising that there is some dark intent behind that omission. They cite newspaper stories about conflicts of interest that resulted in fines for Allen and suggest that, as a labor attorney, Allen has hidden ties to organized labor’s reputed heavy influence on California politics.

The prestigious San Francisco Chronicle has endorsed Levine, but the Independent Journal, Marin County’s daily newspaper, has thrown its support behind Allen.

According to the Independent Journal, Allen has collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions, compared to Levine’s $189,000. Not surprisingly, Allen’s campaign mailers have greatly outnumbered those from Levine.

I have little familiarity with the 15th Congressional District, in which Rep. Pete Stark, 81, is seeking his 21th term against Alameda County Prosecutor Eric Swallwell, 31. But I allude to it because it’s another race of Democrat vs. Democrat.

And the pre-election battle is colorful, to say the least. The Chronicle recently described it as “the most bizarre congressional race in California.” Among its stranger scenarios is the fact that Stark has been forced to issue public apologies for falsely accusing Swallwell of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” and wrongly insisting that a conservative Chronicle columnist made political donations to Swallwell.

To no one’s astonishment, The Chronicle has endorsed Swallwell.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives, and follows politics, in northern California.


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