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State Senate elections may be settled in first round of balloting

Voters last year passed a system in which the top two vote-getters regardless of party will advance to a special runoff. But races in the 17th and 28th Senate districts aren't expected to test the new process.

January 17, 2011|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times

Upcoming special elections to fill two state Senate seats may not provide the expected test of California's new "top two" primary system because the contests may well be settled in the first round of balloting, eliminating the potential for a first-ever runoff between two members of the same party.


FOR THE RECORD:
Special elections: In the Jan. 17 LATExtra section, an article about special elections in two state Senate districts contained errors in two candidates' names. The Democrat running in the 17th District is Darren W. Parker, not Darren W. Thompson. The name of Michael Chamness, running in the 28th District and listed as having no party preference, was misspelled as Charness. —

Under a system approved by voters in June, all the candidates will appear on a single ballot, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the runoff. But in special elections, typically called when an officeholder dies or resigns, the outcome can be decided in the primary if a candidate wins a majority.

That will happen in at least one of the two special legislative elections called for Feb. 15.

Only two candidates will be on the ballot to replace former state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who resigned his 17th District seat after his recent election to the state Board of Equalization. One of the candidates is his wife, former Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, also a Republican, who is considered the strong favorite in this longtime GOP stronghold.

The district spans parts of Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Her opponent is Democrat Darren W. Thompson, a small business owner and chairman of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Commission.

With eight people on the ballot in the South Bay-based 28th state Senate district, a runoff could be needed to determine who will succeed the late Jenny Oropeza (D- Long Beach). Oropeza died shortly before the Nov. 2 election and was reelected posthumously.

Most observers give the edge in that race to former Assemblyman Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat whose lower-house district overlapped half the Senate district. Some believe he can win the seat in the primary, given his strong fundraising (well over $300,000 so far), his party's wide advantage over Republicans in local registration (48% to 25%) and a dearth of other candidates with viable campaigns.

"I don't think any Republican is going to have a chance" until district lines are redrawn later this year, said government affairs consultant Steven T. Kuykendall, a Republican who formerly represented the area in the Assembly and the House of Representatives. "My take is that Lieu will win it, and probably in the primary."

Longtime Republican pollster Steve Kinney said he would expect a runoff only if one of the four Republicans on the ballot musters the money and volunteers needed to reach sufficient numbers of GOP and independent voters. Any runoff would almost certainly be between Lieu and a Republican, Kinney said.

"We're not going to see what has been anticipated — we're not going to have two people from the same party" on a second-round ballot, Kinney said.

Public defender Kevin Thomas McGurk of Venice is the only other Democrat running. Assemblyman Warren Furutani of Gardena and L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn dropped out early, and perennial candidate Mervin Evans was disqualified after filing closed. Libertarian Peter "Pedro" De Baets was also disqualified.

The Republicans are Manhattan Beach businessman/attorney and longtime gay-rights advocate Bob Valentine; educator Martha Flores-Gibson, who on Nov. 2 lost her challenge to Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach); and two political unknowns: Lomita attorney James P. Thompson; and Jeffrey E. Fortini of Hawthorne, a retired U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.

Listed on the ballot as having no party preference are artist/publisher/community activist Mark Lipman of Mar Vista and Michael Charness of Venice, a consultant to nonprofit organizations.

Lipman said the no-party designation will be confusing to voters. Charness said he and others who feel shortchanged by the new rules will try to use special elections to call attention to what they see as the system's flaws.

Charness said he is affiliated with the "coffee party," a group formed to counter the conservative "tea party" organizations. The group is not recognized by the state, so he was stuck with the no-party label. Peace and Freedom party members Jan B. Tucker of Torrance and Carl Iannalfo of Littlerock, in the Antelope Valley, contend that the "chaos" caused by the new system prevented them from collecting enough signatures to get on the ballots in their respective districts.

Lieu, who was termed out of the Assembly in December after losing the Democratic primary for attorney general in June, has sewn up the lion's share of endorsements from civic and political leaders and planned to begin walking precincts and phoning voters over the weekend.

A runoff, if there is one, would take place April 19.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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