For Catharine Baker of Dublin, it was a wonderful day when she officially took over representing the 16th Assembly District from Joan Buchanan of Alamo, who was termed out.
For Joan, she will be fresh come the New Year when she intends to run for the 7th Senate seat that Mark DeSaulnier is leaving after being elected to Congress to replace retiring 20-term member George Miller. Gov. Jerry Brown will set the special election date once DeSaulnier formally resignslikely just before he is sworn into Congress on Jan. 5, 2015.
Buchanan has bided her time, delaying a formal announcement of her candidacy, while one of her opponents, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of Concord, announced her intentions and lined up a few endorsements.
Republican attorney Mark Meuser of Walnut Creek also has announced he will run. In a three-way race, if no person receives more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off with the top two vote-getters.
Coming off near record-low turnout in November, the special election will attract only the most loyal voters. Buchanan described it as the "five of five voters," meaning the people who always vote. Throw in that it will take place in the late winter when people are not thinking politics and the ground game of lining up your voters becomes absolutely critical.
Joan, who served more than 20 years on the San Ramon Valley school board before winning the Assembly seat, believes she is well-positioned to run an effective campaign.
The Senate district, unlike the 16th Assembly, is a solidly blue with a 15-point Democrat registration advantage. And her former district is entirely embedded in the Senate district, plus she represented the Eastern Contra Costa County area until the reapportionment took effect in 2012. In addition, the turnout in her districtprobably helped by the very spirited campaign between Baker and former Dublin Mayor Tim Sbrantiwas the highest in the area.
The timing also helps. Political observers expected Buchanan and Bonilla to face off in 2016 when DeSaulnier was termed out, but Miller's retirement allows the match-up to take place while Buchanan has been active.
Buchanan, who raised five children as a single mom, waited until her kids had graduated from college before running for the Legislature.
"I am not sure the average person understands how demanding these jobs are if you are going to be effective," she told me when we spoke before Thanksgiving. "You are busy six days a week. I chaired the Assembly Education Committee (a demanding job with lots of legislative proposals) and I made sure I read the drafts and analysis of every piece of legislation."
She described herself as cautiously optimistic that the combination of changes in the term limits (members are now allowed 12 years, but can serve all of them in one house as opposed to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate) coupled with the open primary will result in a shift in governance in Sacramento. It starts with eliminating the "up or out" reality that had Assembly members always running for office.
The result of that prior system was legislators left to run for city offices such as mayor or for the county board of supervisors. Over time, that meant what was what a deep bench shrunk substantially so staff members were being groomed to run for their bosses' seats. That contrasted sharply to the earlier times when legislators served longer and had to deal with tough budget times and good times, as well as bringing private sector experience to their jobs.
"Twelve years gives stability to both housesparticularly the Assembly. Instead of committee chairs turning over every two years, I am hoping that over time power shifts back to the committee chairs who have a deep knowledge of the issues," she said.