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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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What happened to competitive primaries?

Uploaded: Mar 13, 2012
Proponents of the open primary and citizens redistricting political districts had hoped the two changes would result in more competitive races.
For the last 10 years, with districts designed to protect the incumbents, only the primary election mattered because seats rarely changed parties in the general election.
The surprise, now that filing for the June primary has closed, is how many East Bay seats will be uncontested in June with the incumbents getting a free pass.
For instance, four of the six seats on the boards of supervisors of Alameda and Contra Costa counties will see the incumbents re-elected without a challenge.
In Alameda County, both Keith Carson and Scott Haggerty are running unopposed. It will be Carson's sixth term, while Haggerty will be unopposed again and will start his fifth term in January. Nate Miley, who now represents Pleasanton, is being challenged by Tojo Thomas, a deputy probation officer.
In Contra Costa County, redistricting shifted Supervisor Mary Piepho's district out of the San Ramon Valley and both she and her East County colleague, Fredrick Glover, are running unopposed. Piepho faced a heated challenge from former Dublin Mayor and state Assemblyman Guy Houston four years ago, but got a free pass this time around.
San Ramon Valley voters will see plenty of campaigning for its representative on the board as Danville Mayor Candace Anderson faces off with Tomi Van de Brooke, former chief of staff for Piepho and current community college trustee. Long-time Supervisor Gayle Ulikema retired, leaving the vacant seat.
Serving as a supervisor is a pretty thankless, although powerful job. Many key decisions get made on the boards, but their ability to raise revenues is severely limited.
The counties provide the safety net and are subject to way too many unfunded mandates from the state along with inadequate funding passed down. That said, as political jobs go—there are no terms limits, benefits are good, and the pay—with Alameda County's matched to Superior Court judges—is reasonable.
And the power comes in with positions on critical regional governing bodies such as the oppressive air board and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which doles out transportation dollars in the nine Bay Area counties.
Turning to the partisan races, the redistricting, although done by a citizens' commission, resulted in districts that are so one-sided that two East Bay incumbent senators drew no opposition and the incumbents are uncontested in three Assembly races.
For the Livermore Valley, the redistricting eliminated the pizza-cutter approach that diced up the valley previously—now it's one Congressional district (incumbent Pete Stark facing off against his younger challenger Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell along with independent Christopher Pareja) and one state senate and assembly district.
Incumbent state Senator Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan both face Republican challengers although the registration favors the Democrats enough that it's unlikely to draw a great deal of party money.

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Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Mar 13, 2012 at 9:53 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Mr. Hunt,

You try to draw some parallel between the lack of competition in this round of elections and the change in redistricting methods with little evidence. Have you looked at how many times a local supervisor has run unopposed prior to citizens' redistricting to see if this election is out of the ordinary? And have you looked at similar data from other locations with citizens' redistricting and incumbents running unopposed?

Posted by Tim Hunt, a resident of Castlewood,
on Mar 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

Tim Hunt is a registered user.

One of the results of term limits in Sacramento has been politicians returning to local offices. In Alameda County, Wilma Chan did exactly that as did Gov. Jerry Brown when he was elected mayor of Oakland. Same goes for former speaker Willie Brown in San Francisco or the current Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, also a former Assembly speaker. I may not have been clear in the redistricting comment--that the commission only dealt with Congress, the state Senate and the Assembly. Supervisors redrew their own boundaries.

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