SACRAMENTO — Californians voted nearly 14 years ago to cap the terms that their lawmakers could serve, and the effect is clear on Tuesday's ballot.
Of the 100 Assembly and Senate seats being contested in the primary election, 34 are wide open to newcomers, without an incumbent running for reelection. That's mostly because lawmakers must move on after serving three terms in the Assembly and two in the Senate.
"Incumbents were viewed as monopolists," said political consultant Darry Sragow, an advisor to Assembly Democrats. "The term limits we have are antitrust provisions."
The legislative contests won't be so competitive come the November general election because, with few exceptions, the Assembly and Senate districts are deliberately drawn to strongly favor either Democrats or Republicans.
In 2002, for example, Assembly Democrats spent roughly $15 million fighting one another in the primary election, and $10 million trying to beat Republicans in November, Sragow said.
Political consultants say that more than 20 of Tuesday's primary races are too close to call. In many cases, the outcome will be determined in part by advertising and mailers paid for by special interests through "independent expenditure committees," which are supposed to operate outside the oversight of candidates. In Southern California, the especially tight races include:
* Assembly District 37 in Ventura County, where Assemblyman Tony Strickland's wife, Audra, is running to replace him against three other Republicans -- Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Gorell, attorney Eric McClendon and former legislative staffer Mike Robinson.
* Assembly District 47, sliced by the Santa Monica Freeway and including Culver City, where seven candidates are competing to replace former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson. Five are Democrats: community activist Karen Bass, business consultant David Cooper, political science professor Richard P. Groper, former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden and attorney Rickey Ivie. Local unions have given more than $41,000 to Bass for mailers and signs, and trial attorneys have independently spent $68,000 on campaign literature and postage to oppose Holden.
* Assembly District 62 in San Bernardino County, where three Democrats are vying to replace Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto). They are Joe Baca Jr., son of the San Bernardino congressman; school board member Walter S. Hawkins; and David Roa Pruitt, chief of staff to the mayor of San Bernardino. Dentists, doctors and police officers have backed Pruitt with independent expenditure campaigns of more than $20,000.
* Assembly District 63, including Rancho Cucamonga, where six Republicans are seeking to fill the spot opened when Assemblyman Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) decided to run for the state Senate. The California Dental Assn. has sunk more than $343,000 into an independent expenditure campaign to help candidate Bill Emmerson, a Redlands dentist, with campaign literature, consultants, mailers, postage and television advertising. Police officers, doctors and other special interest groups have independently committed $95,000 to Emmerson for outdoor advertising, mailers, signs and surveys.
* Assembly District 69, including Santa Ana, where the winner of the fight between Democrats Claudia Alvarez, a deputy district attorney, and Tom Umberg, a former assemblyman, is favored to prevail in November. Agribusiness, dentists, developers, insurance companies, real estate agents and senior citizens have together devoted more than $330,000 to independent expenditure campaigns for Alvarez.