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Political Analysis: Politicians Keep One Step Ahead Of Term Limits

Political Analysis: Politicians Keep One Step Ahead Of Term Limits
Some San Diego politicians are hoping to climb up the electoral ladder this November. They're running for higher office before they get caught in the grip of term limits. KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner gives us some examples.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Movin' on up, that's what a lot of politicians are trying to do in the upcoming mid-term elections. It's an unintended consequence of term limits. Most California politicians can no longer spend a career in one office, but they can spend many years in several elected offices. KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner has tracked the movements of a number of local politicians running for higher office in 2010. She's here to tell us who's hoping to step up and who's hoping to step in behind. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, Maureen. I was thinking we really need a family tree for this to adequately track their movements.

CAVANAUGH: It’s almost genealogical, you’re absolutely right.



CAVANAUGH: Now term limits were enacted by California voters ostensibly to end the concept of career politicians but that hasn’t happened. Why?

PENNER: Oh, for many reasons. First of all, let me say that term limits have changed or altered the way – the kind of legislator who comes to Sacramento. It accelerated trends of increasing female and minority representation and, however, rather than representing a new breed of citizen legislator, new members, after term limits, behave a great deal like those that came before. Many have local government experience, they run for another office, for an Assembly or a Senate seat when their terms expire. So careerism remains a constant in California politics. There’s something about being bitten by the politician bug that keeps on itching, and the pay isn’t bad either. California lawmakers make the most by a large margin of all of lawmakers, all state legislators throughout the nation. They have a base annual salary of about $116,000, they get a per diem payment of $173.00 for every day in session, then there’s a car allowance. They get money to buy a car while they drive in Sacramento. The state will either pay 90% of the monthly car lease or up to $400 a month, whichever is cheaper. And if they live far enough away, they even get a plane ticket so they can travel from home back to Sacramento. So, you know, it’s not a bad thing. And then there’s all the adulation that politicians get from people outside the political circles.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we were talking about people who are sort of trying to move up the track and stay one step ahead of term limits. And a case in point is Republican Assembly member Joel Anderson.



CAVANAUGH: He’s running for State Senate in the 36th District, which is on the San Diego-Riverside County border. Has Anderson termed out of the Assembly?

PENNER: No, he hasn’t, and that is traditionally a safe Republican district and we’ll talk more about safe districts as we go along. He has chosen not to run for a third term in the Assembly. He will have completed two terms or four years by the end of 2010 and, instead, he’s going for an open seat that was vacated by termed out Senator Dennis Hollingsworth. An Assembly member can run for three two-year terms or a total of six years. And Anderson has chosen to only occupy that office for four years. By the way, he doesn’t have a pristine political history. He was fined by the California Fair Political Practices Commission last year for violating state campaign laws. But at this point he, being the Republican survivor in the primaries, looks as though he’ll probably get elected to the Senate.

CAVANAUGH: Because this is a traditionally Republican…


CAVANAUGH: …district. And who was the Democratic candidate in this district?

PENNER: The Democratic candidate in this district is Paul Clay. He’s a Murietta teacher. He was endorsed by the California Labor Federation. He has backing from the Central Labor Council, the AFL-CIO for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. But Democrats only make up 28% of this district and so chances are a Democrat’s not going to get in. And there is a Libertarian. His name is Michael Metti. I couldn’t get too much information on him.

CAVANAUGH: So we move now from the 36th District to the – North County’s 38th State Senate District to talk about the career of Senator Mark Wyland. He really tells a tale about moving up the political ladder.

PENNER: Oh, yeah. Just one look at Mark Wyland’s Republican credentials and how he moved up from school board to Assembly to Senate tells you the whole story. You lay your base, you stay close to home, you pray that your district stays Republican and you go for it. Wyland grew up in Escondido. He went to Pomona College. And before he was elected to the state Assembly, he served on the Escondido Union School District board. So that’s one way of doing it. You know, school board to Assembly to Senate. By the way, the 74th Assembly District includes some pretty populist areas like Vista and Carlsbad, Escondido, Encinitas, San Marcos, and they’re all in San Diego County. He did get to be the whip for the Republican caucus and then he was reelected and reelected again. He is termed out of the Assembly…


PENNER: …and so he decided to run for the 38th state Senate. He will become the – I’m sorry, he won’t because he’s out of there now. He will have, if he’s elected, 14 full years in Sacramento and if he can’t stand to leave political life, he’ll either have to run for a statewide office like governor or lieutenant governor, or he may have to try for Congress. And that is if Darrell Issa is willing to give up his seat in Congress or he has some missteps. But he has the next four years, assuming he’s elected, to plan his move. That is a 43% Republican district compared to a 30% Democratic district.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking about how many local politicians sort of circumvent term limits by just moving up a step up on the political ladder. And talk about the 40th District race in San Diego and Imperial Counties. It’s all about challengers trying to move up. One succeeded, one failed. If you could recap the Salas-Vargas battle for us.

PENNER: I will, but I’m going to take just a little step backwards because I do want to mention the candidates who are running against Mark Wyland. One is Gila Jones, endorsed by California Democrats. She is a San Diego-Capistrano City Commissioner but I couldn’t find any bio on her and no photo so there’s not much of a campaign being run. And then there’s a Libertarian. Her name is Kristi Stone, and she’s an artist from Carlsbad who ran for the Assembly in 2002 and didn’t make it. So on to the 40th. The 40th, unlike those that we’ve been talking about, is a south county area and also it’s eastern Riverside County, and it’s all of Imperial County. So that election for the 40th State Senate crossed three different counties and that’s why it took so long to count the ballots. In fact, in one of the counties, I believe it was Riverside, they lost a whole bunch of absentee ballots and so they didn’t really have a count until way after the election was over. The race was between Juan Vargas and Assembly member Mary Salas. Now, Vargas has this true rags to riches story. He grew up poor, he was the third of ten children, his parents came from Mexico. And then he graduated magna cum laude with a BA from the University of San Diego, went on to Fordham University, joined the Jesuit novitiate, he served as an – in an orphanage in El Salvador. I mean, this is a story. And later he was accepted into Harvard Law School, graduated with a J.D. from Harvard where he was actually classmates with President Obama. So, you know, that was his personal history. He went to the San Diego City Council, 1993 to 2000, and then he was elected to represent the 79th District. And this is important because Mary Salas was also a 79Th Assembly District member, and she chose not to run for a third term in the 79th District. Instead, she decided to throw her hat in the ring against Juan Vargas. And she almost won. She only lost by 22 votes, which was rather amazing. She also was not rags to riches, she was a sixth generation Chula Vistan. She was endorsed by some heavyweights: Denise Ducheny and Bob Filner and Donna Frye. But she did lose and it’s going to be interesting to see what she decides to do next because she had to give up her Assembly seat in the 79th to run in the 40th but Juan Vargas got it.

CAVANAUGH: So this is a story of one politician who tried to move up and failed and one politician who tried to move up and has so far succeeded in getting the Democratic nomination for the 40th Senate District race. Who’s the Republican in that race?

PENNER: Let me see, let me see, oh, he’s Brian Hendry. He is a Chula Vista educator and he’s a businessman and he ran unopposed for his party’s nomination. So he is the Republican.

CAVANAUGH: Now in San Diego’s Assembly races do we also see this pipeline effect, politicians struggling to move up the ladder?

PENNER: We absolutely do. For example, in the 76th, Lori Saldana is termed out and she’s probably waiting for Chris Kehoe to be termed out in two years in the 39th State Senate to run again but it’s going to be interesting to see if Mary Salas, who just lost to Juan Vargas, will decide to run in the 39th State Senate race. So we might very well have, you know, these two very accomplished South Bay women who have both been in the Assembly deciding to run for the same race and basically deciding whether that they’re going to kind of follow in the footsteps of someone who has made a mark for herself, Chris Kehoe. However, along comes Toni Atkins. Toni Atkins is the former San Diego City Council member and she was Kehoe’s chief of staff, so she might be ready to follow her former boss’s footsteps because she is running for office in the 74th and she might, you know, just find that she’s on the track to get to the State Senate as well.

CAVANAUGH: Right. I believe that’s the 76th Assembly race?

PENNER: 76th, yes.

CAVANAUGH: And Ralph Denney is the Republican who is running against Toni Atkins for that. This seems like people trying to get their first foot on the rung of state political office from San Diego or some sort of city council up to a state office. And the same thing is happening in the 79th Assembly District race.

PENNER: Right. And that really sounds like musical chairs. Ben Hueso is president of the San Diego City Council and he’s trying to move from the San Diego City Council to the Assembly and he then – the 79Th Assembly, and that’s the one that was just vacated by Mary Salas, who tried to move to the State Senate and didn’t make it. Now this is kind of interesting, too, because Hueso’s brother is running to replace Hueso in the San Diego City Council. And the idea of Ben Hueso moving up is not a new idea. It’s been thought of for awhile. In fact, a political consultant, Chris Crotty, believes, according to a report, that Ben Hueso wants to follow his friend, former Speaker Nunez’s path to Sacramento or beyond. And so we may see some, you know, real political ambition coming in here. The 79th is hugely Democratic, Maureen, and it’s Hispanic, so the Republican in that race, Dennis Roach, he’s run for the 79th before but chances are that we’re going to get a Democrat in that again.

CAVANAUGH: And you also have an example of a politician who seems to be doing a U-turn, from state office perhaps back into the San Diego City Council.

PENNER: Yes, indeed, sometimes it’s a matter of running backwards. Former Assemblyman Howard Wayne wants to be a San Diego City Council member. No longer in state politics, looking at city politics. And, you know, when that political bug bites, it’s hard to stop scratching. And Howard Wayne, before he went to the Assembly, he was a deputy attorney general for 23 years. He made two unsuccessful bids to get to the Assembly, and then he finally made it in 1996. He was reelected twice and then in 2003, he did come back to city politics and briefly ran for San Diego City Attorney but he dropped his bid before the election. He originally planned to run for Donna Frye’s city council seat if she had won the mayor’s race against Jerry Sanders but she didn’t. And so now he’s running for her seat on the San Diego City Council and, you know, he could still run for State Senate because he has not been a State Senator and maybe he could try for Chris Kehoe’s senate seat when she terms out in two years. And, you know, if he has – if he is elected to the city council, he does have a chance to establish a name for himself, and that would give him a platform on which to run for the 39th State Senate. So that may be a very vigorous race in two years if you can keep track of everyone.

CAVANAUGH: It does seem like musical chairs.

PENNER: It is.

CAVANAUGH: Gloria, thank you so much.

PENNER: You’re welcome, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Gloria Penner, KPBS political correspondent and host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week. If you’d like to respond, please go online, Coming up, 50 years of public art and architecture at UCSD. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.