A full year away from the primary elections and with two of the East Bay’s most recognized women politicians interested in running, figuring out the odds on who will succeed termed-out state Sen. Don Perata in the District 9 Senate seat would be difficult under normal circumstances.
Current District 14 Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and former District 16 Assembly-member and Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) have both announced their intentions to run in the Berkeley-Oakland district.
More than anything, it is California’s legislative term limits law, currently limiting assemblymembers to three two-year terms, which is causing this potential clash of the political titans. Chan came to the end of her three terms in 2006 and Hancock will do so in 2008.
In addition, the Oakland Tribune reported late last year that another former Assemblymember, Democrat Johan Klehs, is considering moving from San Leandro to Castro Valley to run for the District 9 Senate seat as well.
The problem is, none of them might run.
Instead, Perata, who is limited to two terms in the state Senate by California’s term-limit law (and got an additional term after winning a favorable state attorney general’s opinion four years ago), would be eligible for another run if a term-limit extension measure is approved by California voters next February.
Hans Hemann, Hancock’s chief of staff, said flatly that if Perata becomes eligible and runs for the District 9 seat next June, Hancock will not. Chan was not available for comment for this story. But four years ago, she faced a similar situation when it looked like Perata was being termed out in 2008. Chan announced that she was running for the District 9 seat, but then, after the attorney general interpreted the term limits law to say that Perata was eligible for another term, Chan quietly withdrew.
District 9 is one of California’s most liberal-progressive districts. It runs in a long East Bay corridor west of the foothills from Richmond in the north through Oakland, taking in the city of Alameda as well, and then turns east through the hills, picking up a portion of Castro Valley and all of Livermore. Only two-thirds of the city of Richmond is included, and more than 90 percent of the district is in Alameda County. The district is divided, with African Americans making up 25 percent of the registered voters, Latinos 19 percent, and Asian Americans 17 percent. Democrats make up 61 percent of the registered voters in the district, making whoever wins the Democratic primary next June virtually certain to be the next District 9 senator. Four years ago, Perata overwhelmed the field in the November General Election, getting 77 percent of the vote to 16 percent for Republican public relations executive Patricia Deutsche and 5 percent for Peace and Freedom Party writer Tom Condit.
Meanwhile, the potential candidates for the District 9 Senate seat are not the only ones left in limbo by the upcoming vote on extending the term limits law. With Hancock currently termed out in 2008, several candidates have been making noises to run for her District 14 Assembly seat.
Earlier this month, the Contra Costa Times reported that no less than seven candidates have expressed interest in Hancock’s job. Richmond City Councilmember Tony Thurmond and East Bay Municipal Utilities District Director Lesa McIntosh, also of Richmond, have already announced their candidacy. The Times also reported that five other potential candidates are looking at the seat: Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Daryl Moore, East Bay Regional Park Director and former Berkeley City Councilmember Nancy Skinner, and from Richmond Councilmember Jim Rogers and West Contra Costa School District Trustee Charles Ramsey.
But if the term-limits extension initiative passes, Hancock will be eligible for three more terms in the state legislature. She has not indicated if she would run for the Assembly again in that event, but if she did, several of the potential candidates for Assembly District 14 would almost certainly not run.
For their part, in order to prepare for a potential June 2008 primary, both Hancock and Chan must act as if the District 9 Senate race is on between them.
Earlier this month, Hanock supporters sent out fund-raising letters to potential supporters, writing that “we need to raise at least $175,000 before June 30th to show that Loni is viable and can raise enough to defeat an opponent, who has been raising money for this race since before she ‘termed out’ in 2006.”
Chan has already set up a Wilma Chan Democrat For CA State Senate campaign website [www.wilmachan.org], with a list of endorsements ranging from Congressmember Mike Honda to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez to Senate President Don Perata (who would presumably exercise the right withdraw his endorsement if he is able to run himself). Four of the endorsers are from Hancock’s backyard, Berkeley City Councilmembers Betty Olds, Kriss Worthington, and Dona Spring, and former Berkeley City Councilmember Maudelle Shirek.
Presuming the Chan-Hancock race does materialize, it is difficult to tell at this stage who would be the favorite.
The bulk of District 9’s registered voters are in the city of Oakland (44 percent), with Berkeley, at 17 percent, the city with the second highest registration percentage, but that doesn’t necessarily give the Oakland-based Chan an insurmountable advantage over the Berkeley-based Hancock. When Perata first won the District 9 seat, he was living in the City of Alameda, which only constitutes 9 percent of the district’s registered voters.
For Chan, overcoming the loss of visibility after leaving the legislature will be her greatest difficulty. In 2005 and 2006, her last two years in Sacramento, when she served as Assembly Majority leader, Chan’s name was in the news on a weekly basis as she participated in, or commented on, events surrounding the state legislature. Since leaving Sacramento, she has virtually disappeared from public view, however.
Chan sees identification with her old Assembly position as crucial to the Senate race, however, even without the accompanying power and publicity that goes with actually holding the office. The voicemail at her state Senate campaign headquarters identifies her as “Assemblywoman” Wilma Chan, going on to refer anyone with Assembly District 16 business to “the current District 16 Assemblymember, Sandré Swanson.”
Meanwhile, Hancock has become more visible in recent months, sponsoring several pieces of legislation and hosting local high-profile conferences, including a March health care forum at Oakland City Hall and, the following month, a Global Warming forum at Berkeley City Council.